It was a bright, beautiful morning, August 5, 2002. At 6:30 the bedroom my husband and I share filled with soft music from the alarm clock and I awoke from another night of uncomfortable slumber. I was nine months pregnant and physical comfort was becoming more elusive each day.
There was no point in trying to go back to sleep, so I shuffled to the living room and said goodbye to my husband Will as he left for work, "You never know, maybe I'll call you in a few hours, today could be the day." I said to him, but I didn't really believe myself, we had just been to the hospital the day before with false labor and I wasn't feeling any contractions at the moment.
I turned on the TV and ate breakfast; Honey bunches of Oats and a pre-natal vitamin. As I began to watch ER, I felt a stomach ache coming on. I laid down on the couch and cuddled my little kitten Squeakers, hoping that I wouldn't end up loosing my breakfast. The pain only continued to get worse, and soon I was pacing around the house and beginning to worry. This couldn't really be labor though, I had felt many pre-labor contractions, and they always had a beginning, peak, and end. Now, I felt only a sharp, constant pain.
"Well," I thought, "just in case this really is early labor I'd better have a shower and get ready to go." The warm water lessened the pain for a while, but as soon as I dried off afterwards I began to hurt even worse. I knew I had to call Will, but first, for some crazy reason I wanted to check my e-mail. I was so distracted by the pain I couldn't even read one short letter from my aunt! I called Will at about 8:00 and told him to come home. I stroked my bulging belly and reassured my baby, "Don't be afraid Hannah, everything is going to be alright, I'll take good care of you."
When Will got home he tried to get me to lie down and count contractions with him, but it hurt too much to lie still, and it was almost impossible to tell when one contraction ended and another began. I could feel an increase in pain every 3-5 minutes, but the pain never went away. It was clear to us that we needed to leave for the hospital, I had tested positive for Group B Strep (GBS) and we both knew that I would need IV antibiotics during labor. I had read all about Group B Strep as soon as I'd found out I was colonized, we had packed a list of warning signs of Group B Strep Disease to watch for in my hospital bag.
I was still not dressed, nor had I combed my wet hair. I tried to find something to wear and realized that I had no clean maternity clothes! I didn't want to wear my pajamas; people were going to be looking at me after all, it was bad enough that I wasn't wearing any make-up! Will convinced me to just throw on his scrubs, which he sometimes wore around the house. They were big enough to accommodate my pregnant belly and were not technically pajamas. I did worry for a moment that I would appear foolish wearing scrubs to the hospital, it was about as stupid as wearing a toy sheriff's badge to the police station! But I was in too much pain to care about looking foolish, and so, we set off.
Luckily, we live quite close to the hospital. The maternity ward was on the second floor; I was so uncomfortable waiting for the elevator! I had to try so hard not to make a scene by making any noise or acting undignified! As soon as we reached the maternity ward I was given a room. I had been in another one of the rooms just the day before, I wished that I could be in that room again, it had been a little bigger and had a pretty stained-glass window. The nurse on duty was an older woman who seemed a little stern; she checked me and informed me that I was still only about 3 cm dilated. I was so disappointed! I had been at a 3 for weeks! She seemed surprised that I was in so much pain, she later told me that she would not have admitted me at that time if I had not seemed so uncomfortable.
The nurse gave me a gown to change into and called my doctor. She then hooked me up to an external fetal monitor, a monitor to measure my contractions, and a blood pressure cuff. A while later I was given an IV with saline and antibiotics to treat the Group B Strep. All of these attachments meant that I was supposed to just lie still on my back, but that was nearly unbearable! I just HAD to move, I really wanted to get out of bed and walk, but the hospital had a policy of monitoring the mother and baby for 20 minutes every hour. Unfortunately, the monitors were not getting good readings; it was difficult to pick up my baby's heartbeat. And, according to the monitor my contractions were not very frequent or strong, but I was still in terrible pain! It all made no sense!
So, my nurse decided that internal monitors were needed. This was NOT going according to plan! I had wanted so much to have a natural birthing experience; I wanted as little interventions as possible. I had been planning my baby's birth since before I was even pregnant! My convictions were all slipping away from me now, I had no idea what was going to happen to me, I was scared and in pain and no one seemed to know why. The nurse was concerned that I was experiencing so much pain between the actual contractions, she explained that I might have a slight placental abruption, she compared it to a bruise.
To insert the internal monitors my amniotic sac must first be broken, when it was we were surprised to find the fluid that gushed out was thick with ugly greenish black meconium, it looked like pea soup. I'd read about this, the baby had passed the meconium in response to her little body being stressed, now there was danger of her inhaling it and developing pneumonia, which can be fatal to a newborn. To prevent this, the doctors would need to suction out Hannah's mouth and nose thoroughly as soon as she was delivered.
