I knew at Week 26 we were going to have a c-section. So the advice came early and continued until the day of delivery: get up and walk once you’re in recovery. Walk through the discomfort. Walk when all you want to do is lay in bed and eat ice chips. It will help with the healing process. But I didn’t need the reminder. If I want to see Hannah, I’ve got to get out of this bed and that fact speeds my recovery.
She’s in the NICU. And I’m across the hall. So close, yet so far.
The nurse comes in to help me stand for the first time since surgery. She’s patient and tells me to go slow. My feet are dangling off the side of the bed and I take a deep breath as I attempt what suddenly seems like an enormous task.
She holds my arm and waits as I begin to make the climb. It’s a painfully slow process. I feel like I have succumbed major surgery.
Oh wait. I just did.
As I summit to the top, I stop abruptly, my back slightly arched. I’m starting to feel really, really warm. My mouth is hot and I’m salivating pretty heavily, a sign that vomit is soon to follow. Dizziness ensues. I take a few deep breaths but it isn’t helping. The nurse takes one look at my pale face and lowers me back to the starting position.
Can we try again, I ask.
In an hour?
No can do.
I have to wait another three hours. THREE HOURS!
Davey visits Hannah frequently and shares photos and videos with me so I can get my fix.
When the next opportunity to get out of bed slowly rolls around, I nearly jump to a standing position. No, not really but I don’t feel the slightest hint of dizziness and that makes me happy. I can walk across the hall and see my daughter.
My heart swells with excitement.
I wave my arm over the sensor and the doors to the NICU swing open. The nurse at the desk ID’s my husband and I and points us to the room where Hannah resides. Another door swings open and we’re quickly guided to the sink. Instructions on proper scrubbing are posted and we oblige.
Hannah is nestled inside an incubator, her tropical refuge. Davey and I put our hands through the holes and touch our beautiful sleeping beauty.
I look at the big bulky bandage on the top of her head, holding an IV in place. I cringe. In one respect, I’m glad I didn’t have to watch the nurses put an IV in my baby’s head, how ever many tries it took to do so. On the other hand, I wish I could have been there to comfort and reassure her. My heart aches with the thought of it.
She’s sleeping soundly now. She sleeps despite the alarms and bells and flashing lights that fill the room day and night.
We stay awhile and watch her sleep. She’s so beautiful. My eyes well up with tears as we sit and stare and marvel. And cry.
Such a big miracle in such a tiny little girl.
It isn’t long before we can hold our daughter. And it feels so good.
We parade our family through like the proud parents we are, giving them the same opportunity to sit with her.
Linda, the NICU nurse assigned to Hannah, is the sister of my dad’s good friend and she quickly becomes one of our favorites. It’s hard not to be smitten with her. We have so much respect and admiration for this team of nurses and she’s no exception.
What great teachers we have among us! And compassionate souls who closely guard and protect our babies like they’re their own. They feed and comfort them, give them the special, individual care that they need and hold those close that scream unconsolably. They murmur comforting words as they rock, rock, rock our babies to sleep. They monitor the alarms and are quick to respond when necessary. And they remain calm through it all, no matter what may come. Calm and nurturing. Buddhists through the chaos. What an incredible, selfless service they are doing.
Hannah’s IV comes out on day two.
Every three hours, we unswaddle a sleeping baby, change her tiny diaper, take her temp and prepare for mealtime.
Feeding a preemie is not an easy chore. Linda teaches us a few tricks because all Hannah wants to do is sleep, typical of babies who aren’t ready to make their debut.
Stay awake, baby girl, you need to get some meat on these tiny little limbs.
That’s our number one goal right now if we want to leave the hospital. Pack weight onto her four pound, 12 ounce frame. This will help stabilize her body temperature.
We tilt her body sideways to reduce choking and we hold her away from our warm bodies. She remains unswaddled so the cool air aids in wakefulness. We tickle her feet, rub her cheek, run our fingers down her spine and twist the bottle. It’s a constant battle to keep her awake and eating.
Family members join in on the fun.
In the meantime, I’m pumping every two-three hours, something I continue for the first eight weeks of Hannah’s life. It’s remarkable how little milk I yield in the beginning compared to the amount of time I’m required to pump. 20 minutes for a few cc’s of liquid gold. But it’s enough. And I’m grateful milk production comes early.
Hannah continues to improve and slowly puts the weight on, one ounce at a time. Once or twice a day, we practice skin-to-skin, something I never even heard of until now and I love it. Linda wheels over a big, cozy recliner, sections off our corner of the room for privacy and leaves us to savor intimate bonding time as a family.
I am feeling better and better every day. On day three, I score a campus pass. I haven’t been outside in six weeks. SIX WEEKS! I’m finally allotted some freedom to roam.
