I gave birth to my son via VBAC (vaginal birth after c-section) on Easter Sunday. It is tied with my daughter’s birth for the happiest day of my life. I was SO proud of myself that I was able to have a VBAC. And once the nurses placed my son in my arms, all I kept thinking about was how completely overjoyed & so very lucky I was. My ob gave me a huge jug of orange juice over that special crunchy hospital ice and I felt like I was truly in heaven.
And after a few hours everything began to sharpen back into focus. I was still ridiculously happy and ecstatic, but now I started noticing that I felt sore all over. And that through the happiness, I was also missing my daughter terribly and worried sick for how she was doing with my parents and in laws. And then breastfeeding became a challenge. Which I thought was crazy as I had breastfed my daughter for 18 months and had figured it’d be like riding a bicycle, you never forget how do it (he breastfeeds like an absolute champ now & doubled his birth weight at 2 months!) And then when we finally got back to our room and we all settled into bed; Owen decided he would ONLY sleep while breastfeeding. I tearfully asked my husband how we were going to handle both a baby and a toddler in our room with us, as he was SO noisy. And then, it felt like karma came and slapped me across the face.
Because just mere minutes after I had asked him that, my night nurse came in and hurriedly explained that they needed to take my brand new baby boy, literally out of my arms and rush him to the NICU. No explanation further than that. Panicked, one minute we were asking what was happening and if he was going to be ok and the next minute they were gone. I was a hysterical, inconsolable, worried sick and stressed out of my mind mess. My brain kept running my teary question to my husband on a never ending loop. Haunting me, and making me feel like I had just jinxed myself. Like with that innocent and natural question, that I had somehow caused this.
I demanded to see him right away. My husband wheeled me into the NICU where we had to wash our hands and arms up to our elbows for exactly 3 minutes before we were able to see his NICU pediatrician and find out what was going on. I thought I was going to vomit or pass out during those three minutes. I had just birthed a 7 lb 10 oz baby, and instead of resting and recovering in bed with him in my arms, I was swaying on my feet and crying while imagining the absolute worst. Turns out Owen had extremely high levels of jaundice and had to stay in the NICU for a few days, a week or more. They couldn’t say yet.
The doctor explained to us that he would have to supplement with formula in order to start flushing the bilirubin out of his system as my colostrum wouldn’t be enough on its own. And that they would give him a pacifier and hold him until he was calm, but would need to go back immediately into his bili light incubator bed. This was EVERYTHING I did not want for him. I solely wanted to breastfeed. I didn’t want a pacifier. I wanted to hold him when he cried or was scared. My daughter never took a bottle or pacifier once, & she was always in my arms if she cried. But then I realized that it wasn’t about my wants or needs. He NEEDED formula to flush out the bilirubin. He NEEDED a pacifier to comfort himself as he wasn’t able to stay out of the bili light for longer than 20 minutes or so at a time. And it just gutted me. I felt entirely useless. I felt lost. I felt robbed. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.
I was supposed to be getting skin on skin time with him, breastfeeding him on demand and taking sweet pictures of him meeting his older sister. Not getting certain visiting times where I could take him out of his special bed box and hold him only if I was nursing him or feeding him formula. What if he thought I had abandoned him? How would he know my scent? My touch? My voice? We were asked to leave so they could get him all set up. And I sobbed again when we came back and he had a tube taped to his face and down his nose to feed him, as he was struggling with bottle feeds. Again, I had to defer to the doctor’s expertise. So I pumped as much colostrum as I could get out. And I cried. And I watched him sleep. And I stared at his little chest move up and down. Up and down. Up and down. Until I could no longer keep my eyes open and my husband and the nurses made me go back to my room. And we did this every 3 hours. Day and night. Wash hands, arms and elbows for 3 minutes; nurse and hold and kiss and snuggle my baby for 20; cry when the nurses took him back; apologize and blame hormones for crying; stare at him sleeping and breathing; go back to my room and stare at the clock until the cycle could start again.
In total he ended up staying in the NICU for a couple of days. And looking back I realize how truly and utterly blessed we were that his stay was only that short. While we were there we saw babies who would need months in the NICU. Their parents would have to leave the hospital and go home without their baby. I cannot even begin to imagine what this must feel like. How lost, worried and terrified they must feel. I commend all of you parents out there who are dealing with this or have dealt with this. No matter if your baby is spending a day, a week or months in the NICU. You truly are amazing and so very very strong. You are an absolutely wonderful and loving parent, and hopefully very soon this will all be a moment in the past. And for now, please know that you truly are stronger than you think. And your baby loves you with all of his or her heart.