Mason's Days in the NICU: Part II
September is NICU Awareness Month
Thank you so much for sending love and thoughtful words after reading Mason's Days in the NICU: Part I. Some of you even shared your stories of challenges and triumphs. Whether about your recovery after your baby's birth or your NICU experience, I appreciate you and your strength to share such a delicate part of your life with me. May we continue to raise awareness about the NICU and support all who are unbelievably strong in each of their positions throughout these experiences.
After the first night home from the hospital, B made sure I had everything I needed before heading to the NICU. I spent the morning pumping, sterilizing more bottle parts, and sorting out the newborn items that we needed. Going in and out of the bedroom and seeing Mason's bassinet empty still made me sad. Of course, I teared up, but I kept telling myself that he'd be home soon even though there wasn't any guaranteed date of when Mason would actually come home.
I felt strange walking back into the hospital without B. The last time we entered the hospital was for my delivery. I showed the front security my hospital bracelets as one matched Mason's for the NICU, and soon enough, I was in a crowded elevator. That lonely and empty feeling came back, so I did what I often do to cope with these moments when I'm able to manage my emotions (unlike the day I was discharged): I sing a song in my head, and it worked like a charm. After getting off the elevator, showing my hospital bracelets to a couple more security guards, and scrubbing my hands/arms, I finally walked over to Mason's station.
He looked as if he was sunbathing as he laid in his incubator under lights with his eyes covered. I was informed that Mason developed jaundice overnight and needed phototherapy, hence the lights. He also needed to be further examined for any new infections. Mason's oxygen levels were doing better, but he still needed to maintain these levels before being completely taken off the oxygen support. And so, we were informed that Mason had to stay another couple of days, possibly more. We were allowed to do his bottle feeds and change his diaper, but instead of the usual long snuggle sessions, we had to let him rest in the incubator for most of the day. I was so happy to have a few minutes of skin-to-skin with him in the afternoon. We cherished every minute we had with our baby boy in our arms. While he rested and had his on/off sunbath, we spoke to him about everything going on with the outside world.
Nurse Rose was at Mason's station from time to time. I remember she was sweet and thorough, just as Nurse Donna. Rose showed me how to take Mason's temperature for the first time. I appreciated how involved the nurses allowed us to be with Mason. I felt as though I was doing my part as his mama, giving him a bottle, taking his temperature, changing his diaper, and holding him as much as possible. I still felt the guilt of delivering at 38 weeks. While I was considered "full-term," I felt as though my body failed him. I had plenty of moments tearing up next to Mason's incubator. The nurses were always so kind as to offer me tissues and remind me that Mason's such a strong boy. So many thoughts went through my head during our time in the NICU.
This is not how things were supposed to go.
Why MY baby?
What did I do wrong?
This is all my fault.
I'm failing him.
Does he know that I'm here?
When can I take him home?
I'm so sorry, Mason.
There was the NICU's social worker, Ali, who came over to check-in with me. I was sitting in the chair with my arm through one of the holes in Mason's incubator and holding his hand. Ali closed the curtain around Mason's station and casually started asking me questions on how I was doing. Looking back at this moment, I wish I'd said all the sad and guilty things I felt. I wish I started crying right then and let myself freak out. Instead, I tried to play it as cool as possible because I didn't want to be weak. I also had so many sob-fests in those few days that I was absolutely exhausted from it. I tried to remain happy and kept giving positive responses. This was not the best choice for me. I'm not quite ready to get into that right now, but I'm just putting this message out there to mamas/parents:
There is no shame in saying that you're sad or that you need help.
It doesn't make you any less of a parent to your baby.
While doctors told me that I didn't do anything throughout my pregnancy that could've caused Mason's lack of lung development, I was so mad at myself for everything that landed Mason in the NICU. I didn't want my negative energy coming out while visiting Mason. I tried to push my feelings as far back in my mind as possible so that he could only feel good energy from me. I had to be strong for my baby, who was the strongest one for all of us.
The next morning, we repeated our routine, and while I was on my way to the NICU, B texted me that Mason's jaundice had gone down, but the doctors still want him to have phototherapy that morning to be sure. He did not develop any infections, and his oxygen levels were doing well. I walked into the NICU that morning with a little pep in my step, and said my usual good morning's to other families in the lobby. We'd connected with a few parents of the NICU, so when one of us was in the lobby, we'd be sure to check in with each other. Now those are their own stories to tell, but I will say that it was truly incredible to hear about the improvements that each of our babies were going through. Along with that, though, naturally, come the tough days. There were days that I would sit in the lobby to eat, and I'd start tearing up out of nowhere. There was never a moment that another NICU parent didn't come by with a warm smile or a soft pat on the shoulder. We didn't always have to talk, but knowing that we were there for each other was more than enough. We were there to support our babies, but the strength we had for each other as parents were just as strong. We'd talk about our little victories, our setbacks, and our days outside of the NICU.
Later that afternoon, I ate my lunch in the lobby and then I decided to try pumping in the NICU's nursing room. It was small with private nursing stations, and all were empty. I thought it would be a good idea to sit in a different atmosphere, so I took my time to pump and calm my mind down in the silence. When I returned to Mason's station, B wasn't there. I assumed he went to use the restroom or make a phone call. Nurse Donna was standing nearby with a smile on her face. But this was a different smile. She didn't say anything but motioned over to Mason in his incubator. His oxygen tubes were out, and no lights were hovering over him. His eyes were wide open. I immediately started to cry happy tears. B soon returned and said to Donna, "See, I told you she'd cry."
Mason's Days in the NICU: Part III coming soon...