I was worried and scared, but I couldn't really believe that my baby would have any serious complications. After all, most babies are born healthy and I was young and healthy. I had tried my best to take care of myself during pregnancy; I had eaten well and had exercised almost every day. I believed that I deserved to have a perfectly healthy baby.
I was just in so much pain. I finally asked for some kind of pain medication, "Something small, maybe through my IV." I pleaded. The nurse was quick to comply. Ah, Nubain…my memories get a little fuzzy after I am given Nubain, what a wonderful drug! I am finally able to obey the command that Will and my nurse kept ordering, "Relax." I'm so relaxed I can even forget the shame of forgoing the natural birth I had planned. I still felt some pain from my contractions, but I was able to breathe through them calmly. I closed my eyes and focued my attention inward, I thought about my baby Hannah, "I hope that she is alright," I thought to myself, "I hope that she is not afraid."
Sometime during my drug-induced haze I was checked and found to be 4 1/2 centimeters dilated and completely effaced. I was so glad to be making progress, but it seemed like such a long way to 10 centimeters!
After we discovered the meconium in my amniotic fluid Will called our friend Anthony and asked him to come and help him give me a Priesthood Blessing. Anthony arrived soon after the Nubain took full effect. I smiled and said hello to our friend, I told him I was very drugged up! I can't really remember what Will said in the blessing, but I do remember feeling peaceful and reassured that I could do this, I could give birth to my baby. We thanked Anthony as he left.
Will asked if I wanted to call our families and let them know that Hannah would soon be born. I was excited to call and tell my mother! We didn't talk long, I could feel the Nubain wearing off, but she promised to pray for us and I promised to call again after the baby was born. Will called his parents next, I knew that they would now want to rush over to the hospital and I told Will in no uncertain terms that I did NOT want them to come in the delivery room at any time!
The effects of the Nubain were fading fast now, the pain was worse than ever. I wanted so much to get out of that damn bed! I just knew that I would feel better if I were more upright, but I was hooked up to too many wires and probes to allow much movement. Will had to practically hold me down! I cranked the bed up as much as I could, but I was still horribly uncomfortable, I wanted out so badly! I gripped the sides of the bed to hold myself up, Will offered his hand to me, but I felt more comfortable holding on to the bed railings. I knew he felt helpless and hurt, I kept begging him for help without knowing HOW he could help me. In desperation, I did the unthinkable (at least to me) I asked for an epidural.
I was told that the Anesthesiologist was busy at the moment but that he would be with me as soon as possible, it seemed like I waited for an eternity! I kept begging poor Will to do something, to go and get the "evil, mean" Anesthesiologist and make him help me! At one point I cried for my Dad, "My Dad would make him (the Anesthesiologist) help me" I said accusingly to my husband! Soon enough however I would learn that the Anesthesiologist was not going to be able to give me a quick fix.
When the Anesthesiologist finally arrived I was in the midst of transition, but I didn't know it. Getting the epidural was arguably the worst part of my labor; I had to hunch over and hold still, both tasks were nearly impossible. I was sobbing and afraid, I hated the idea of a long, dreadful needle going deep into my back. It took three agonizingly painful tries before the epidural was finally in place. At that moment, my Doctor made his first appearance of the day. He walked in cheerfully and asked how I was, not caring that I could not reply. He checked me and announced that I was 10 centimeters dilated! I burst into tears, the epidural was not even providing any pain relief yet and it was already time to deliver! "Most women are happy when I tell them that." Dr. Dyer chuckled, oh how I wanted to hit him.
The nurses and other various people began to set up for the birth, a handsome young doctor who had been in a few times before talked to us kindly and asked if we had a birth plan. "I did, but I think it's already been ruined . . ." I said weakly. Will spoke up for me and told the Doctor that I wanted dim lights and time to hold my baby, and the Doctor apologetically replied that none of that would be possible. I told him that I really didn't want an episiotomy, he said he'd try to avoid one.
By the time everything was ready and my doctors were scrubbed up, much to my relief my epidural was in full effect. My bed was cranked up until I was almost standing in the stirrups; it was time.
With only a few pushes Hannah's head was out, the younger doctor suctioned her nose and mouth meticulously. "See her head" I encouraged Will, I knew he didn't want to see anything gory, but I was so curious to know what my baby looked like! "Oh! She has lots of hair," Will exclaimed delightedly, "and she had the cutest little ear!"
