Thursday, November 11, 2010

Love at first sight ...

So here’s the thing that sucks most about having a premature infant because of preeclampsia: The 24 long hours you have to recover before seeing your baby after she’s born. 

Yes, you read that right. I had to wait 24 hours before I could lay eyes on my daughter.

Immediately after she was born, Beatrice Kate was whisked away to the NICU to be examined by the doctors and get the help she needed to breathe. Immediately after I delivered her, I was whisked back to a recovery room, given a shot of morphine and re-hooked to the Magnesium Sulfate. Because the risk of a seizure is still very great, preeclampsia patients are given another 24 hour course of the drug to continue lowering the blood pressure. During that time I would be confined to a bed and closely monitored every thirty minutes. Oh, and I still wasn’t allowed to eat. 

Of course, even without the Mag, the shot of morphine turned me into a raving lunatic. I was in poor shape to meet my baby. The combination of the searing pain from the delivery and my refusal to take anything stronger than a little Motrin (besides the morphine, which was administered under the haze of the epidural), the blinding headache that the morphine had given me and the fact that I had been awake for over 48 hours was starting to take a toll. 

To say that I was ill would be like saying that the Great Wall of China is a neighborly fence. I was horrible; a complete bi-yatch. So much so, that when I sobered up from everything the following afternoon- I apologized to every, single one of my nurses. They were amazing and in my drugged stupor, I was possibly the patient from hell. Not once did they lose their patience, their professionalism or attempt to smother me with a pillow. If I had been in their shoes- well, it wouldn’t have been so smooth.  Anyway, I passed the 24 hour recovery period by greeting visitors with half closed eyes.

Because of this horrendous reaction to Morphine and my inability to get out of bed- I relied solely on the reports of others about my daughter. It was both excruciatingly heartbreaking to know that I wasn’t getting the information for myself and tremendously comforting to hear. 

I wanted to know every detail. I had seen a photo of her when I first came out of delivery, but the photo wasn’t enough and I didn’t remember much about it. What did she look like? Who did she look like? How is she breathing? How bad was it going to be?
I felt so, so proud when I heard that she was over two pounds. Granted, just barely (993 grams is 2 pounds, 3 ounces). She was the “Haus” of the NICU. Of course, I later found out that people lie to the mothers. She wasn’t that big. She was very tiny; but she was certainly not the smallest of the group either.
Casey told me that she was using a Nasal CPAP machine to help her breathe. Again, I felt proud. CPAP was only two steps away from breathing on her own. At barely 29 weeks, we were prepared for her to be put on a ventilator for a while.
I heard from numerous people that she was feisty. I would later find out just how feisty and what that feistiness meant for her survival but at the time, it was so great to know that she was a fighter. She would have to be. I selfishly made the request to Casey that no one hold or touch her until I did so first. After all the work, worry, heartbreak and joy that her birth caused- I felt I was at least owed that.
Later, Casey brought in a set of her footprints. They were as big as his thumb print:
Teeny tiny footprints
He also brought back two pieces of fabric that were called “snuggle squares”. The nurses told him that we should carry the flannel squares around to make them smell like us. Then, we could leave them with Beatrice Kate - so she would always know we were with her even if we weren’t by her side. I immediately put mine in my pillowcase. Casey tucked his away in his undershirt. I eventually asked my mother-in-law to make several more for me, so she would always have a “fresh” square. Here you can see her snuggle square under her head. It looks gigantic, but really, they were only about 4-5 inches wide:
Hand thrown in for size comparison

Around 2 or 3 p.m. (I think, I really have no idea), the nurse suggested that I call down the lactation consultant and get started pumping so that I could eventually be able to breastfeed Beatrice Kate. Breastfeeding was the single, last thing that I had in my control and I was DETERMINED to make it work. I’ll post more about breastfeeding in the NICU at a later date because it was so important to me and it was vital to Beatrice Kate’s incredible health in the NICU.
Eventually, it became nightfall and I knew that meant it was getting closer to the time I could get out of bed. I had already alerted the nurses that at exactly 1:27 a.m. (a precise 24 hours) I was going to the NICU come hell or high water and that they could help me get ready or I would go up trailing my IV bags. I didn’t care.

I couldn’t sleep at all leading up to that time. I was a mixture of nerves, fear, anxiety and of course, complete joy. Casey was sound asleep in the “husband chair” next to my bed. He had spent the entire day running back and forth between Bea and me, like a Quechuan messenger. Also, I hadn’t eaten in like four days so I was also extremely hungry. Like, to the point where when someone even mentioned food- my mouth watered.

