Guest post by Mary-Peyton Amburn. Mary-Peyton lives in Raleigh with her husband Daniel, 3.5-year-old son Whitaker, and newborn daughter Caroline.
Every expecting mother has an idealistic plan of how her baby is going to be born. Whether it’s a rigid birth plan or just a wait-and-see plan, I can promise you that they all include a healthy baby, chest snuggles, and the picture perfect moment of when you head home.
At 28 weeks and 4 days pregnant with my daughter (and second child), I was hospitalized at Rex due to complications caused from Placenta Previa. I went home 6 days later on bed rest only to return a week and a half later. It was a devastating realization that my daughter would not come into this world on her own time.
Even still, I just knew that my body was going to hold out for her until it was safe for her to arrive. I had high hopes. Our daughter, Caroline, was born via emergency c-section 5 days later weighing 4 pounds 9 ounces. She was 31 weeks and 5 days old. One moment I was surfing through the TV channels in my hospital bed and not even a full 45 minutes later I had a baby.
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I can honestly say that the first 48 hours of Caroline’s life was the most traumatic experience I have ever been through. I was still in shock from the trauma of her birth, overwhelmed by the constant beeps and medical equipment of the NICU, and at a complete loss of how to connect with my newborn. I had no idea what all the numbers meant on the monitors and my husband was more in tune with our baby than I was.
To add salt in the wounds, Caroline was rapidly declining from her initial “honeymoon” phase into preemie behavior. A nurse later told me, “Caroline ordered everything on the menu.” She began with a pneumothorax, or what we would think of as a collapsed lung, that required a chest tube in order to relieve the air that was building in her chest cavity. They inserted belly lines through her umbilical cord to act as an intravenous line for nutrients and blood draws. She was also on a CPAP for oxygen.
The full realization of what was happening to our sweet baby came after her chest tube and belly line procedures. I was wheeled into the NICU to see her after two excruciatingly long hours of waiting. I remember asking if I could touch her and feeling the sadness that came with that question. It is something a parent would never dream that they would ever have to ask. As I reached into her little incubator, Caroline crashed.
There really are no words to describe that moment. I have played it over a thousand times in my head and it will forever be burned into my mind. Watching your lifeless baby being shaken in attempt to stimulate her and then ventilated immediately isn’t something you forget. They quickly wheeled me away while the amazing NICU team that surrounded her worked. Looking back now I realize that the staff is fully trained for these medical moments, but at the time I didn’t know if Caroline would be okay. So as I sat in the NICU lobby crying inconsolably, the other NICU nurses embraced me. I may have this awful memory, but it is in conjunction with a memory of tenderness from complete strangers.
It turned out that being on the ventilator was the best thing for Caroline. It gave her time to rest while the machine breathed for her. She showed tremendous improvement and within 48 hours of being ventilated she was down to just a nasal cannula. Caroline was also treated with Indocin for a PDA in her heart and for jaundice. After her first week and a half, we were looking at an entirely different baby. She was off oxygen completely and she became a Feeder/Grower. She had to learn how to eat! We slowly fell into a new routine of juggling hospital time with our son at home. It was both emotionally and physically exhausting.
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Caroline spent 26 days in the NICU. Though it was an amazingly difficult time for our family, I actually miss our time there. Rex and the Special Care Nursery staff became an extension of our home. They cared for my baby girl for almost the whole first month of her life. They bathed, fed, changed, snuggled, and burped her. They monitored and watched over her as if she was their own. When my world was upside down, I was soothed by their kindness, their instruction, their care. It is a sickening feeling to leave your baby behind, to imagine them alone in a hospital, but my husband and I found comfort in the gentleness and aptitude of her caretakers. When asked about Caroline’s care there is one statement that we do not waiver from: “It takes a special person to take care of NICU babies.”
I may not have gotten my perfect birth plan but I walked away with so much more. We left 26 days later with a healthy baby, lots of kangaroo care chest snuggles, and a picture perfect moment of going home. A moment filled with more knowledge, love, and humility than I could have ever imagined.
This weekend is the Rex Healthcare Special Care Nursery Family Reunion. Family being the keyword in the event title. Though meant as “bring your whole family,” I see it differently. When we needed them most for love and support, the Special Care Nursery became our family. We wouldn’t miss the reunion for anything.