With one more push Hannah Rose Fanning was born at 2:03 PM. The doctor held her up for us to see for about two seconds, her body was pink, but her head looked bluish, she had so much dark hair, what a beautiful baby! Then she was handed off to the Pediatrician. I told Will to go and take her picture while they worked on her, I figured they'd be done with her in a few minutes but I wanted pictures of her first few moments of life here on Earth.
I was so excited to have my baby a last; I just couldn't wait to hold her! I wanted to cuddle with her and look into her eyes and nurse her, I felt an overwhelming desire to be near my newborn baby girl. But . . ."She's not crying" I noted anxiously, "They're not letting her cry, they have to suction out her airway" the doctor explained. I knew that, I had just hoped they'd be done by now. For the first time I began to think that my baby might not be OK.
The next thing I knew the Pediatrician was talking about taking Hannah to Intensive Care. No! This couldn't be happening; my baby was going to the NICU! A nurse brought her over to my bedside so I could see her one more time; I reached out and stroked her warm skin. She was crying, my sweet little baby was crying and I couldn't hold her and comfort her. I fell back on the pillows sobbing; "I don't want her to go, don't take her away" I pleaded. "You don't want her to stay here and be sick do you?" the nurse chided. Well of course I didn't! "I mean I don't want her to have to go . . ." but she was already out the door.
For so many months I had imagined the birth of my first child; I would be calm and confident, she would be healthy and beautiful. As soon as my baby was born I would hold her close and Will and I would bond with the tiny new person we had made; it was the perfect beginning for our perfect little girl. Now, that dream was gone and in its place was a frightening and uncertain reality.
More than anything I wanted to follow my baby, see where she was going and what would be done to her; but I was still a patient, trapped and helpless on the bed. I wanted Will to go with Hannah in my place, but the doctor's would not let him be with her yet. I had not planned to ever be separated from my baby, I had wanted complete "rooming in" together while we were in the hospital, one more plan was now shattered.
I chatted nervously with the doctors as they finished taking care of me, all the while envisioning my baby dying or suffering through painful procedures as she screamed in vain for her mother. The list of possible complications from group B strep disease ran through my mind; sepsis, pneumonia, meningitis . . . Will suggested that I call my mother again, I was so glad to hear her kind and reassuring voice! I broke down and cried to her all of my horrible fears and worries, this time though my mom couldn't make it all better for me; no one could.
After a long and agonizing hour Will was finally allowed to go see our baby, his parents, who were also at the hospital, were allowed to see her as well. I was still considered too indisposed to go to the NICU, I wanted more than anything to jump out that wretched hospital bed and run to my baby! But I had developed a fever and so I was being fussed over by the nurse.
I had been desperately thirsty throughout my labor, I had begged for water but the nurse would not allow me anything but ice chips, which hurt my teeth and did not relieve my thirst. Now that I was finally allowed to, I guzzled water and juice as fast as I could, I was also brought a small meal, I had never felt so hungry and thirsty in all my life. I swore that if I ever had another baby that I would drink water during labor no matter what anyone said!
Finally, the nurse came in and asked me if I could stand, I did so with no trouble at all. After a quick trip to the bathroom I was put in a wheelchair and taken to see my baby in the NICU. My mind reeled with the nightmarish images I feared I would see, a lifeless little body and an explanation from a doctor 'I'm sorry, we did all that we could'… The doors to the NICU were locked with an electronic combination lock; the nurse typed in the code and opened the door. There were rows of isolates and cribs, and there, on a warming table with Will close by, was my newborn daughter. Will pushed my wheelchair closer and delightedly told me, "Look, it's my wee, my wee baby!" She was naked except for a diaper, and there were probes and wires all over her tiny body. The most disturbing piece of equipment was the hard plastic oxygen hood covering her entire head; she was breathing 90% oxygen with purified mist. The mist clouded the sides of the oxygen hood making it difficult to see her tiny face.
"Hello Hannah baby, Mama's here." I felt awkward meeting my little daughter for the first time as my in-laws and a nurse watched; I wished that they would just go away. I stroked her soft skin and tried not to cry; I wanted to hold her so much! But I was still not allowed to. It was hard to believe that she was really my baby; it seemed that she belonged to the hospital, not me.
A NICU nurse explained to us what each probe measured and why it was important. I had seen these devises many times, in my own experiences and on television, but they looked so menacing and large on my tiny baby. I was told that Hannah weighed 6 pounds 9 ounces and was 20 inches long; so little! And yet so sick . . .
After what seemed to be the briefest moment in my lifetime I was told I would have to leave my little baby again. They needed to perform a "procedure"; a lumbar puncture, or in other words a spinal tap. I knew that this was so they could tell whether Hannah was developing meningitis, a condition that can be fatal to a newborn. I was whisked out the door of the NICU to wait and worry once more. My nurse wanted to take me upstairs to "get settled" in my recovery room, but I wanted no such thing, I had waited two hours to see my baby the first time and I would wait again now, as long as it took.
