While my last post gushed with joy over how amazing the past week of new motherhood has been, this post is about how extraordinarily difficult it was – and continues to be, though hopefully there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I need to vent over the fact that in nine days of life, Spartacus has spent five of them overnight at the hospital, three of them going back and forth to appointments at the hospital, and one home with his parents without incident. It has been…trying.
If you want to make God laugh…
One of the first lessons of parenthood I’ve learned in my wisdom of eight days is that things never, ever go as I plan them. Those who know me well know that I am a planner. I love lists and spreadsheets and budgets. Every member of our family and major event has a binder with forms, to-do lists, and schedules; I write on the calendar when we are next able to download our free credit report, give Annabelle her heartworm pill, or when Amazon Prime renews.
I take extreme professional pride in my classroom website, including my online interactive lesson plans where students can see and download the readings, class notes, assignments, worksheets, and additional resources from any day for the entire school year. I’m not an OCD organizer of stuff – my dining room table with its many mail piles confirms this – but I am an organizer of information. I know what comes next and when and how urgent it is. I know exactly how many minutes it takes me to get ready in the morning so I know how many times I can hit my snooze button. Therefore the shock of motherhood having wildly different outcomes than what I had planned for is jarring.
Take a small example: church yesterday morning.
We wanted to try to make a family outing to the 11:15 service and introduce some of our friends to sweet baby Spartacus. In our heads, we knew it takes about 18 minutes to drive there, so in order to arrive early before Sunday School let out we needed to leave around 10:30-10:40. If we needed to clothe and change the baby and get the diaper bag, that would probably add about ten minutes to our getting-ready time, so Hubster and I needed to have ourselves ready by 10:20.
Obviously we did not factor in things such as
A) Spartacus fighting the latch for breastfeeding so we needed to warm a pre-pumped bottle
B) Spartacus projectile-pooping across the nursery when we attempted to change his diaper
C) Not being able to find, in the massive pile of clean baby clothes, a set of matching onesie/pants that fit his tiny frame
D) it takes longer than 30 seconds to make sure the diaper bag is good to go
E) Spartacus fights us with impunity every time we put him into the car seat.
So when our 10:30 ETD becomes 10:55, we inadvertently make church start late as pastor kindly waited for the gaggle of Spartacus’ admirers who grouped in the narthex to eventually dissipate to take their spots in pews.
That was a lesson of managing expectations on the small scale, but our large-scale expectations have also been blown away. In my mental preparations for delivery, my entire focus was on the induction process. What would it look like? How long would it take? What decisions did I need to make about pain medication or breathing to attempt to minimize discomfort? For some reason I never thought about the “after” part of delivery. I figured we’d stay a day or so in the hospital to make sure everything looked good, then get to go home to stare at our baby, returning for a follow-up in a week or so to verify my baby’s utter perfection. After all, my husband took two and a half weeks of leave and this basically qualified as our summer vacation together, so we wanted to enjoy it as much as possible with our new baby. Much like how the smoothness of pregnancy was jarred by the diagnosis of gestational hypertension, I found out that Spartacus was not considered, in the hospital’s eyes, to be perfect, and our ideal tableau of parenthood at home was not to be.
When they told me they wanted me to deliver at 37 weeks, I knew from my pregnancy books that that was considered to be “full term.” If a woman’s labor starts at 37 weeks instead of 40, no one does anything to stop it. The baby isn’t considered to be a preemie and whisked off to the NICU to get put in an incubator with lots of scary-looking tubes and wires sticking out. To me, calling it “full term” was like a burger that was medium rare; sure it was a little pink, but it certainly wasn’t going to make me sick! But Spartacus wasn’t treated to my easy dreamy hospital stay. It turns out there are a lot of things to worry about with 37-week babies that fully-cooked babies don’t deal with.
The first was temperature regulation. After an hour of skin-to-skin time, the nurse took Spartacus and my husband over to the fancy warmer to do measurements and to more closely cut the cord. Initially, his temperature was too low. They gave him to me for a bit longer to try to warm him up, then they needed to leave him in the warmer even longer. It never occurred to me that an infant couldn’t control his own temperature. It’s not exactly something I consciously do, but apparently 37-week babies often struggle with it. It meant an extra hour in the labor & delivery room, waiting to see if he could manage to warm himself up a bit. He finally could, thankfully, so we could get transferred to the mother and baby unit where you can’t hear women shout out in pain next door.
|Hubster and nurse cutting the cord|
Jaundice & the Bilibed
The second issue was jaundice. I know plenty of people whose newborns had jaundice; they joked that they laid them in a sunny window to “bake a little more” and it was all fine. All I knew about jaundice is that it makes them yellow; I didn’t realize that if left untreated it can actually result in brain damage and death! Terrifying. Well, of the four risk factors of a baby getting jaundice, Spartacus has three of them: he was born prior to 38 weeks, he is a breastfed baby, and he and I have incompatible bloodtypes (I am O-positive, he inherited his Daddy’s A-positive). He was born on Saturday night; Sunday’s blood tests revealed high levels of bilirubin in his blood, which is the pigment that builds up and turns them yellow if they can’t process and excrete it fast enough. Since he went nearly 24 hours before his first disgusting tar-like dirty diaper, this news didn’t particularly surprise us. We did not expect to be told that we had to stay another 24 hours so he could get phototherapy, a giant bassinet that looks like a baby tanning bed.
