I think it’s safe to say that everyone – men, women, parents and non-parents alike – knows that there are certain things you forget about the early days of having a baby. The pain of battered and bruised bits, or C-section scar, the cracked nipples, the leaking boobs, the zombie-like state that you exist in thanks to never getting more than 45 minutes sleep in a row. Nature makes you forget all this or no one would ever have a second child.
When your birth, and/or the aftermath, is traumatic, there’s a lot more that isn’t so easily forgotten, but even that trauma fades in time – and not always as slowly as you might think. I’ve connected with a couple of people recently (thanks to Facebook) who have really brought that home to me.
A friend of a friend is sadly going through a very similar experience to the one we found ourselves in. A lack of oxygen at the birth, cooling therapy, a lengthy NICU stay, a fairly negative-looking MRI followed by a not-so-great prognosis, feeding difficulties… The list is pretty lengthy.
The dad in question got in touch to ask some advice about therapies and fundraising. Their son is still in hospital but they want to make a start on healing him right now. And who can blame them? I am always happy to waffle at length about therapies so he came to the right person, but we also ended up bonding over what it means to have a baby in NICU.
While parts of those four weeks are still fresh in my mind, there was so much I’d forgotten and that surprised me. I have healed and moved on from the rollercoaster of those very early days where you live day to day, hour to hour, moment to moment, not sure whether your little bundle will learn to breathe on his own, or have seizures, or stop having seizures. Whether there will be permanent damage after some of his organs failed, or whether you will ever take him home.
Then things look up. He’s breathing! His seizures have stopped! He’s out of NICU and onto HDU (High dependency unit). Then he’s in SCBU (special care) and he’s moving rapidly up the corridor towards the final room. Where it all comes to a bit of a standstill. The gains he has made in taking the bottle plateau. He’s unhappy at night so they sedate him so he sleeps all day and you can’t rouse him to feed. You express milk, he sleeps, you pump some more, he sleeps some more.
Your allotted time for feeding and changing rolls round. You can’t quite believe that you have to think about nappy changes and feeds in such a regimented manner – every four hours, on the half hour in our case – the nurse nudges you to change his nappy while she measures out his milk to be warmed. You have to play by their rules and you don’t feel you own that baby. It’s like he’s not yours and he won’t be until you get him home. And to get him home, he has to feed, but he’s not feeding because he’s too sleepy and he’s too sleepy because he had that choral hydrate last night but he needed the choral hydrate because the nurses couldn’t cope with his crying and the cycle rolls on. Until you put your foot down and ask to bring him home with that damn NG tube. And then a whole other set of dramas unfolds!
That all, thankfully, seems like a bad dream and a lifetime away now. Ted is nearing two years old and we are in our own little rhythm. It’s not like your average family, but we are coping and we are growing and changing and thriving. The sadness and the fear rise up sometimes but we also have joy and fun and happiness.
We must be OK because we’re talking about trying for another baby…