Will and I told each other how wonderful and beautiful our little daughter was, he filled me in on all that the doctors and nurses had told him. Before I had arrived to see Hannah, her status had been even worse, she had been on 100% oxygen and had not been absorbing it well enough. Now she was slowly improving, we were so glad that she was; apparently a baby boy had died of GBS in this very hospital not more than a year ago, one of the nurses had told Will. Why she had told him I can not fathom.
We finally saw our sweet baby again, we stroked her and talked to her and marveled at her, but then my nurse came for me and would not take no for an answer. As soon as I got to my room I asked for a breast pump, I knew that Hannah was not yet allowed to nurse, and although I hoped that she would be able to nurse soon I knew that I would need to start expressing milk immediately. I soon received the breast pump complete with all sorts of confusing parts, a nurse showed me how to put it together and assured me that the Lactation Consultant would answer any questions I might have. After eating dinner I tried the pump out; I didn't get much, just a little colostrum, but it seemed like a good start. Meanwhile, Will and his father gave Hannah a Priesthood blessing, I was upset that I was not with them when they did, but I was glad that she got the blessing. Will told me that she had been blessed to get well and go home with her parents.
I spent the rest of the night visiting Hannah and pumping milk for her. At one point Hannah's Pediatrician and the head Pediatrician of the hospital met with us. They told us that blood and spinal fluid cultures had been taken to test for the group B strep virus. Also, a small amount of meconium was found in Hannah's lungs, and that was the main cause of her breathing trouble. Two types of antibiotics would be administrated through her IV to combat infection from the meconium and GBS. So far Hannah was improving, she was being successfully weaned off oxygen, she should be able to breathe room air within a few days. But we were cautioned that a newborns' condition can change drastically at any moment. They asked us if we had any questions. Other than the obvious and unanswerable "When will our baby be allowed to go home?" we didn't have many. I expressed some concern about the possibility of meningitis, and about the potential side effects of the antibiotics being administered. Before answering me one of the doctors asked what my background was. I was confused; then I realized he was asking if I had any sort of medical background! I explained that I had done some research on GBS after being diagnosed during my pregnancy; despite the strenuous circumstances, I was a little flattered that a doctor would suspect me of having medical training!
At about 10:00 PM Will went home to get some sleep, I planned on going to bed as well, but first I had more colostrum to put in the NICU refrigerator. When I got to the NICU I could hear a baby crying, after I put the bottles in the fridge I went to see if Hannah might be the baby crying, something told me that she was. A nurse was getting Hannah ready for a bath! I asked to help and was able to hold Hannah in the little plastic tub while the nurse washed the traces of meconium off of her tiny body. After she was finished, I was allowed to hold Hannah in my arms for the very first time! I had to hold an oxygen mask near her face, but I could still hold her close and study her precious little features. I was so glad that I got to the NICU at just the right time. It was over all too soon; Hannah was put back onto her warming table and was soon fast asleep. I asked to be notified of any change in her condition, and then, exhausted, I went back to my room and fell into my bed.
I slept fitfully, haunted by dreams of crying babies and shrill monitors. I awoke in panic, my first thoughts were of Hannah, was she still alive? Was she alright? I looked at the clock and discovered that it was already 5:30 in the morning, I really needed to pump again. I pumped and pumped, but I was only able to produce a few drops of colostrum, was this normal? I was afraid that it wasn't.
After I showered, Will arrived at my room, he had already been to see Hannah; they had sent him out while the Pediatricians did their rounds. We shared breakfast and talked, Will was concerned about work, he only had one week of unpaid leave for spending time with Hannah and I, and now we worried that he would have to go back to work while Hannah was still in the hospital. He wondered whether he should drop by his office and work out a temporary schedule of half days so that he could spend more time with Hannah and I. We decided that we'd visit Hannah together and then Will would go to work and talk to his bosses.
When we arrived in the NICU we were surprised to find that a nurse was preparing to feed Hannah. The previous day she had only been given glucose water through her IV. I was very upset when I learned that this wasn't even the first time she'd been fed, I had assumed that I would be called in for her first feeding. I had asked to be notified of any changes after all.
Hannah was given 4 cc of colostrum through a bottle; I was so excited to hold her again for the feeding! She did not do very well though; she gave a few halfhearted sucks and then refused the rest. So she was given the remaining milk through a gavauge in her nose. The nurse explained to us that she had not digested her earlier meal; we hoped that this time would be better.
