It was one month ago that we were driving out of state before dawn and before the end of that crazy day, holding our daughter. It does not seem like one month. All the things we've been through and felt do not seem like they fit into any stretch of time.
Here is the little cutie at one month:
I remember holding her at one week, and just being stunned by the fact that one whole week ago she had been born and remembering every thing that we'd gone through since, and wondering how on earth we'd gotten through it.
That first Sunday afternoon, as I was preparing to drag my bleary, completely exhausted butt back to the hotel, Meagan the nurse suggested that maybe we could stay at a room in the hospital.
She said we had to get Dr. Wu's approval and he studiously calculated her weight in grams and various other things and declared that she had to be eating at least 27 ml of formula or she had to return to the newborn nursery and be fed by a tube down her nose.
He seemed reserved about the rooming-in idea but Meagan was enthusiastic, so we decided to try it anyway.
A hospital room is not the most comfortable place in the world and I felt apprehensive on all kinds of levels, but when the nurses left the room and suddenly we were there with our baby, my whole mood changed. I cautiously wheeled the metal bassinet around to various places in the room, trying to find the best arrangement and made a bed out of the couch.
Even though the bed was not big enough for two people, Keith and I ended up curled there together anyway, listening to the various beeping and humming sounds that filled the room, Merissa within arm's reach.
S. and D. were just down the hall from us and we visited back and forth during the evening. They were there around nine pm, when Merissa not only did not eat her required amount, but spit up whatever she had managed to get down.
Watching her spit up in my hands, in front of S. and D,. I felt like a failure as a mother. It was stressful, sometimes, caring for Merissa in the presence of her birth parents- I often felt as if I had to prove myself as a mother, though they never once gave me this impression themselves.
Dejected but painstakingly dutiful, I wheeled the metal bassinet down the long, by now empty hospital hall to the newborn nursery, Keith, S. and D. in tow. We arrived and explained ourselves to a confused night nurse.
"I'm not putting a g-tube on her," she declared. "But you can bring her in, we'll take her."
It occurred to my befuddled brain that she was preparing to take over the care of my baby and I was not prepared for that to happen. I had to explain, again, more forcefully, what the day shift nurses had said. The night nurse pulled me into the nursery and shut the door.
She asked me how much she had eaten the last time- a lot, almost 30 ml. She nodded sagely, lips pursed and then prepared some formula, put it into a syringe and squeezed it out into a burp cloth.
"Is that about how much she spat out?" the nurse asked.
"This is only 3 ml. It always looks like more than it really is. Is this your first child?" she asked.
People would ask me this, from time to time and I would look at them for a moment, wondering how to respond. Not only was she my first child, but she was likely my only child and I had not had nine months of pregnancy to prepare for her. I never knew how to explain the gravity of this entire concept to the questioner.
"She is," I merely replied, a bit helplessly, each time.
"Everything evens out in the end," said the laid-back night nurse.
Relieved, we all trooped to the room, where S. and D. said goodnight and returned to their room.
It was a long night. I slept maybe one hour for every three. Preemies do not eat very well on their own because they do not have the suck, swallow, breathe routine down pat. Merissa seemed to be learning by trial and error- a lot of trial.
She was so small that the back of her head fit perfectly into the palm of my hand and I would sit her up that way to feed her. Whenever she choked, she would get red in the face and start wheezing, trying to get some air, her eyes large and glassy.
It was terrifying. I would tip her forward, supporting her jaw bones on the thumb and first finger of my right hand- she felt like a tiny bird- and pat her on the back with my left, speaking calmly through the terror. She would sputter and begin to breathe again.
The pulse-ox was attached to her foot and the first time I changed her diaper, the alarms rang out again and again, as the stupid thing interpreted the jerky movements of her foot as an irregular heartbeat. Her oxygen levels would appear to drop.
I expected nurses to charge in at any moment to swoop my beleaguered baby out of my inexpert hands and into emergency care, while I babbled on, trying to explain myself while nobody listened. This did not happen.
Not only were the alarms going off, but she pooped mid-change, on the blanket, and then, after I cleaned that up and before I put the diaper in place, she peed. I stood in the middle of the darkened hospital room for a moment, feeling beyond overwhelmed and then I simply did the next thing, and then the next thing after that. I developed small systems of organization and stuck to them. I talked my baby through diaper changes as though I were her life coach.
The hall night nurse came and went like a ghost in the night, taking her temperature and then taking her away to be weighed, for labs and to receive antibiotics.
Oh the trial of the nightly weighing, upon which so many vital things hung! Over and over again, all the nurses and Dr. Wu and the other doctors explained to us that all babies lose weight in the first few days after birth, but this just did not sink in- each time she lost weight, it seemed like a colossal set back.
I would think of all the painful, slow ml that I had coaxed down her, through choking episodes, keeping an eye on the clock like a sprinter, knowing that we had twenty minutes for her to take the required amount, and no more.
More than that, and she would be burning more calories by sucking the formula than she would be taking in- the very act of eating would be taking her backwards. Feeding her always seemed almost like a life or death act- like climbing Mt. Everest, a huge undertaking with many a small slip that could lead to failure and injury and set back.
Adding to the confusion was the fact that she was born at four pounds, three ounces, but after that, the doctors and nurses referred to her weight in grams and I simply could not grasp the way they related. They would say that she lost thirty grams, which was not yet ten percent of her total weight so it was nothing to worry about, but that she needed to reach two thousand grams to be able to leave the hospital.
I'm sure it was all fairly clear in reality, but my emotional and physical exhaustion made any amount of clear thinking difficult. I was also in a haze of first love with my baby and many vital facts simply could not permeate this haze. I would sit rocking her and nodding and not really focusing, because I just couldn't.
For example, the charge nurse came in to introduce herself the next morning. The other title for her was Director of Labor and Delivery. I did not clue into this; nurses and CNAs were coming and going at all hours of the day and night, offering to get things or to be of any help.
Up until that moment, I hadn't been organized enough to even know what to ask for, but when the change nurse showed up, suddenly it clicked that here was help- but that was the only thing that clicked.
I cheerfully and gratefully told this woman that she could take away the poopy blanket from the night before and asked if she could bring me more burp clothes and bottles.
At the time, I did not understand the look on her face..
"Thank you for talking with me," she said, a bit wryly.
I thought that was a funny thing for her to say, but I told her she was welcome and cheerfully waved her away, the soiled linens in her hand.. Later, a CNA came by with more linens.
The daughter is stirring, so this is as much as I can write today. Besides, I should probably work some more on unpacking the closet. The garage is unpacked and only two boxes remain on the first floor. Sadly, many boxes remain on the second floor, but we are getting there.