I’ve met a few other mums to be in the last few days. Some of the bed rest restrictions are much more lenient than mine were allowing some of the ante natal patients gather in the lounge for their meals. Today I met Kim and Susan. Susan just made 24 weeks today. She has lost two babies at 20 and 21 weeks, and is thrilled for her baby to have a fighting chance. Kim is 26 weeks and has just arrived. Her waters have broken and they are just waiting for her to go into labour. If she doesn’t, they will induce or do a Caesar in the next few days. It did remind me how blessed I am that you fought so hard, that you are still here. I will most likely see one or both of them around the NICU – I hope not for a while though. They too seemed pleased to have met me. It seemed to give them strength knowing that you were doing well.
Today has been a struggle. I’ve been feeling really good about things until now – you are doing really well, I’m going home to Lachie tomorrow, I’ve been able to get out in the air a few times. The staff here warned me about the third day being the hardest, about getting the ‘blues’. I never experienced it after Lachie was born, but this time around is different. It’s my last day with you and I’m having trouble controlling my feelings. It all feels so raw, as if I am walking around with a giant sign on my head warning that I might burst into tears at any moment.
Last night at 11pm your nurse called me and told me they were upping your CPAP level. You had gone from 8 to 7 to 6 very quickly, no oxygen needed at all. No oxygen is unheard of for a 26 weeker at this age, not even in your humidicrib. But last night you started needing oxygen. Just 24%, (21% is the same as air), but enough that they don’t want to put any extra stress on your tiny body. So you are back up to Level 7.
“Is she sick? She’s not coming down with an infection?” Infection, it seems, is the biggest threat to you at the moment and with the dozens of nurses, doctors and specialists you see daily it is difficult to protect you from it.
“No. Don’t worry dear, she’s okay. We just pushed her a bit too hard, that’s all.”
Still, I felt unsettled after the call. And to compound my dis-ease, this morning I had my first real experience of the chaos in the NICU. I was falling asleep on my chair when the alarms on the crib next to yours went off behind my head. This isn’t uncommon. Your Dad and I tend to watch the monitors nervously to the point that Nurse Ashley is known to smile at us and say “Watch your baby girl, not the monitors!” I make an effort not to hear them, but every time your oxygen saturation levels drop slightly I feel a twitch coming and take a sharp breath in. I’m on the edge of my seat for a moment until you recover. Luckily, so far, you have barely had any apnoea. Those are much scarier than a simple dip in saturation.
At first the attending nurse watched the baby’s monitor intently, (baby Campbell was born just a day or so before you and was still critical). His alarms often sounded, but this time they didn’t stop. It was an apnoea. Another nurse came over and started touching the baby on the chest. “Campbell? Come on Campbell, wake up!” It sounds ridiculous but it is actually how they rouse a baby from an apnoea. Now his saturation levels began to drop as well. Yours usually sit in the low 90’s and very occasionally dip into the high 80’s. The alarm goes off at 87, but usually after a second or two you climb back up and happily sit there for hours at a time. Campbell’s were dropping, dropping, down in the 70’s, 60’s, eventually he was sitting at 38 and began turning blue. The more senior nurse said firmly “Page Dr Martin!” I was startled from my chair, moving swiftly out of the way. Nurse Lindsay came and tapped me on the shoulder.
“It’s time for you to express isn’t it? You may want to use the mother’s room instead of doing it here.” She paused for a moment. “This situation is a bit sensitive. It might be better if you go.” I gave you a quick glance, horrified to be leaving you amongst the chaos. Campbell’s parents came rushing past from the parent’s room. Sensing there was more to it than I wanted to know, I left to come down to my room and express in the quiet. But it bothered me that I had to leave you there. I felt uneasy, uncomfortable. Like the world had disappeared from beneath my feet.
This afternoon I couldn’t sleep so I went back up to visit you. The NICU was peaceful again, and I smiled as I sat down next to your crib. The nurses had made your name tag and changed your crib sheets. You were awake and looking straight into my eyes. Content. You held my finger and I felt a small comfort again.
After a few minutes I turned to see baby Campbell. I was pleased to note that his monitors hadn’t sounded, though as I turned I realised why. The monitors were black. The tubes were gone from the wall and the name tag had disappeared. No baby blanket covered the crib. Inside, my fears were realised. Baby Campbell was gone.
You are getting so big. Sometimes I look at you and your brother and struggle to get my head around how much you have grown. You are asserting your independence daily, and part of me loves your energy, drive and forthrightness. The part of me that must deal with you in the moment when you are screaming because your t-shirt has buttons and your tutu isn’t pink enough – well that part isn’t quite so proud. But mostly, I’m in awe of you. This age is so full of possibility, caught between baby and child, learning to grow into your own skin and deciding who you want to be. I have often worried that I have a better bond with Lachie because I was able to be his mother from birth. With you, it was different. I couldn’t hold you, dress you, and even change your nappy when I wanted to. I had to grow to know you in a different way. But now that you are so full of direction and life and oh so many words, I have realised that although we love our kids entirely from the day they are born, we love them more with each day. That first day we think that nothing could mean more, that we couldn’t feel more full of love. But we do. Every day – as we get to know you and as you get to know yourself. It’s a blessing to discover a tiny little personality growing day by day into a true force to be reckoned with. I hope it never stops.
I think about the first time I realised a baby had died in the NICU. It was like being punched again and reminded it could happen to us. It’s amazing how raw the feelings still are now, three years later. Howe much I remember, how much I want to forget. How utterly terrifying every passing moment was. How each minute felt like a year? We were in a microcosm, our own little vacuum. I don’t know what I would have done if things had gone differently. Each day the stakes got higher as we grew to love you more and more and more. It got so that I couldn’t breathe sometimes. And once in a while I have a moment now to sit back and watch you shine. Watch you be yourself. And just for a moment it takes my breath away, realising how close we came so many times to losing these moments. And all I can do now is be taken with the excursion that is life with Lucy.