Will and I were thrilled at the chance to hold Hannah again. She no longer needed the oxygen hood; she now had a nasal cannula instead. It was a little awkward holding her while trying not to disturb any of her various tubes and wires, but we relished the opportunity to cuddle with our sweet little girl.
As soon as the nurse told us to put Hannah back down, Will left for work. I stayed by Hannah's bedside and just watched her breathe. She was so small, yet she was a perfectly formed and utterly exquisite person! Will had said that she had my full lips, and I suspected that she had Will's clear blue eyes. But her beauty was marred by the many tubes and probes which garishly protruded from her little body. If only she wasn't so ill! I wondered how she felt; was she in pain? Was she frightened and bewildered like I was? My poor little girl.
It wasn't long before Will was back in the NICU. I started to tell him what Hannah's stats had been like in his absence, but then I saw the disturbing look on his face. "What's wrong? What happened?" I asked alarmed. Then I knew, "Did they fire you?" I hoped that he would tell me no, but he just looked away in shame. "Oh Will . . ." I didn't know what to say, I went to him and held him; how could this happen, today of all days! What would we do about the medical bills? And we had so many other bills to pay as well; including a new house we'd bought only 5 months ago! I dissolved into tears, "Please don't cry babe," Will pleaded, "you'll get me started again." I could see the humiliation on his face as he tried to confront the disgrace of being unable to support his wife and child.
For three years Will had worked as a Drafting Supervisor. He had disliked the way that the company was run, mismanagement and dishonesty ran rampant. Still, it had been a decent job to keep whileWill worked on his Bachelor's degree at Idaho State University. But now, because of poor managing and dwindling finances the company had decided to lay off their entire Drafting staff. What would we do now? There were few good jobs to be found in the little town of Pocatello, Idaho. I had worked as a daycare provider until July, when I had quit so that I could stay home with our baby, but now I feared that this plan might not be possible.
"Those jerks," I said, "you always hated working with them anyway." This, however, did not help to put a better spin on the situation. A nurse came over and asked us what was wrong, assuring us that our baby was improving and that we shouldn't be so worried about her. We explained our real worries to her, she was very sympathetic and kind, she promised to call the hospital's social worker for us. This was reassuring, taking action, any kind of action, was better than simply wallowing in worry and fear.
Later on when Will told his parents his mother offered to take him over to the unemployment office and help him fill out the necessary paperwork. I was so grateful for my in-laws that day, they were there to sit with Hannah when Will or I could not be with her, I was glad that she had the attention of someone who loved her for most of the day.
I called my mother and told her of all our troubles, she tried to reassure me, telling me that things would all turn out for the best and that we would be blessed in many unexpected ways. It was difficult for me to believe her, that day it felt as though our lives were over.
I continued to pump every two to three hours, but I was still producing only a very small amount of colostrum. Hannah was still having trouble digesting what we fed her as well, before each feeding a nurse would check the contents of her stomach, whatever was not digested was taken out and we tried again with a bottle of fresh colostrum. By late afternoon she had finally digested 1 cc.
The NICU kept Hannah on a three hour feeding schedule; this seemed all wrong to me. I had read extensively on the care and feeding of babies and believed that Hannah should be fed more frequently, and certainly held more frequently! However I had little say in Hannah's care at this point, and she didn't seem to be hungry anyway, on the contrary it was difficult to arouse her enough to eat anything. Every three hours we would go to see Hannah, we would change her diaper, take her temperature, and try to feed her from a bottle. This was the only time we were allowed to hold Hannah. She generally slept between feedings, with very few periods of alertness.
I would often sit at Hannah's bedside and sing to her softly, or just watch her sleep and read her monitor, observing her breathing rate and blood oxygen saturation. I soon became frustrated by how often I had to leave the room for shift changes, procedures, or "quiet time" which was two hours every afternoon of no visiting or any other disruptions in the NICU so that the babies could rest. I understood the purposes of these times when I had to leave my baby, but I wished so much that Hannah and I could be together all of the time. I felt a primal need to be near my baby; I was anxious and uncomfortable whenever I was away from her. I had to leave her to pump though; I was pumping every 2-3 hours, but rather than producing more milk, it seemed as though I was producing less and less.
