A (Premature) Baby Story

My son was born seven weeks early. He spent 78 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. He weighed 4.5 pounds and was 17 inches long. He was on a nasal CPAP and was weaned onto room air by his second day of life. He was fed by a tube in his nose because he could not figure out breast or bottle feeding. He didn’t figure out the bottle until he was 2 months old, and he never figured out how to breastfeed. He received photo therapy for hyperbilirubinemia for 10 days. During this time, he was only allowed out of the lights for 30 minutes at a time. He had a bilateral intraventricular hemorrhage, which according to 2 cranial ultrasounds and 1 MRI, cleared up by the time he was 2 months old. He was followed by Early Intervention for the first year of his life to check for any developmental problems due to the bleed in his brain. He suffered from apnea and bradycardia, when he would stop breathing or his heart would stop beating for a moment. When he did finally come home, he was on a heart monitor for the first six months.

About once a year, I return to the discharge report I received from the hospital on that snowy day I was finally able to take my son home with me. I read the medical jargon, and I remember everything he went through, everything I went through, everything that happened in the longest 78 days of my life.

When I remember the doctor telling me about the brain hemorrhage, or how the nurses kept telling me he wasn’t eating enough to actually gain any weight, my eyes blur with tears. The words on the 5 page discharge summary report jumble together and I remember that was how I felt. I was a jumbled mess of emotions. But mostly, I was depressed.

I spent most of those days hiding under the covers in bed, or sitting in the tub while the shower rained warm water over me. I curled up on the couch and watched TV shows like A Baby Story and cried that all those women were so much luckier than me. Every one of them got to take their baby home after only a few days.

My husband would come home from work, and we would head over to the hospital. He never once made me feel guilty about not spending my time at the hospital, but I felt guilty nonetheless. Other mommies of NICU babies spent hours sitting in that dark room, cuddling their little ones. I didn’t want to be there at all, in that place where all the other babies only stayed for days, maybe a few weeks. That place where babies would be born earlier than my baby, but they would go home while my baby still stayed. That place where beautiful tiny triplets were taken right after their birth, one dying soon after, the second going home a week later, and the third - finally - joining his sister a few days later. That place where there were mommies with sicker babies than mine.

But my husband made me go. He knew that I needed to see my baby, and that my baby needed to see me.. So I’d go with him, snuggle with my baby for a couple of hours, and then we would go home. On weekends my husband would make me go with him in the morning, and then we’d return in the evening.

This discharge summary report is the only written account I have of what happened in the autumn and early winter of 2006. Although an avid writer of my life, I did not write a word throughout my pregnancy nor for a few years after his birth. So I read and re-read the report, and I try to piece together what happened. I cling to the medical jargon, as if it can explain what happened.

Nobody really knows.

The troubles he had in the beginning of his life were directly related to the fact that he was born early, not fully developed. He didn’t even have eyebrows when he was born. But the question that is asked over and over, mostly by me, is why did he come early in the first place? The doctors had no answers for me. The best they can tell me is that by the time he was born, his umbilical cord was not completely attached to my placenta. My amateurish research has brought up no scientific term, no medical jargon, for what happened. They were just coming detached, so my body went into preterm labor in an effort to protect the baby. There is no other explanation, and there never will be.

Now he is 4 years and 9 months old. He weighs 34 pounds and is about 3.5 feet tall. He is in the 48th percentile for height, and the 5th for weight. He has never returned to the hospital and has no major illnesses. He has hit every milestone with no real delays, and he is smarter and more logical than most children I've met that are his same age. He misses the cut-off by 10 days, so he will not be starting Kindergarten until the fall of 2012. He can count to 100, sing his ABC's, write and recognize all the letters, and he has started reading short words. He cleans his own room, helps me cook dinner, and loves folding towels when he helps me do the laundry. He loves superheroes and swimming and music. And despite the initial detachment we had from each other, and the one I felt so often as I hid beneath the covers of my bed, our relationship now is strong. And I literally cannot imagine my life without him.

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