...was spent in the NICU at the University of Maryland in Baltimore. BB3 and I were transferred there, if you remember, because our local NICU couldn't handle babies smaller than 32 weeks.
According to the nurses and Neonatologists, most 30 week preemies can be expected to be in the NICU until right before their due date. This means that, had it been true for us, BB3 would have been in there for 2 months and one week, or 10 weeks. Instead, she was in there for 27 days. The first 8 days were spent in the actualy intensive care unit, and the next 19 days were spent in the Satellite Nursery, which is where babies are sent to learn to eat and gain weight. Only the most stable of babies get to be there, and it means that going home is imminent.
When she was born, she immediately breathed on her own, and kept doing so for the entirety of her stay in the NICU. She never received any help breathing, or any blood transfusions to solve apnea of prematurity, as is so common. She had a little bit of apnea, mostly while eating or trying to nurse, and a few bradychardic episodes, but for the most part just needed to grow.
Right after she was born, PB followed her down to the NICU and saw her get all tucked in to her space, and watched while she was weighed and measured again and her second Apgar was taken. Meanwhile, I was dealing with the incredibly fun afterbirth portion of my morning, and two doctors who were talking each other through the process of sewing me up. Seriously, I had been so trusting of their abilities up until that point, but the whole "Okay, so I put a stitch here, right?" just threw that out the window.
When PB came back and the "team" had all cleared out and left us alone, I didn't feel like I'd had a baby. I mean, I knew I'd delivered a baby, I knew I'd been through labor, I just didn't feel like I deserved to be honored with the title of "mother" in this instance, because I honestly couldn't believe that I had a baby. PB went to see her several times that morning, and I stayed in my room, feigning exhaustion after being up for almost 3 days straight. In all actuality though, I didn't want to see her, and have only recently admitted that to PB. I didn't feel like I deserved it, and I also felt that if I got in the wheelchair and allowed PB to take me to the NICU, I would be admitting to myself and everyone else that I had failed. Most importantly, I didn't want BB3 to know that I had failed before we even got a chance to know each other.
I still have a huge amount of guilt and anger towards myself and our experience, and sometimes when I look at her and remember how tiny and helpless she was in the beginning, I can't help but break down, because I STILL feel like I somehow caused this. Somehow, I did something along the way to cause my perfectly normal, uneventful pregnancy to go terribly, terribly wrong. Believe me, I'm not saying I'm not grateful, because I am. I know how lucky we are that I didn't have to have a c-section, and she never needed major medical treatment, and was home in four weeks, and that she's growing like a weed. I just wish there was an easy way to get over all of these emotions. I mean, for crying out loud, I feel guilty for feeling guilty, because I know our situation could have been so much worse.
They say having a baby is like watching your heart walk around in someone else's body. When BB3 was born, and immediately taken away from me, and then I saw her in that plastic box, so tiny and defenseless and covered in monitors and IVs, I felt like my heart was gone. I didn't recognize my own child, and that killed me. All I wanted to do was hug her sisters, because I knew that I couldn't screw them up. That even though I didn't get to give birth to them, they were safe with me, and I couldn't hurt them. I felt like all I could do was hurt BB3, because my body rejected her so early.
Clearly, after 4 months, I'm not over it. I probably never will be. Having a preemie, and/or being a NICU parent is something that will forever shape my life and influence my decisions when it comes to taking care of my kids. I know now exactly how precious life is. It really puts it in perspective when you see that your spouse's wedding band could be a bangle bracelet on your child.
No wonder so many preemie moms and dads end up with post traumatic stress disorder. It truly is hell on earth, and even coming through it with a healthy child doesn't help, because you saw so many parents who left the hospital without their children, or were trying to plan funeral arrangements for one twin while silently rejoicing that the other was still with them. If only therapy were covered by insurance. I could probably use some. Instead, I kiss my daughter and rub my stomach and promise to be better next time. Even though I know it's a promise I could never keep.