I spent a sleepless night in my hospital room, every time I was about to drift off to sleep I would hear a baby crying in the next room and I would jump up, thinking that it might be Hannah somehow. I took advantage of my restlessness by pumping, but it was just no use. I decided that I would seek out the lactation consultant in the morning, she had spoken with me once, but now I knew that I needed much more help. I was determined to breastfeed my baby; my mother had breastfed all seven of her children into toddler-hood and I hoped to do the same. During my pregnancy I had researched breastfeeding thoroughly, I had read all that I could find in books and on the Internet, I had even taken a class at the hospital. I knew from my reading that there was a prescription drug that was sometimes used to induce lactation, I hoped that this drug could help me. I tried so hard to get at least a few hours of sleep, I fantasized of waking up to find that my milk had come in and I had more than enough to feed my sweet baby. I awoke a few hours later to find that this was not the case, I couldn't produce more than a few droplets.
On my way to the NICU I ran into the lactation consultant by the elevators, we spoke briefly and she promised to call my doctor and ask him to write a prescription for Metoclopramide, a drug which would (hopefully) induce lactation. In the mean time, she told me to take the herb Fenugreek, which was good for increasing milk production. She promised to help me with breastfeeding as soon as the doctors allowed Hannah to nurse. With renewed hope, I went to see my baby.
Today was the day, my doctor gave me the OK to be released from the hospital; I was free to go home anytime. After visiting Hannah and I, Will left to attend a mandatory meeting at the unemployment office. His father promised to give me a ride home when I was ready to leave, I decided I'd go home during quiet time so I could try to get some rest. It seemed to take forever to get all of my things together. I smiled bitterly at all of the supplies I'd thought I would need during labor, a CD player, numerous CDs, lollipops, Gatorade (which the nurse would not allow me to drink), a hot compress, a cold compress, it had all been useless. I was also taking home many nice flower arrangements that family and friends had given us, they were very pretty, but also useless to us. I almost wished that we could have the money that the flowers had cost instead of the flowers themselves.
When I finally had everything ready my father-in-law and I carried it all down to his car and he took me home. I had a sick feeling in my stomach as we drove away from the hospital; I was leaving my baby behind.
Home. The little house that Will and I had bought on our first anniversary seemed so quiet and still. Everything was just the way I had left it, including the bowl and spoon I had left on the table the morning I had gone into labor. I had not been keeping the house as clean as usual for the last few weeks of my pregnancy; so much for the nesting instinct.
It seemed wrong somehow that nothing much had changed in my home while so much had changed in my life. The one difference in the house was a box full of the things from Will's desk at work; I had to move it off of the washer to do some laundry. I tried to clean up a bit, feed the cats, unpack my bags; but in my suitcase I found a pamphlet the hospital distributed to all new mothers. It was titled "Home Before You Know It" the irony was just too much, I broke down and began to cry. It was the first time since Hannah's birth that I was really alone, I didn't have to be brave for anyone or stifle my sobs so that no one would hear me. I was startled by the intensity of my feelings, I had never cried so hard or felt so alone in all my life. I needed Will so much!
A few minutes later Will came home, I was so very glad to see him. We held each other and talked and cried, we both worried about the future, what would we do now? What would become of our little family? What we were thinking having a child in the first place? I suddenly felt so very young and foolish, should I have taken a different job? Should we have waited a few more years before we decided to have a baby? There are scores of women in this world who are my age or older and aren't even considering marriage and motherhood yet! For one weak moment I imagined being single and carefree, doing whatever I liked, not having to consider the consequences to anyone but myself.
But I did not regret the choices I had made, I knew that I was where I was meant to be. No matter what may happen to us, Will and Hannah and I were a family, for all eternity. Before we knew it, it was time to go back to the hospital for Hannah's next feeding.
Hannah was becoming more adept at eating with each feeding. And though it broke my heart to see how much artificial milk (formula) she was receiving and how little breastmilk, I was glad that she was able to eat and digest more and more. Our goal was to work up to a normal newborn feeding, which is about 2 ˝ ounces. I was still very frustrated by the fact that she was only fed every three hours, I felt that if she were fed smaller amounts more frequently it would be better for her, and that she would be able to consume more milk overall. But once again, I left her care to the discretion of the medical staff. I felt so powerless, Hannah was my baby, and yet I felt as though I had no right to hold her and feed her when I wanted. I'm sure that I could have pressed the issue, forced the doctors and nurses to allow me to care for Hannah as I wished; but I was afraid that I was wrong. They had dealt with so many sick babies; I was simply a 21-year-old girl with vastly inferior credentials.
We began to see Hannah's personality unfold before us in the moments she was awake; she seemed so alert for a newborn! She would gaze intently into our eyes and appear to be very interested in her surroundings. At one point, Will was able to engage Hannah by sticking out his tongue at her and watching her stick her tongue out back! We would both talk to Hannah and sing songs to her, we often sang "I'm Just a Little Black Rain Cloud" from Winnie the Pooh together. Hannah's nursery was decorated in Winnie the Pooh characters, from her crib sheets and blankets to the murals of Pooh and friends painted on the walls. I wondered how long it would be before we could take her home to see her room.
