Tuesday, November 16, 2010

...and at last, we meet

Nine hundred and ninety-three grams.  Thirty-five point zero-two-seven ounces.  For your reference, the following items weigh more than Beatrice Kate did at birth: 1) a whole beef tenderloin from a small grass-fed cow; 2) the liver of an average human; 3) a medium-to-large bunch of bananas; 4) two bicycle wheels; 5) a newborn Newfoundland puppy.   I don’t know that there’s any way to prepare first time parents for the NICU, but I hope that by the end of this reading, you’ll understand a little bit about it, and maybe you’ll be able to better relate to any new parents you might know who are experiencing a similar situation.

Once I was out of the operating room, I went back to the delivery room to collect our things.  There was an eerie silence and calmness about it all – like the Labor and Delivery department was catching a collective breath.  I sat down on the same uncomfortable sleeping sofa where we had prayed so hard for a good delivery, and now prayed that everything was going to be OK.  I had been in the same NC State thermal shirt for about 48 hours now, was exhausted, and realized there was no time for rest!  I had a child to go visit!  As luck would have it, the last day I had been at work I was wearing a pink button-down and some dress slacks, which I had crammed in a backpack a few days prior.  I quickly changed into those clothes – it was the best-dressed I could be to meet our child for the first time.  I was walking on air, and I hadn’t been so nervous or excited but one other time in my life, on our wedding day.  I went over to the NICU, where you have to call in on a house phone to have a nurse open the door.

“Newborn Critical Care Center.”

“Yes, this is Casey Collins here to see my daughter.”

“Come in, Mr. Collins.”

I was beaming.  I haven’t often been called Mr. Collins, but it seemed like a special touch, and I appreciated the courtesy.  I went over to the receptionist to sign in, and scrubbed my hands with surgical sanitizer like I’ve never washed up before.  I was escorted to Pod C, and right there, first bed on the left, was our daughter.  For all I cared, she was just a normal baby, and I was just a normal father just like in the movies, looking in on a nursery full of chubby, full-term babies in normal little bassinettes.  There was Bea, under her little infrared warmer, with a little CPAP machine hooked up to her nose.  She seemed so peaceful, and it was hard not to tear up with joy.  It may have been about 2:30 AM, but I was full of energy.  I realized how lucky I was to be here, watching my child sleep and grow, when it was entirely possible that the dice might have fallen the other way; it was hard not to think of those families who had infants that didn’t make it.  I sanitized (again), and met BK’s nurse for that overnight shift (Hayley, I think).  Stepping back a few days, this was nothing like the tour of the NCCC.  This was much more real, and I had a reason to be there that just couldn’t be replicated, and for which I couldn’t prepare.  For the first time I touched her little back, and my hand dwarfed her entire body.  Everything was perfect, just tiny.  Tiny nails, tiny fingers, tiny ears, nose, everything.  It was amazing (and still is) that even after missing almost a whole trimester in the womb, she was so strong and developed.  I was so proud of Ashley – she was so dedicated to their health during her pregnancy, and it showed in those wee hours after birth.

The oddest thing to me about my first real meeting with our daughter was that, while I may have been scared about what was going on in the delivery room, the second I set foot through that door it was all gone.  The second I saw her in her little warming bed, snuggled up in a tiny toboggan and blanket, my perspective on the size of a newborn was forever changed.  Before this, if anyone had told me that I was going to even see a tiny 993-gram human, much less be the father of one, I would have never believed them.  I couldn’t fathom the idea of a newborn weighing anything less than five pounds, and I definitely would have been unable to visualize the concept.  But fast forward to my first trip to the NICU, in the wee hours of the morning after delivery, and God flipped a switch in my brain.  Our daughter was normal to me – she was beautiful, she was normal, just tiny.  Sure, she fit in my hand, and she was about the size of a kitten, she had some wires and monitors hooked up, but I just knew that she was how she was supposed to be.  Maybe everyone thinks that, I don’t know.  I’m glad I did – because it also made me unafraid.  I knew that she was fragile, of course, and that she needed the appropriate medical equipment to survive at that point, but she seemed sturdier than I first imagined.  She had hair, and she had good muscle tone, and tiny but long blonde eyelashes.  She could squeeze my finger shortly after birth.  That alone was enough to give me hope for the next days.  I raced back to Ashley's hospital room to tell her the good news.

The NICU is a complete emotional roller-coaster – you’re thrilled that you have a new baby!  And then you remember that you can’t hold him or her as much as you want (or at all), you have to get used to the “machinery” and the terminology (see Ashley’s last post here), and you live and die with every word you hear from a nurse or a doctor.  At one point during labor, our best resident and really the most reasonable medical voice I’ve ever heard, Dr. Linnea Goodman, told me, “On a scale of one to ten, the strength of your wife’s contractions is probably about at a thirteen.”  Watching Ashley in that kind of physical pain was no match, though, for the emotional stress that having a baby in the NICU puts on a family.  Labor can be hard for any new family, but the inability to take your child home and begin your new life slows down your perception of time, and makes you lose all ability to focus on anything else.  Even though you know that doctors and nurses are doing all they can (and they're more knowledgeable than you will ever be regarding the health of your child), you can't shake the feeling that when it comes to your child, nothing is good enough.  In the coming days, we’ll talk about the rest of that, but for now, I’m just enjoying writing about the happiness that I can still feel from meeting our daughter for the first time.  I’m so proud to be a father, and I can honestly say that I can’t imagine how incomplete life would feel without her.

1 comment:

  1. The love you feel for your daughter shines through like a beacon. This is wonderful. Thank you so much for blogging for the Fight for Preemies!