Thursday, February 23, 2006

My Happy Ending

The other day I heard about a co-employee who lost a baby born prematurely at around 7 months. It really got to me -- I remember thinking about it for the rest of the day and mentioning it to Jun during the ride home that night. Needless to say, that conversation brought a flashback of the time Joshua was born. If I were to pick the lowest point, the period where I was most sad, that event would win hands down.

As far as first pregnancies went, mine was terrible. The first to second trimester was nothing remarkable but the onset of the third brought preeclampsia and all the bad things that go with it. It was my first pregnancy and, maybe it's just me but it was hard for me to think of the baby as a person already. I was very aware of what was happening to my body (looking into the mirror and seeing the gross swelling guaranteed that!) but I was clueless about what it all meant to the baby and how exactly it was going to affect it. My condition got so bad that I had to stay at the high risk pregnancy unit until I gave birth. At 35.5 weeks, Joshua was delivered by CS -- they tried to wait until at least the 37th week but his heartbeat was decelerating so they had no choice. Jun said the baby was small and thin when I asked, and that was it -- I was still too woozy from the drugs.

I don't remember anymore exactly how Joshua looked after his birth. I have vague images but now it's hard to connect the hardy, active little boy he is now with the tiny baby in the incubator. What remains vivid are the feelings and the thoughts that were running through my mind during those five long weeks. I remember feeling so sorry for him when I saw him in the warmer the second day. He looked like an old man -- all wrinkled skin and big head with puffed up eyes. And it frightened me to see him so skinny -- he weighed only 3.1 pounds at birth. I remember the dread we felt every time the neonatologist paid us an early morning visit in our room because it meant there was something wrong again with Joshua. And when I went home, I remember crying so hard in the car because I was leaving my baby behind. I hadn't even been able to buy any baby stuff before my hospital stay and there was nothing in the house to indicate that I just had a baby.

And so I settled down to a routine -- I would be at the hospital by 7am with my small container of snacks and milk, leave at 4pm and sink into a depressed stupor with bouts of crying and angry outbursts in between until bedtime. It was a wonder I didn't drive Jun crazy. I had very little breastmilk but I was determined to breastfeed because I wanted to be able to hold Joshua. I tried everything to increase my supply of milk but I was too tired and stressed from staying at the hospital all day and so depressed at night that it was a losing battle. I learned all the medical terms about premature babies, their conditions, and what could go wrong. I found out which nurses were more caring and which ones plain didn't give a hoot about the babies. Some people were telling me that I didn't have to go everyday -- that I should rest and that it would be ok but I refused to listen. Only Jun understood that the only thing that lifted my depression was being at the hospital with Josh. I remember not wanting to socialize, not wanting to be visited at the hospital, and not wanting to talk to people outside of my immediate family. I hated explaining what was wrong with my baby and nobody except Jun understood what I was going through. I was only happy when I had Joshua in my arms, even with the IV, the orogastric tube, breathing & heart rate alarms attached to him.

I remember feeling grateful for God's small miracles -- the time he almost had a full blood transfusion which the doctor cancelled at the last minute because his skin looked better. Everyday he gained a little weight was a miracle. It didn't take me long to realize how lucky Josh and I were -- most of the babies in the NICU were too sick to be held by their mommies. Some of them had complications like hydrocephalus -- there was too much water in the baby's brain that they had to surgically drain it every couple of days. Some of them were too tiny -- the baby boy next to Joshua's incubator was born at 24 weeks. His hands and feet were too tiny to support an IV needle so they inserted one in the jugular vein on his neck. Some of them had been there for more than three months, and one of them, a baby girl, got an infection and didn't survive. Only Joshua was old enough to breastfeed in that room -- I learned that the suck, swallow, breathe reflex is developed in babies at 32 weeks. Born earlier than that and the baby won't know how to breastfeed. I became friends with three other mothers who visited everyday. Sadly, we were the only ones who visited, the rest of the babies only had their doctors. We'd see each other in the morning and chat in between nursing sessions and discussions with doctors and nurses. We barely knew each other's names but within the confines of that NICU, we knew that we were the only ones who completely understood what each was going through. And we missed one of our friends when her baby girl died. Joshua was the first to leave the NICU but I learned that all of them eventually went home.

So I learned to live one miracle at a time. Eventually, my depression eased as Joshua continued to gain weight and graduated to the well baby room in the nursery. It was a relief to go home. I'd been sharing Joshua with the nurses and doctors so I was glad to finally have him all to myself. Now when I recall those days, it just seems like a bad dream. One that I forget every time I look at my little boy. And I'm glad that everytime I tell Joshua the story of his birth, it has a happy ending.