Phototherapy treatment is purely precautionary; his levels were high enough to be concerned, but certainly nowhere near life-threatening. It was painful to watch him in there; after being cozy and warm and swaddled, he was stripped to his diaper, eyes covered in what looked like baby tanning goggles, and left there. We could only take him out to feed him, and even then we had a lighted pad we were supposed to keep on our laps so he still had the light at all times. He kept taking the goggles off, so the nurse had to adhere pieces of velcro to the sides of his head so we could velcro soft little baby shades on him. Taking the shades off required one hand to hold the adhesive velcro to his skin and a second to try to peel off the extremely strong velcro shades. JPoor guy screamed with tiny little lungs and we feared we were causing him impossible trauma.
|It took a whole day for the ovals left by the adhesive velcro to go away on the sides of his head…|
When hubster went home at night to take care of the dog and because there was nowhere comfy for him to sleep in the hospital room, I would helplessly watch my precious newborn squirm in obvious discomfort at the sensory overload of his surroundings. It was heartbreaking, and I cried several times, with the night nurse assuring me that my feelings were perfectly normal but no, I can’t take him out to cuddle even though he’s so obviously distressed. Even though I knew he was perfectly safe there, and he wouldn’t remember any of it, I still ached for my little boy. Besides the pitiful thrashing and crying, every time I took him out to nurse he’d be so relieved he’d promptly fall asleep and wouldn’t latch. I am so thankful a nurse brought me a pump and showed me how to use it, or I think I probably would have given up on the breastfeeding then and there.
He went in the box at 8 AM on Monday; at 8 AM on Tuesday his levels had gone down enough that they allowed us to take him out of the box, with another test six hours later to make sure he was regulating on his own. His levels decreased slightly, and we were discharged and allowed to take him home late on Tuesday afternoon.
|Ready to go home! (He does not like the car seat…)|
Infant Weight Gain and Pumping
We returned to the hospital on Wednesday for a follow-up to discover that despite our efforts breastfeeding, he’d lost 9% of his birth weight in four days – he wasn’t malnourished, but it was enough to be concerned. I redoubled my efforts pumping in addition to breastfeeding, and we returned on Thursday for another follow-up, only to discover his bilirubin levels had skyrocketed again and he was to be readmitted for more time in the light box. This time we got a tiny room in Pediatrics for 24 more hours in the light box and were released Friday evening. He was more accustomed to it this time and didn’t put up nearly as much of a fight, but it was still an excruciatingly boring day and night for me. Hospital time is very closely linked to “airport time” – where somehow, 45 minutes in an airport waiting to find out when a flight is moved feels SO much longer than 45 minutes at home, no matter how many interesting books one brings to read.
Saturday we didn’t leave the house at all; we spent it feeding him promptly every two hours, and since I was pumping so much, Hubster could do many of the feedings with a bottle. Sunday we made the trek to church and then back in for a blood check – to find out his bilirubin levels had jumped again. Today we returned for another test with great trepidation of his needing to be readmitted, but praise God that for the first time, the levels actually went down – ever so slightly – on their own.
It has been so disheartening to go from the excitement of a new baby at home, to the fear that every time we go to the hospital we may wind up spending the night. While Spartacus no longer was fazed by the light box, poor momma was certainly developing cabin fever from being unable to leave a hospital room, and poor daddy was awfully sick of spending so much time driving on and off the army post despite the fact that he is on leave to spend time with his family. We want to be home, cuddling our son on our own couch, learning how to change projectile-poo-mustard diapers and how to juggle nighttime feedings and keep the dog from licking Spartacus’ face off every time we nurse at her eye level. We don’t want to be watching the unreliable clocks at the hospital, knowing that the instant I pick him up to nurse and take my shirt off, a nurse or pediatrician will come in to do a check and need the baby. Not to mention the extremely sadness every parent goes through any time the doctors have to poke needles into their babies; poor Spartacus had so many blood draws his heels have freckles, and at one point they actually put teeny-tiny IVs into his hands to draw from there. So sad!
Big Picture: he’s alive and healthy
I know in the grand scheme of things none of this is any big deal – all is precautionary, and with the number of things that can go wrong in the world of babies, this is extremely minor. I have friends whose babies spent weeks in the NICU, whom they could only touch through the incubator with gloves. We are blessed with really phenomenal healthcare providers watching out for our son’s best interests, and going out of their way to accommodate and understand us. Spartacus’ issues have merely caused us inconvenience, and mental strain made worse because it was compounded by the sleepless nights of new parents. We’re praying that he’s out of the woods for most monitoring, especially now that he is over a week old and well into 38 weeks of gestational time. Despite the craziness of going back and forth to the hospital, we are thankful for the time we have with our new son who, despite what the bloodwork might say, is still perfect.