Thomas asked me to write some reflections from our time in the NICU, so here goes.
Leaving the NICU was an exciting time. We had waited so long, and gone through so much to get to this moment, and it was finally here. I was so excited to finally begin the life I had dreamed of. I had always wanted to be a mom and to stay home and take care of my children. Four and a half months earlier I had a little boy who needed so much care, and all I could do for him was sit by his side and pray. There were so many days when I wasn't even sure if he knew or cared that I was there. I'm sure there were days when he didn't, but after a while I could tell that he knew and he cared. He knew my voice, he always liked being held, I would sing to him and it almost always soothed him. My little boy knew that I loved him, and I felt that he loved me back.
So now he would be coming home for me to love him there and while the biggest emotion I felt was certainly excitement, it was not the only feeling. Being in the hospital was so hard for so many reasons, but there would be a lot of things that became harder about being home. I had gotten used to the hospital routine and life. I was used to coming in and loving my son, and that was the extent of my responsibility. All of the things that needed to be done to care for him were technically the nurse's job. They needed to be sure that Nathan was fed and changed, that he got all of his medications, etc. They would ask me if I wanted to help and I usually said yes because I wanted to be involved in his care, but if I were holding Nathan, they would take care of it, if I needed to leave to go to the bathroom, or go pump, or eat lunch, or whatever, the nurse was there to do anything that needed to be done while I was gone. Suddenly I was going to have to figure out how to do all of these things and how to be responsible for all of these things getting done. And given that he needed to be fed every 3 hours, and had some number of medications due 6 different times a day, and he was still prone to throwing up without warning, that would be a tall order and it made me nervous.
I would also miss many of the nurses. There were many who had taken care of Nathan many times and we had become friends and I would miss them. I would miss the company. The hospital was lonely and they were my friends there; really the only people I had to talk to. Good nurses do so much more than give medical attention to their patients.
A friend asked us to talk about how we could leave the hospital each day and wasn't it hard. Yes, it was. On days when Nathan had a hard day it was terrible to walk out, I felt like I was abandoning him. On days when Nathan had a good day I didn't want to leave because it had been so good to feel good with Nathan and see him doing well. I guess the easiest days to leave were the "normal" days, meaning days when nothing extraordinary happened, but even then it was hard to say goodbye. I would have to tell myself to start leaving about 10 minutes before I actually needed to be gone, just in case. I'd stand up and give him a hug and a kiss and tell him I loved him and promise him that I would come back tomorrow. I'd give him a hug and a kiss from his dad and remind Nathan that his daddy loved him, but he couldn't come that day because he had to work. I'd tell him anything else pertinent to the day, and probably that I was proud of him and that I would call that night to check on him and that I'd see him tomorrow and I loved him. There would be one last hug and kiss and I'd walk to the door looking back and sending love and kisses through the air. You'd think it would get easier after 4 months, but it didn't. Though, I guess I became somewhat used to it, because I'm crying as I write this, which I didn't usually do then. I hated leaving him every night, but there was a certain amount of relief that went along with leaving the hospital. Because we knew we'd be there for a while, and I wouldn't be any good to anyone if I didn't take care of myself, it was important to go home every night and relax and get real sleep and rest a little. It was good and important, but it was still hard, and it never gets easier.
I guess that made coming home even more exciting. No more leaving my boy for the night. No more calling the hospital before bed to get a nurse's report on how he was doing. I was really looking forward to that.
The NICU is a special place. It's where we first got to know Nathan, what a fighter he is and how special he is. It's where science didn't think he would make it, but he did. It's where I first got to know this sweet child who won the hearts of nurses and doctors throughout the unit. So many of our firsts were in the NICU: the first time he opened his eyes, the first time he smiled, and then laughed, the beginning of physical therapy. We went through the progression of being able to hold him. At first it took 3 people to get Nathan into my arms, the nurse to pick up Nathan, the respiratory therapist to make sure his breathing tube stayed in place, and someone else to make sure Nathan's iv's didn't get pulled out. After a while we didn't need the extra assistant for his iv's. Then once Nathan was on C-PAP the nurse was enough. When I could finally walk in the room, decide I wanted to hold Nathan, and just pick him up, it was wonderful. I loved the freedom and control. I loved not needing to ask permission to pick up my own son.
I guess these reflections have been kind of random and jumbled, but so are my thoughts when they go back to the NICU. I think it stems from the survivor mentality we had. Or I'm just jumbled. :) I love the NICU and the people who work there. They gave my son a chance to live, and they took good care of him and of us. I am grateful for that unit, and the people who work there, and they will always have a place in my heart.