It felt so good to be back in my own bed again that night, but I was so worried about my baby and so guilty for not being with her! I tried to pretend that I was still pregnant, that the whole nightmare of Hannah's illness and Will's unemployment had never happened. Why couldn't Hannah still be safe inside my womb? But of course I realized that she had not been safe inside me at all, I was the one who unwittingly infected her with GBS.
I awoke several times during the night to try to pump milk for Hannah; the results had not improved despite my use of Fenugreek. I couldn't wait to start taking Metoclopramide as well. In the morning I picked up my prescription and desperately prayed that it would help me to feed my baby, I was determined to not give up on breastfeeding, artificial milk and rubber nipples were not good enough for my Hannah. It wasn't just the superior nutrition of breastmilk that influenced my decision, I wanted the cuddling and closeness that breastfeeding fostered as well, I believed that breastfeeding was an important tool for bonding with my baby.
Will and I decided to ask a close friend who was nursing a baby of her own to donate some milk for Hannah, she was happy to do so. I was so grateful, it felt so good to give Hannah breastmilk, even if it was not my own. We did not tell the NICU staff that it was donated milk, we were afraid that they would not approve. When I had asked a nurse about donor milk she told me that they did not have a milk bank anymore due to fear of spreading disease. I resisted pointing out to her the many instances of formula companies selling contaminated milk.
I was beginning to comprehend the dilemma that faces most if not all parents of NICU babies; handling life outside of the NICU. No matter how much you want to be with your baby, there are other obligations to attend to. For Will and I applying for Medicaid, Unemployment, Food Stamps, and WIC were an unpleasant and humiliating necessity. Will struggled with the shame of accepting government assistance, but I reminded him of all the taxes we'd paid over the years, "Just think of that money as a kind of insurance; well, now we need that insurance" I told him. "There's just no way we can get by without a little help."
In a way, I was glad that Will did not have to go to work, at least it gave him more time to spend with Hannah and I at the hospital. I was also glad that Hannah was our only child, it would be so difficult to give another child the attention he or she needed while having a baby in the NICU. There were many other parents who would bring their older children to visit their babies, and many parents who had to leave their baby to go to work. We overheard one doctor ask a nurse "Does his mother ever come visit him?" To which the nurse replied that the baby's mother was usually at work.
We had a hard enough time just keeping our house decent and feeding our two cats, we were simply never home! We got the majority of our sleep at the hospital in the small rooms set aside for NICU parents to visit with their babies or pump breastmilk. One afternoon Will and I went home for a quick lunch during quiet time. Both of our lonely cats came to greet us, I picked up Squeakers and noticed that her breathing seemed labored and fast. Will was concerned as well, he decided to take her to the Veterinarian right away. An hour later he met me back at the hospital with the news that our kitten was dead. She had to be put down due to illness; unbeknownst to us, she had been sick even before we had adopted her two months ago. It seemed like a dire omen, or perhaps it was a kind of freakish cosmic trade, we may have lost our kitten, but at least we had not lost our baby. In any case, it was one more thing in our lives that had gone wrong.
We were heartened by Hannah's improvement however, it was quick and steady; she no longer needed oxygen through a nasal cannula and was digesting all the milk that was fed to her. Sometimes she would get too tired to finish her bottle, so the remaining milk would be given to her through her gavauge. Oh how she hated that gavauge! She was learning to pull it out of her nose, so the nurse would have to put it right back down again, which was no fun for Hannah. Her blood counts improved steadily as well, the antibiotics appeared to be working. We hoped to take her home as early as Friday.
That night as I gave my mother an update on Hannah's condition over the phone she told me of all the prayers that so many people were saying for Hannah. My very large extended family was fasting and praying for my baby! Many relatives had also sent her name to temples throughout the country so that special prayers would be said for her there. My mother assured me that she was praying that I would be able to nurse Hannah as well. I was overwhelmed with gratitude, I felt so very fortunate to have a family that loved my baby, my husband, and I so much!
On the morning of August 9th, the miracle I'd been waiting for finally occurred; my milk came in. To many this miracle would not seem very important, so many women throughout history have chosen to ignore and suppress their body's awesome ability to nourish their baby! But I wept with joy when I was able to produce almost two ounces of milk for my little Hannah. I had been praying so fervently for the blessing of nursing my baby, and now I knew that I could.
