She was doing well, but was still more fragile than your typical newborn. She had central sleep apnea, just like all the other preemies in the surrounding cribs. Her brain was too premature to realize that she had to continue breathing during sleep, but her neonatologists assured us that she’d grow out of this. In the meantime, we had to keep her attached to a breathing monitor while she slept. A piercing alarm would sound if she stopped breathing.
By this time, I felt like old friends with several other “NICU mommies.” A sibling is the only person who can understand your childhood; these women are the only ones who will truly understand this experience. (Read their stories here.)
In order to “graduate” from the NICU, we were required to take a baby CPR and Heimlich maneuver class. We all laughed at our creepy looking baby dolls that we had to practice on. They gave me the heebie jeebies.
Finally, it was our turn to put our baby in her brand new car seat, little dress and hat. We waited for the valet to bring our car.
“Can you believe how long that took?” he complained.
“I know,” I said, half proudly. “It took us six weeks, but we can finally bring our baby home!”
“Oh, I meant how long it took me to get the car,” he mumbled.
I nodded. “Normal people problems,” I thought wistfully.
We brought her home. Let her grandparents hold her for the first time. And just stared at her. What were we supposed to do?
It was baby boot camp. I thought the NICU was exhausting. Every three hours, we had to feed her. I was only allowed to breastfeed her twice a day, so I was continuing to pump. Feed. Burp. Put her down. Pump. Wash. Maybe I’d have an hour to rest, bathe or eat before we had to repeat.
My husband was still convalescing from his surgery. His law internship was over, but he’d be working as a contractor soon. (Kind of like a full-time employee, but without benefits. Another stepping stone in the bullshit cycle of free labor, to “part-time” 35 hour work weeks, to full-time, 70 hour work weeks. God bless America.)
For three days straight, we didn’t sleep more than two hours a night. In the first 72 hours, she came down with an eye infection and a diaper rash. We had been to the pediatrician every day. I was worried that I might become best friends with these people.
Finally, we decided to divide our sleeping shifts. I would fall into bed at 9 pm. My husband would wake me around 2 am, and I’d take over until about 6 am, when my mother-in-law would watch her for two hours, and I’d take a nap.
We were trying to get her to gain as much weight as possible, and to keep her growing.
It was both grueling, and beautiful. The schedule was awful, but here we were together caring for this amazing little person. We couldn’t understand how we could love her more each day, when we had loved her so much yesterday. It was like we were the Grinch that stole Christmas, and our hearts kept growing three sizes bigger. You’ve never seen prouder parents.
I was changing her diaper one day, when I noticed she’s suddenly stopped crying. I looked at her face, and her eyes were bulging, glassy, and her arms were stiff at her side. Milk was flowing out of her mouth. She looked like a corpse, or that creepy baby doll from the hospital.
I yelled for my husband. “She’s stopped breathing!”
Omigod, omigod, omigod.
Everyone came running up to the nursery. I looked at my mother-in-law—a doctor; my husband—a man, unsure of what to do next. They stood there looking at me.
“Jen,” my husband screamed, “Do it!”
I broke out of my reverie, and started pounding on her back, flipped her to my other arm and gave her three chest compressions, flipped her back over and pounded again. I blocked every thought out of my head, concentrating completely.
“Breathe, BREATHE!” I kept repeating.
It must have been 30 seconds, the longest half minute of my life, when finally she began to respond. I started crying.
“Is she breathing? I think she’s breathing.”
“Yes,” my husband replied, and held her tightly.
We stared at each other, dazed by another life-threatening moment. We wondered if this was the way things would be from now on.
We took her to the emergency room to make sure she was OK. Thankfully, she was.
Still, we worried, “What’s going to happen next?”