Today Lisa and Nurse Liz have promised to take me on a tour of the NICU – that’s the Neonatal intensive care unit, where you will most likely be taken when you are born. I am really nervous because I have been doing my best to stay in my bed with my legs elevated. The doctors don’t know if it actually works, but I am willing to give it a go. Dad helps me shower each night and I am very quick, making sure gravity doesn’t take affect for too long. Other than showers and bathroom breaks I don’t leave this bed.
So a visit to the NICU in a wheelchair is a little unnerving. I’m worried about sitting upright and how much pressure will be on you. Nurse Liz says it is fine, the doctors say its fine, but I’m still terrified.
On the other hand, I need to see what a baby your size looks like. Each night Dad and I read about your current gestation, how big you are – about avocado sized at the moment – and the thought of you being delivered now is terrifying. I need to see what we are up against.
Lisa is chatty and happy and glad to be out of the room. The hospital no longer make her bed or bring her food, so she’s up and about a fair bit, but the ward can be pretty boring. Sometimes it feels as though the walls are closing in.
Liz is pushing me, and her calmness is contagious. I can feel her relaxed, assured presence behind me and feel a little bit less jumpy. Liz lets us in with her key card and helps me to the basin to wash my hands. There are huge signs in the entrance way, detailing exactly how to wash hands most effectively and industrial sized bottles of every type of soap and antibacterial wash. We wash to the elbows, scrub, rinse and then dry our arms. Then put some antibacterial liquid on for good measure.
Archie is in special care. There are three levels within the newborn care centre – Special care for babies that are likely to be going home soon and don’t need any intervention from doctors or nurses, high dependency for the babies that are still dependant on medical attention but are ‘out of the woods’ and the NICU for the sickest and tiniest of the babies. It’s probably a good thing we are visiting special care and not the NICU today, though Liz tells me I should make an appointment to go and do a tour before you are born so I am not too shocked at what I see.
Lisa has been worried about Archie not tolerating his feeds, but the nurse on duty has good news for her. He has fed particularly well tonight and is ready for a suck feed tomorrow, probably a bottle. He is in a humidicrib, though Lisa is hopeful he will be in a bassinet soon because he can then be transferred to Gosford Hospital closer to where she lives with her other children. She only has a few more days before they will need the bed for another Mum and she has nowhere to stay down here.
Lisa takes the cover off the humidicrib and opens the little door. She strokes Archie gently and tells him that she loves him and misses him, and they will be together soon. There’s the hint of a tear in her eye, but I sense she’s holding back for my benefit. For the first time I realise that no matter what happens we are in for a long, rough ride. Here in the safest part of the newborn care centre, the most human thing in the world is for a new parent to want to take their child into their arms and comfort them. To be able to bring them to their home, feed them normally, and do all the normal things that parents do with new babies. Oddly, he is perfectly formed, and looks just like a miniature baby. His skin is smooth and pink, he smells of baby smells, he exudes peacefulness in his tiny slumber. The normality of his appearance, in this place where normal is a distant memory, seems a little strange.
I am happy I came today, and I realise I have nothing to be afraid of. But I do need to prepare myself for what’s in store. In my heart I know the quiet tranquillity of special care is a far cry from the NICU and I hope you are not brought into what I imagine is far more chaotic and stressful than Archie’s peaceful surrounds.
Oh, you are in a state today. Nothing is the way you want it to be. You’re pink tutu is in the wash, (because you ran outside in the thunderstorm chasing your brother around), and you have to wear yellow. We’ve run out of Dora biscuits which has turned your world upside down. You want to go outside and play and get muddy because the rain has you going stir crazy, (much like your brother). I don’t pretend it isn’t stressful having a threenager in the throes of navigating the minefields of tantrums that make up your young life, but while in the moment I am frustrated and exhausted, I can never forget where you have come from. I can’t help but smile as I recall the little blob dancing around my tummy on the scans, or the tiny little 26 weeker that got so tired of ventilation she went ahead and extubated herself with a stray hand. The little ball of energy the NICU nurses called ‘feisty.’ Sometimes it seemed you existed purely to hinder their working lives, and as you launch yourself onto the ground because your pyjama top has buttons on, I understand their frustration. But all I can do is marvel at your pure will and determination. And for that reason your tantrums make me smile a little.