They call this day one, even though baby has only been alive for a matter of hours. And by they, I am referring to the doctors and nurses in the NICU.
When Baby D was born, he was born crying and robust. His APGAR scores were high: 9 and then 10. His colour was good. He appeared healthy and strong. We placed him skin to skin on my chest, and as he calmed his breathing settled into small rhythmic moaning sounds. We thought they were adorable. He was adorable.
I offered him the breast several times, but he did not take it. He did not open his eyes.
At first, our midwife thought that because he was born so quickly, D had not gotten the big squish he needed to open up his lungs. This is not uncommon. She felt certain it would pass. We cuddled him and I continued to offer the breast for the next two hours. His breathing did not improve, and he did not cry anymore. He laid in our arms, his breath coming in moans. The midwife decided it was time to call the pediatrician.
When the pediatrician arrived she assessed him and recommended he go to the special care nursery. ‘This is not your first baby, so you know what robust baby looks like, I’m sure,’ she said, ‘This is not a robust baby.’
Our midwife was certain this would be temporary. We sent daddy along with Baby D and I had a shower, confident we’d be together again soon. I did not hold him again for three days.
After I was clean and dressed, I headed to the nursery, only to be stopped at the door by the nurses. They did not want me in the nursery until they had settled Baby D. They were working on the IV and then they wanted to do x-rays. They asked me to return to my room and wait for them to call.
Let me be clear: this is not my first time with a baby in the hospital nursery. In fact both my other babies were in special care, though at different hospitals. Never before had I been prevented from being with my baby throughout whatever tests needed to be done.
My first son, born with a cleft, spend a day in the special care nursery until we were sure he would drink enough milk and that there were no other issues. Clefting can sometimes be part of a syndrome but for us it was not. While he was in the nursery I sat with him as long as I wanted, I could hold him, and I never felt that I’d been cut off from him.
When my second son was borh, with a fast birth and a healthy baby we’d been discharged from the hospital less than 12 hours after he was born. However later that day on a home visit, our midwife felt his breathing was too rapid and sent us back to our hospital for tests. He was in the central nursery where they poked and prodded him for blood, x-rayed him, had me not feed him for hours to see what it would do to his blood sugar, and generally did their best to thoroughly test him to be sure if he was OK. He was fine, but the key issue for me is that during all of this I was never separated from him. I was invited to have my hand on him during all the tests, and when we were sitting waiting in between tests he was in my arms.
So I was shocked, and to be perfectly frank I was furious, when the nurses in the special care kept me from baby D. I was told that getting the IV line was difficult for the nurses, that having an emotional parent in the room made it worse. I was told he ‘did not tolerate being handled’ and therefore I could not hold him between tests. I was not allowed to stand within sight range of him or the nurses.
I sat, in my yellow hospital gown, on cheap vinyl couches at the back of the room. I couldn’t bring myself to leave and I couldn’t get any closer to my son. My husband was allowed to stand with the baby, and he came back and forth to me with reports. At this point the baby was doing noticeably worse. I remember texting my sister, ‘he’s’ deteriorating.’ I remember being terrified.
I waited for over an hour, with a knot growing in my belly, waiting to hear that they had finally gotten an IV line into him. It took 90 minutes and at least 8 different pokes before they finally got a line near his belly. Still I was not allowed to go to him. They had ordered an x-ray and didn’t want him handled as he waited for it. I was advised to return to my room.
Sitting in my room, cross-legged on my bed, I raged at my midwife. She was powerless at this point, because Baby D was no longer her patient but was a patient of the pediatrician. All she could do was listen and acknowledge.
A lab tech arrived with 6 large vials to fill with my blood, to take cultures to see if I had an infection I might have un-knowingly passed to the baby. I had not been warned this was coming, and I was afraid.
No lunch was delivered, nor dinner. Somehow I, a new mother with a sick baby alone in the nursery, was like a ghost in the hospital, and afterthought. How a newborn baby’s mother can be an afterthought while that baby sites alone is beyond me.
I pumped while I waited, almost a full ounce of colostrum. I paced back and forth between my room and the door to the nursery, craning my head to look in. And when I was finally allowed in, at approximately 6 pm, 10 hours after he was born, I was not allowed to touch my baby. Again I was told ‘he does not tolerate being handled’ and that the best thing I could do was go back to my room and rest.
I stood beside his isolette and i gazed at him. His head had been shaved in three places to attempt an IV. He had a large mitten over his hand where the existing IV was. He was resting on his belly, sleeping, still moaning with every breath. He was fair and beautiful and he was mine and I wanted to drink him all in, tiny and soft behind the plexiglass. I stood there until I swooned sideways. This is when the nurses remembered I was a patient too, and I was wheeled back to my room and given some food.
At 9 the shifts changed. I held onto this hope and I went straight back to the nursery to speak to the new shift of nurses. And after a few minutes if discussion, I was allowed to reach inside the isolette and place my hand on my baby’s head. So soft, so little, so perfect and round and warm under my palm. And on the monitor, his oxygen saturation immediately improved, his rapid pulse immediately settled, and I knew that he knew I was there. The nurse looked at me and said, ‘You should never leave.’ And that sounded pretty darn good to me.