At about 1 a.m., the nurses (two actually) came into the room and started disconnecting what they could so that when the IV was finally stopped- I could get up and go. When they disconnected my IV, I jumped out of bed (literally- even after the C-Section), put on a nightgown, my robe and my Fuggs, kicked Casey to wake him up and we were on our way. At first, I attempted to walk a little. Bad, bad idea. I made it about 2 steps before I nearly passed out and requested a wheelchair.
The entire trip up to the NICU my stomach was in knots. I didn’t know what I would find when I got there-it would be a feeling that I had every, single elevator ride I took during her stay. I made Casey rush us to the NICU doors, hastily phone in (so the door could be unlocked) and scrubbed my hands so fast and vigorously, I’m surprised I had skin left.
It felt so odd and all wrong that I didn’t know which baby was mine when he first wheeled me into her pod, Pod C. I had only seen a short glimpse of her during birth, and even then I never saw her face.  If there were some kind of “baby line-up” like in Law & Order- I would have failed. I didn’t know what to expect.

Casey warned me about the CPAP and wires and, though we went on a tour before birth; but nothing could have prepared me for those first initial moments in the NICU as a parent. Suddenly, the loud noises that had once frightened me beyond belief became the sounds of life for my baby.
Casey stopped my wheelchair next to the first baby on the left. “There she is,” he said. And, there she was.
Tiny. Fragile. Beautiful. Note that all parents, of preemies or not, think their children are beautiful- but ours really was. I was completely expecting her to look like a tiny old man; but instead she was a full-formed, perfectly perfect baby.

My therapist and I talk often about this moment. The moment of love at first sight, when I laid eyes on my daughter for the first time. At that moment, a flood of emotions washed over me. Complete happiness. Complete joy. Relief that she was ok (save for a lot of wires, monitors and breathing assistance).
Then there was another emotion that kept pecking away in the back of my mind. Guilt. Again, I felt so guilty that she was in this situation because my body failed. Guilt that, through no fault of her own, she would spend the next 6 weeks constantly poked and prodded by doctors and nurses. Guilt that she would miss out on the traditional “Welcome Home Baby” signs as she and I returned home together. Guilt that I would have to return home without her in three days.
The nurse came over and asked if I wanted to hold her. Of course I did. She closed the curtains around her warming bed to give our new family some privacy. I undid the snaps on the top of my hospital gown so that Beatrice Kate and I could do something we would eventually do every single day (minus one) of her NICU stay- Kangaroo Care. Kangaroo Care is NICU-speak for skin-to-skin contact. You can read all about it here.
From the moment Beatrice Kate’s tiny diapered body was put on my chest, her oxygen saturation shot through the roof. So much so, that while we were “Kangrooing”, her nurse had to turn down the amount of oxygen she received through her bubble CPAP mask.  For the thirty minutes I was allowed to hold her, her CPAP only received room air. No oxygen required. From that moment- I became a firm believer in the healing power of touch. Even through her monitor wires, IV lines and CPAP mask/hat, I could feel the warmth of her tiny body relax when she was with me. Here's a photo of our first moment together... please ignore what I look like. It was after 4 days of no shower, labor and serious medical intervention:
Ignore the ogre, concentrate on the baby

When the nurse came back to say that we needed to put her back in her bed (for fear that she might get cold), I tried to soak in every last second with her that I could. I tried to bank away everything about her- her smell, the way her skin felt, the way she would rub my chest with her teeny hands (she still does this), the way her tiny, fuzzy body felt. To this day, I still remember all of those things from that first moment. I can tell you exactly how long she was, compared to my chest. I know exactly how I held her- like a newly born puppy, with one hand cupping her tiny tush and another wrapped around her back.

Putting her back in her warming bed was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I cried and cried that night, and every night after when we left the NICU. It was just the start of the painful, daily goodbyes we would have to endure until she came home. Leaving her bedside for the first time was heart. breaking.  I was only a mother for about 29 hours, and it felt like she and I had always known each other.


  1. Ashley and Casey,
    I am thankful you are willing to share this journey with the world, and I know many folks will benefit from reading your story. I am also thankful to be on this journey with you all! These blog entries are so detailed, and I'm sure one day Beatrice Kate will appreciate having these details to read her story!

    Looking forward to many more wonderful steps together,
    Suzanne Miller

  2. I Have only read half the previous page and this one, and im already in tears, mixed emotions! "AWHHHHHH!!!" < 'Nuff Said? x) This is adorable. She is precious. Ohh im overwhelmed with happiness, this feels quite creepy i must say. Shes beautiful, and i agree with Suzanne, she'll LOVE looking back on all this. I constantly wish i had more baby pictures, etc etc. and im 20. Anywho, Enjoy Bea! <3 *awwwwh* ;3