For twenty days our little man lived in the NICU. Being he was nearly six weeks early he still had some growing to do, particularly his heart and lungs. He would have "Brady episodes" where his heart rate and oxygen saturation levels would drop... he usually came out of them on his own but a few were bad enough he had to be stimulated (patted on the back for minor and given oxygen for major) since he started to turn dusky from lack of oxygen. Until he could go five days without a Brady (preterm) or three days post term (37 weeks gestation timeframe), we were staying. Ryan and I were fortunate enough that for the first week of his life we had the option to "room in" at the Naval Hospital. Basically by day four I was discharged but they had extra space so we were allowed to just stay in the room we were in until it was needed again. Since it was the fourth of July long weekend the hospital was pretty deserted. On the day Will turned a week old the hospital got busy again and we sadly had to go home. The staff gave us the option to stay at the Fisher House, but we knew if we had to get in the car and drive regardless we might as well be at home. Fortunately we don't live that far from base so coming back and forth was not too difficult.
My schedule would be to wake up at 8am to get to the hospital by his 9am feeding. I would stay usually through his noon feeding for sure but some days even through his 3pm feeding depending on what I needed to do that day, grabbing a lunch in the galley or cafe. I would do all his changings and feedings and help with his vitals when I was at the hospital. I would usually then go run errands or just go home and eat dinner and shower before returning to the hospital for his 9pm feedings. Some nights I'd stay until close to midnight, others I'd go home by 10:30, and we'd repeat the next day. Ryan, depending on his schedule, would usually come with me at the night feeding and hang out for awhile, or he'd stop by in the late afternoon depending on his schedule with classes and other things.
We tried to make his room and bed personalized and comfortable even if he didn't know the difference. The Lil Man bib we were given was perfect for showing off his nickname that has stuck from birth! Even the nurses and doctors were calling him that. The flag was given to us at his baby shower as "baby's first flag" and we had to bring that in with us for the fourth of July! The blanket he is laying on in the above photo is actually one the NICU gave us that volunteers donated for the babies... he ended up with two nice little blankets and a hat.
Being in the NICU is extremely difficult. It is not natural to leave your baby and walk away and then drive away knowing they are left behind. Don't get me wrong, his doctors and nurses were truly fantastic and I am so grateful for all of them, but it broke my heart every time I left my baby. I cried on more than one occasion, and I am sure post partum hormones did not help matters. I also tried to breastfeed for twelve days and sadly we couldn't make it work. Since I had a breast reduction there was always the risk I wouldn't be able to, but my supply just never fully came in. He was only allowed to breastfeed twice a day as it would exhaust him and burn calories so I had to pump the other feedings and I would never get more than a few milliliters... and the longer that went on the more likely it was that it just wouldn't improve. So at twelve days we had to throw in the towel, but at least he got something from me! That added stress did not help for awhile, that's for sure.
It isn't easy to see your baby hooked up to a mess of tubes and wires either. A feeding tube, sensors that tracked his heart rate, oxygen saturation, and respiratory rate were just some of the many things our little man was hooked up to. He also at different points had an IV and had to be under the UV lights because of his bili score (jaundice). They also tried giving him caffeine to help stimulate his heart as well as vitamin D in his feedings.
The days he had to be under the lights were the worst for me. He could only be held at feeding times for half an hour and then had to be put back... no extra mommy snuggles. By the time he ate and burped our half an hour was nearly over. Add in the fact mommy, daddy, and other people all want to hold him and there isn't much time! He also had to wear a mask over his eyes that he absolutely hated.
This photo above was taken on the day I left the hospital to go home when he was a week old. It was my last little snuggle before I had to get in the car and drive away and I think I cried from the first moment I held him until we got in to our house. Even with both our moms there I still had to go in the shower and cry as it was just an awful feeling. Seeing the "Welcome Baby Will" banner over our fireplace and the nursery all set and Will being across town was just so wrong for me.
Our growly man had a personality from the start though. He loved to be held and snuggled and he hated having his blood pressure or temperature taken. We jokingly said he would be the first case of baby hypertension because when he got mad his heart rate would jump into the 180s or even 200s!
Once his feeding tube was removed he looked like a different baby! He took to bottle feeding like a champ and began to look more and more like his daddy every day. To go home all feedings had to be done by mouth so this was a big step in the right direction for him!
To get sent home he had to pass a few tests, including his hearing test. I think he looked like an adorable little funkmaster DJ with the headphones and hat on, but that's just me! He passed with flying colors.
On Sunday we were able to give our little guy a bath for the first time (for us, not him). Since his umbilical cord was still on we had to just lay down pads and wash him from a bucket with no immersing, but it worked really well and he seemed ok with it! His cord came off the next day naturally, so he is good to go for future baths!
The other big test he had to pass was his car seat test. He had to sit in his car seat for an hour and a half without having a Brady. He nearly failed at first because within the first half an hour he was trying so hard to poop he gave himself a small Brady! Luckily the nurses knew why and didn't count it as a full Brady since he was awake and alert and it was under ten seconds... the Bradys in his sleep were much more worrisome. He did restart his test and do nearly two hours in the seat but he passed!
Today we were able to bring our Little Man home, one day shy of him being three weeks old. I know our NICU stay was not as long or difficult as some families, but it still was not easy for sure. I am so glad that at this moment my husband is giving our son a bottle in his room just so I could update my blog for a few moments. I am lucky we fight over who gets to hold him and snuggle him. I am lucky my son is healthy. I am lucky he is finally home.
Let the chaos officially begin! Our lives as we knew them will never be the same.