Will and I rushed to the hospital, we wanted to make sure that we got to the NICU before Hannah's next feeding so that she could have breastmilk instead of artificial milk. I ran into the building while Will parked our car, one of the elevators was being cleaned, I didn't have time to wait for the one working elevator so I raced up the stairs and down the hall to the NICU. I arrived just in time to feed Hannah; it was a great feeling to finally have enough milk to give her for her entire feeding. Later that day I ran into the young doctor who delivered Hannah. He asked me how I was feeling, commenting that he was glad to see that I was up and moving, to which I replied that I'd been running up flights of stairs already! I was surprised at how quickly I had bounced back from giving birth, physically that is. I didn't experience any "after pains" and had very little soreness. I was so grateful to the doctor for honoring my wishes by not performing an episiotomy!
That afternoon I was finally allowed to try nursing Hannah! Before her feeding she was weighed on a very precise scale, she would be weighed after her feeding to determine how much milk she consumed. The hospital Lactation Consultant helped me position my baby; Hannah seemed to know just what to do! I was so grateful and happy! I was actually happier than I had been the day that Hannah was born; then I was so worried and scared, now I knew that things would work out. Hannah would get well and come home, and I would be able to care for her and nourish her when she did.
Hannah didn't get a full feeding's worth of milk from nursing, she only consumed 8 cc, but it was better than nothing! We gave Hannah the rest of her milk through her gavauge.
Hannah was experiencing increasingly longer periods of alertness, she seemed to want to be held more often and was showing more interest in her surroundings. It was a good sign of her recovery, but it was also frustrating. I was still allowed very little time to hold Hannah, the nurses were more concerned about Hannah's need for rest, I was more concerned about her need for human contact. Why it was unacceptable for her to sleep in my arms I do not know!
Despite my occasional frustration, I must admit that the nursing staff in the NICU was excellent, they were always very kind and attentive, Will and I were very impressed with their dedication. Many different nurses cared for Hannah in the course of her stay. We knew some of them by name and gave others nicknames; we called one pretty dark-haired young nurse Wonder Woman, and referred to another as The Noisy One due to her boisterous, cheerful manner and voice. They all became vital characters in our lives, and I was infinitely grateful for these brave women.
Hannah was becoming stronger every day; in fact she no longer seemed ill at all! We were becoming more and more anxious to take her home. However, she still had to finish her course of IV antibiotics. We were hopeful that we could take Hannah home by Sunday.
Our friends came by that evening to see Hannah. No one held or touched her for fear of spreading germs, but everyone admired our newborn beauty; though Will and I were by far the most impressed with her! We went over to one couple's house for dinner and card games afterward, and although I spent most of the time worrying about Hannah, I had to admit that it was nice to get away from the hospital for a few hours. Will and I were starting to feel normal again; or at least, we knew that we could feel normal again.
Each new day brought some small improvement, Hannah gained precious ounces of weight, my milk production increased; each new miracle lifted our spirits and brought us closer to our goal of taking Hannah home. But the weekend came and went with Hannah still in the NICU; we were getting more and more impatient!
Finally, on Monday August 12th we were told that we could take Hannah home for good! Will and I were ecstatic! I felt as though I had just won the lottery, and my prize was a gorgeous, healthy daughter to love and nurture for the rest of her life.
We carefully packed our diaper bags, wrapped Hannah up and strapped her in her carseat, said thank you and goodbye to the nurses, and suddenly, we were free!
Eight days after Hannah Rose's birth, she came home. Now she would finally be cuddled and held as often as she wanted to be, she would sleep by my side and never be lonely and scared at night, she could nurse instead of having bottles, she would finally be cared for by her own parents all the time!
Those first few days of settling in were a bit of a struggle; I was more nervous and unsure of my instincts than I had ever been. Breastfeeding was my biggest concern, but after about a week we were nursing like old pros! I never could have done it all alone, I was so grateful for the help and advice of my mother, who came to visit us the day that Hannah came home and stayed to help for a week. And I am so very glad to have a husband as wonderful as my Will, he has proved to be the best father a baby could ask for, he and "The Wee" spent many hours cuddling and playing together.
I marvel at the amazing changes having a baby brings to ones life, there is nothing sweeter, or more trying than raising a baby. I can't imagine life without Hannah, I see everything anew, as though through her innocent young eyes, and I am awed by the world she and I can see.
I would love to give this story a perfectly happy ending, to say that Will found a great new job and we bounced right back from our financial troubles; but that's not what has happened. Despite graduating with honors and applying all over the country, we find ourselves one year later still in limbo. Will is working a low wage job that he does not much enjoy, and taking classes to earn his Master's degree. We struggle just to make ends meet.
But we are still happy; because no matter what Will, Hannah and I may face, we are a family. As long as we have each other, we have all we need.
This was not just the story of the birth of a baby; it is the story of the birth of a family.