Earlier this week, Barbara shared the story of her son’s birth. Asher was born 18 days early and seemed healthy; but instead of snuggling with her newborn, Barbara learned he had been sent to the NICU. Today she writes about Asher’s first few days in the NICU.
The first time I was able to see Asher up close was when he was 10 hours old. I was alone. I wanted it that way.
I was incredibly depressed and overcome with guilt. Asher had not been ready to be born. My body had failed us. I did not think I deserved to be comforted at that point. I felt I was to blame.
I had sent my husband, Jonathan, home with our daughter, Lucie. The plan was for him to return the next morning after bringing Lucie to her daycare.
There in the Special Care Nursery (SCN, the hospital’s name for the NICU), Asher was in an open isolette. There was something on his head that looked like a fish bowl; I would later learn it was called an oxyhood. There was a hose pumping air into it.
As I sat in my wheelchair, I was very aware that the stopwatch measuring my time off the magnesium sulfate anti-seizure medicine was ticking. I only had 30 minutes from the time it was unhooked from my IV until the time it would need to be reattached. Subtract from that the five minutes it took to transfer me from my bed to the wheelchair and an additional five minutes to transport me to the SCN. Then, I was required to scrub my hands from elbows to finger tips with a sponge and bristle brush for a minimum of three minutes. We also had to budget five minutes for me to be transported back to my room.
In the end, I was only allowed to spend 12 minutes with my son in the first 24 hours of his life, and I still feel robbed by that. From my wheelchair, I could only reach his foot to hold him.
The first night, the neonatologist and all of the NICU nurses referred to Asher as “Baby Boy” or “your baby.” I wanted to yell, “He has a name! His name is Asher!” Instead, any time I replied to anything they said, I emphasized his name. By the next day, the nurses had caught on that I did not respond well to the impersonal care of my son.
The neonatologist (NICU baby specialist) and I had gotten off on the wrong foot. I had been very upset at the lack of information I received after Asher was born, and to be honest, I was on so many pain management medications, I don’t really know for sure what I said to her. I do know that whatever it was, it was bad enough for my obstetrician to tell me the next morning that my “behavior was unacceptable.”
I’m not really sure what is acceptable behavior given the situation I was in. Wouldn’t any mom do everything in her power to see her baby? To want to feed him? To hold him?
As I had not been told why none of this was possible, and I did not comprehend the diagnosis, I believe my feelings were justified. I also believe that given I had just had an emergency cesarean section and my hormones were going nuts, I should have been given a free pass to say whatever I was thinking.
It wasn’t really me talking, anyway. It was the morphine drip.
That first night, I was alone save for the amazing night nurse who really listened to me and helped advocate for the care I needed. Brandi treated me with dignity and respect, despite my fragile emotional state.
The next morning, Jonathan came back after taking Lucie to the daycare. I was moved to a tiny room in the antepartum section of the hospital. Since I did not need space for a bassinet, my room was one of the smallest. Jonathan and I spent as much time visiting Asher as we could over the next three days before I was discharged, and we asked a friend to watch Lucie overnight since it was the weekend. I had Jonathan bring Lucie to the hospital to spend time with me and cuddle a few hours each day, since she did not really understand what was happening.
I was discharged from the hospital against my will when Asher was 3 1/2 days old. I later found out that my health insurance had approved for me to stay one additional day at the hospital, but my obstetrician felt it was not necessary. I was an emotional wreck. I was going home, but I was leaving my baby behind.
That morning, the neonatalogist said that Asher’s condition was not improving with the oxyhood. She gave me two options: oxygen through nasal cannula, or oxygen through a CPAP machine. She definitely led me to my decision when she advised that the CPAP machine could cause Asher’s lungs to burst, causing irreversible damage, if he became over-agitated. If we decided on the nasal cannula and it did not work, we could ask for it to be removed and then try the CPAP machine. If we tried the CPAP machine first, there could be no “do-overs” or “second chances” if Asher’s lungs popped. That was not a risk I wanted to take when there was a safer alternative presented.
When Jonathan and I arrived at the SCN that evening to say goodnight to Asher before heading home, he was crying in his isolette. I reached in to return his pacifier to his mouth, and a nurse came over yelling at me. She said Asher was on minimal stimulation and I was “NOT ALLOWED TO TOUCH OR SPEAK TO HIM!” I was only trying to calm my screaming baby. I felt so awful leaving him there with this mean nurse. She also told me that the saturation of oxygen he was requiring was double what he had needed that morning.
“You know, I don’t think he’s going to make it. That is, unless he ends up transferred to another hospital,” she said.
I could not believe my ears. I knew the harsh reality was that my son’s condition had worsened, but this nurse said this to me as if she was making a comment about the weather: “You know, it might rain today.”
Devastated, I could not sleep that night.
I had tried to not post any Facebook statuses specifically about Asher’s condition up until this point, although a few friends had asked about the lack of photos. I had not wanted to remember how he looked with the oxyhood, so the only photos I had were ones Jonathan took with my iPhone in the delivery room.
I know people mean well, but some people are just downright nosy. I did not want to be inundated with a bunch of private messages from people I knew in high school and had not spoken to personally since then asking me to explain the ins and outs of Asher’s health. I was already sick of repeating it over and over on the phone to relatives, who really did need to know.
I decided to post a message with custom privacy. Only my most religious friends would be able to see my appeal for prayers for my son. It was a few days before Passover, and I asked my friends to pray that Hashem (G-d) would pass over my firstborn son so he could be redeemed. A few of these friends asked if they could pass along Asher’s name to prayer chains and lists. I truly believe in the power of these prayers.
A new nurse was on shift when we returned to the SCN that Monday morning. She was incredibly sweet, and she excitedly relayed the news to me that Asher had decreased his oxygen requirements overnight by nearly half. He had started to improve just half an hour after I made the appeal to friends for prayers. I felt as if a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders, and I agreed that Jonathan could go back to work the next day if Asher’s health continued to either stay stable or improve.
I know my husband loves our son more than anything else in this world, bacon included. I also know that when he is stressed out, he needs to focus on something else to relieve the tension. Work was usually that outlet for him, and in the absence of his job to distract him from the depressing situation, Jonathan was acting frustrated.
Watching your son lie in an isolette struggling to breathe, and knowing you can’t do anything more to help or comfort him, made us both feel helpless. Jonathan has always been Superman to me, but we’d finally found our kryptonite.
Around 5 p.m. that day, Jonathan left me at the SCN so he could pick up Lucie from the daycare and I could have a few more minutes with Asher.
I asked the nurse if and when we would be able to hold Asher. I expected her response to be in X number of days. She told me that since Asher had been doing better, I could hold him right then. In an act of restraint that I still can’t understand or explain, I said, “Thank you, but I want my husband to hold him first.”
This was important, since I knew that Jonathan would have peace of mind when returning to work the next day if he could hold our son beforehand. As Jonathan had held me to comfort me so many times in the few days prior, I knew the healing power of his hugs, and I wanted to reward him for putting up with my hormonal shipwreck emotions.
I called Jonathan on his cell phone and he came back to the hospital immediately after picking up Lucie. He held Asher for a few minutes while the nurse took photos, passed him back to the nurse, and then switched with me watching Lucie in the hall.
Then it was, at last, my turn to hold Asher for the first time. I was hit with this new baby smell, and I did not want to put him down after that.
Watch for the final part of Barbara’s story later this week, as baby Asher comes home.