After delivering my daughter at only 32 weeks, I experienced a huge range of emotions. Of course after any birth experience there are bound to be feelings caused by not only the act of giving birth but all of the hormones surging through our bodies as well. Delivering preterm brings on an entirely different set of emotions as well – grief, guilt, pain, trauma. This isn’t to say that these emotions can’t also be experienced after a “normal” delivery, but this was what I’ve experienced after my own early and emergency delivery. Everything felt very traumatic for me. Nothing happened the way I thought it would, and I hadn’t even gone to the trouble of writing a birth plan. I knew things could happen unexpectedly, but I never expected what would actually happen.
After delivery my emotions were only intensified by the solitary confinement I felt in the hospital for the next two days. My early delivery was caused by preeclampsia, HELPP syndrome and a premature rupture of the membranes (or placental abruption – hence all the bleeding I experienced). Because of these conditions my blood pressure was still very high and unsafe. I was still being pumped with magnesium and I was having my blood pressure taken every hour around the clock. These routine checks made it almost impossible to sleep along with the steroid that I was injected with before delivery. By day two, I felt like I was going insane. I was trapped in a labor and delivery room with no baby and constant reminders that I had failed (at least that’s what I felt at the time). All of this stress and emotion of course did not help my blood pressure, and so I was hospitalized for two days without being able to even see the baby I had given birth to. I started to feel like an imposter – had I really given birth? Did all of this really happen? Of course I knew it had happened because of the massive incision on my abdomen and had all the pain it rendered. I knew my daughter was here because of the video calls I had with my husband while he was visiting her. I had photos, I had videos, I was pumping breast milk (although only drops at this point), I was in the labor and delivery department of the hospital – but I didn’t have my baby. What made it worse were all of the different staff members who would come into the room – people who would draw blood for tests, or people who brought food, or people who cleaned the room. Many of them would ask, “where is the baby?” I specifically remember one of the phlebotomists coming in and asking this seemingly innocent question while one of my nurses was in the room with me. She knew I was not in a good place mentally. I think all the nurses did. They were mothers. Some of them mothers who had been through what I had just been through. When he asked the question – “where is the baby?” – her gaze lit him on fire and I burst into tears. There were many moments like this for me while I was in the hospital. Most of them happened while I was alone, waiting for my husband to return from visiting our baby. They happened while watching videos of him doing skin-to-skin with her for the first time. Many happened while seeing her on video calls, my heart aching wishing I could run as fast as I could all the way to the hospital she was in the next town over. But I was still healing physically myself, and not as rapidly as I would have hoped.
Finally Free (Sort Of)
My final day in the hospital was probably the toughest of all. I had been told I may be released the previous day, however with my blood pressure being as high as it was they decided to keep me another day for monitoring. I was still being monitored every hour, I was eating a bland diet of vegetarian hospital food which some days would be Boca burgers for lunch and dinner. I was also doing my best to pump breast milk every 2-3 hours around the clock. I was physically and emotionally exhausted. I was more than ready to leave – I wanted to see my baby for the first time since she was born. The nurses and doctor agreed that I would be released that day. They had placed me on blood pressure medication to keep my blood pressure down and removed my IV in preparation for my release. All they needed for discharge was a last blood pressure check to make sure my levels were normal. They wrapped the monitor around my arm and told me to relax – this was it. When the results came back, the nurse looked at me with such a sadness – my levels were too high to be released. She apologized profusely, as if it were her fault at all and went to talk to the doctors. To my surprise, the doctor and nurses were adamant that I be released. I think they knew I was losing it. Or at least they felt some sympathy towards my situation. I would need my IV reinserted for intravenous blood pressure medication, then I would need to be re-monitored for the next few hours to see if the numbers would come down. These next few hours would be some of the hardest of my life. The nurse who came in to reinsert my IV was not a nurse I had before. She blew through two of my veins and poked me in four different places before giving up and letting another nurse try. I swear I almost screamed in her face. She didn’t know what was at stake for me, or how crazy I felt. Finally, my other nurse, the nurse who had been assisting me all day was able to get my IV in and she would be the one to monitor me. Each check was like waiting for a wave to crash in on me. I knew I had to relax as much as possible, but it was so difficult knowing that if my readings came in too high that I would be kept another day. I screwed up the next couple of readings with my stressed out, whacked out, crazy emotions, but thankfully the medication finally kicked in. The readings were low enough for discharge. Eventually, after being given all of my paperwork and talking to the doctor, I was released. I felt free, well sort of.