It’s difficult not to sprint to the nearest exit but I remind myself not to be foolhardy and reverse the healing process. The front entrance seems like several football fields away but we finally emerge in the lobby, just a few feet from the revolving doors. I grab Davey’s hand and we make our way out into the warm summer air.
The sun hits my face and I can’t help myself. I cry, hard, advancing into the so called “ugly cry”, full of high pitched squeals, my shoulders heaving in unison. Davey looks around at inquisitive passersby and shrugs his shoulders, a plea that he has nothing to do with my current state of emotion.
Hello, sunshine and sultry air. Oh how I’ve missed you.
We enjoy lunch on the patio of a place that became our favorite remedy for hospital food throughout our stay: the Sterling Pizza Cafe.
Pizza never tasted so damn good.
I am discharged but Hannah is not yet ready to go home. Her bilirubin count is hovering just under the point that requires action and she still isn’t able to stabilize her body temperature.
That’s fine. We aren’t in any rush. Once you’re discharged from the NICU, there’s no going back. If we have to return, it’ll be via the emergency room where a full body work-up is required – I’m talking a spinal tap and the whole nine – and we don’t want that.
Luckily, we can board. The rooms on the labor and delivery floor are not yet full. We could be asked to leave at anytime of day or night though, we’re told, so we must be prepared. We silently pray that we can stay until Hannah is ready to go home.
Hannah is doing well enough to transfer to our room. We are so giddy with excitement, we can hardly stand it. Reality sets in.
It’s just us now.
The see-through bassinet is wheeled into our room. Do I hear the sound of trumpets playing and angels singing? A hand knit beanie sits next to her tiny head, a gift from volunteers for the NICU babies. Her name is written on a piece of pink paper attached to her bed. Something so simple, yet so beautiful.
Visitors come to celebrate with us and hold our sleeping beauty. I love these next three photos with my dad. Swoon.
Can’t stop swooning.
The Heat Is On
The NICU nurses come in to check her body temp every three hours. Evening sets in and it’s below normal. They’ll try again in three hours but if it doesn’t improve, back to the NICU she’ll go.
We’re sick to our stomachs and we can’t sleep. We keep checking Hannah’s temperature. We tightly swaddle her, commence skin-to-skin but alas, one of the next readings clocks in just a hair below normal.
We lower our heads as Hannah returns back to the incubator in the NICU.
After her temperature stabilizes for several hours, she’s transferred again to our room. She gets another reading just a hair below normal. Davey is hyper-vigilant and double swaddles his daughter, throws on the beanie and waits. Nurse Claire comes in, another NICU favorite, and frowns at us when she sees that Hannah is bundled to the nine. She tries to hide a smile as she shakes her head. This won’t do, she says. Single swaddle. No hat or extra clothes. She’ll be back in three hours.
What a long three hours it was. We twiddle our fingers as we watch the long hand tick, tick, tick slowly by.
One hour. One twenty. One forty-five.
Davey picks up a couple of chocolate banana smoothies for us and we sip our way to magic number three.
Spunky Claire returns with a smile. She likes us, we can tell, and the feelings are mutual. She lifts up Hannah’s arm and slides the thermometer under her armpit. We lean in as we wait for the beep, signaling a reading.
She sends in the pediatrician on call and we get the green light to take Hannah home the next morning.
We secure Hannah firmly into her car seat. She looks so small in contrast. Time to introduce you to your new home!
As I exit our room, my heart becomes heavy. We spent the last two days saying our goodbyes to our friends and our make-shift home. But the hour was finally here and it was time to leave this place for good. I just have to do it quickly and not look back. One foot in front of the other. Keep on walking.
It was a quiet ride down the elevator. Such a bittersweet moment. Endings make way for new beginnings and our next adventure outside these walls starts now.
I am surprised by my reaction when I step foot inside my home for the first time after spending six long weeks in the hospital. I thought I would be overjoyed. But it was a little strange at first. Like a prisoner who discovers newfound freedom after being institutionalized for so long. I know, it’s an extreme comparison but still. I was used to people telling me what to do and whittling away the hours within the confines of the same four walls. I had to reacquaint myself with my home and taking care of myself and my family. And learn how to care for this new addition, tiny and vulnerable as she was.
The transition was a quick one though. Hannah made sure of it.
Because she swept us off of our feet from the very beginning. And with every passing day, our hearts swelled even bigger than the day before it, expanding in ways we never thought possible.
I am completely and utterly in love with motherhood, more than I could have ever imagined, more than I ever dared to dream.
I am so very grateful. For this gift called motherhood.
This beautiful life.
My compassionate husband.
And the newest addition to our family, Hannah Lou.
Teeny tiny Hanalulu.
I know I’ll be back within the confines of those four walls. But I imagine I’ll serve less time than I did before. ; )