Onto the Next Hospital
After being released from the hospital my husband took me home to shower, change and get ready to go see our daughter. I would finally be seeing her for the first time since she left me two days prior. I was ecstatic, I was emotional, I was terrified, I was so looking forward to seeing her. We went to the hospital and another wave of emotion hit me as we went to sign in through security. My tiny precious baby was here in this hospital alone, much like I was only hours earlier. Luckily, I knew she wouldn’t remember what she was going through, but it didn’t make me feel all that much better about her situation. When we entered the NICU it was like something out of a daytime medical drama sitcom. We had to “scrub in” before entering the department, which was guarded by two locked entrances not including the hospitals main security. Apparently they had issues in the past with a woman dressing like a nurse and breaking in to steal babies. Once we were all cleaned up we walked down the long hallway back to the area where our precious baby was staying. We walked by a handful of other babies, all snug in their isolettes waiting for their families to come visit. There were beeping sounds going off all around us. The sights and sounds made everything feel so sterile. You could smell the hand sanitizer and feel the dryness in the air. We entered into her area and my husband showed me where she was. There was a giant incubator style bed, or isolette, a recliner chair and a white board that had all of our names and some of her medical information on it. It made me sad that her nursery was so beautiful and that she was here in this plain and stark place. I walked over to the bed and lifted the cover to see her inside. She was so tiny. My heart burst into pieces. Some of those pieces were burst by love, some by sadness, some by utter guilt. I’m so sorry you’re in here. I’m so sorry you’re alone. I’m so sorry it took me so long to get here.
A New Kind of Love
Once we were settled in the nurse on duty helped us remove her from her isolette so that I could hold her for the first time. I remember feeling somewhat unsettled because of how small she was, but I was also so excited to finally meet her and talk to her and smell her. Moving the wires and monitors around was a feat in itself. It felt odd to have to keep all of this out of the way while trying to keep her close. We had to wear masks at all times in the hospital. But I did break the rules a bit and gave my baby a big kiss on her head as I told her how much I loved her. I felt justified. She just came from my own body, and besides I had just been tested for COVID in the hospital I was in before. I sat and held her for a couple of hours. She was so warm and soft against my skin. It was the happiest and healthiest I had felt in days. Even in her tiny and frail state, she struggled to look up at me, and then settled back in, falling asleep so soundly on my chest. She was (and is) so beautiful, so perfect. I looked at her in amazement and couldn’t believe how precious she was, but I also couldn’t believe how strong she was. She had just been through everything I’d been through, if not worse, and she was only days old. She was so brave. She was so incredible. In those moments I felt so grateful to be her mama. I felt privileged and honored. I couldn’t believe that she had come from me. I held her so close and could feel a love that I had never felt before. The kind of love that parents tell you about but that you never truly understand until you experience it yourself. I held her so tight and I never wanted to leave. I was finally with my baby and she was with me. Everything felt the way it was meant to be, until it was time to leave.
The Waiting Game
At this point, baby needed to gain weight and learn how to eat before she could leave the hospital. Luckily, this was a typically short order for a baby born of her size. She was not on oxygen or any sort of breathing machines. She did not have any infections or problems. She was just so small and so early. She had a feeding tube and a pic line for other nutrients and fluids. It was difficult to see her with tubes and things in her face and body, but it was nothing compared to how bad it could have been if she needed more assistance. We would visit the hospital twice, sometimes three times a day. Fortunately we lived super close so we could come in the morning, go home for lunch and then come back in the evenings. As time went on and she grew stronger, we started to learn how to care for her as she learned how to care for herself. She learned to drink from a bottle, and we learned how to feed her. She learned how to regulate her temperature, and we learned how to remove her from her isolette. We learned so much from the nurses and staff at the hospital. It was like getting a crash course in baby care while waiting for our baby to come home. It wasn’t an ideal situation, obviously, but for what it was, it was a good way to keep our spirits high about being able to care for her once she came home. It was hard leaving her every time. And it was hard seeing her in the hospital. Every day I imagined myself grabbing her and running out of the hospital, but I knew that this care was what was best for her. Eventually she would come home – 24 days later. I couldn’t believe how slow and how fast it went by all at once. She would finally be coming home and we would be on our own to care for our baby.
The Adventure of a Lifetime
The day we took our daughter home was one of the best days of my life. I was so excited to be able to see her every second of every day. I would be able to give her all of her feedings, change all of her diapers, give her all of her baths and of course snuggle her whenever I wanted. There would be no wires in the way and no monitors beeping constantly in our heads. She would get to have all of her cozy swaddles and preemie pajamas. She was ours, finally ours. It felt surreal. To this day it sometimes still does. Having a premature baby has been rough. All of the ups and downs are unlike any emotional rollercoaster I’ve ever experienced. But I would do it all again in a heartbeat for her. We are embarking on the adventure of a lifetime, and I can’t wait to watch her grow into the strong, beautiful, brave little girl that she already has inside of her.