Riding the NICU Rollercoaster

Just typing the letters N-I-C-U still gives me shivers. Welcome to Tuesday on ParentalGrit, where we are in the midst of Gratitude week. If you missed it, we went over the gratitude phenomenon and how it applies to parenting yesterday. I have two daughters asleep here at 9:00 pm, so I’m definitely in a thankful spirit. Today, we’re reliving some terrifying moments from my second daughter Everly’s birth. I’m not going to add any suspense to the story, however: my girl had a brief NICU stay (though it seemed like an eternity) and she recovered fully. The five or six days we spent with her in the NICU were the longest days of our lives and provided several intense and nearly overwhelming lessons in gratitude.

Everly’s birth went nearly to perfection, although I don’t know that the father riding shotgun on the ride is really the best one to assess. She arrived much quicker than her sister, perhaps in part due to a scheduled delivery date after a minor health issue with my wife’s pregnancy. The doctor and nurses were all smiles and congratulatory words in the immediate moments after Everly was delivered. We didn’t find out her gender beforehand, so we were still reveling in the big reveal of another daughter (I’m destined to be the only male in the family). As the minutes ticked on and the nurses performed their little inspection routine, I noticed a couple nurses whispering to the side of Everly. They were wholly composed, but I still caught a sense of worry, which was compounded when one slipped out the door.

They finally revealed that she was having some issues keeping her respiratory rate and the hospital room quickly turned into a hive of activity. The nurse that slipped away came back with Neonatal doctor and we were all of the sudden being rushed to the NICU. By “we”, I mean myself and Everly…if you’re a mother out there, I’m sure you can imagine the feelings my wife was feeling as her 30 minute year old newborn was whisked away in a flurry of anxious moments. Everly, as we found out that night (or perhaps much later…it’s still a blur trying to reconcile the timeline) had Pneumothorax, which basically translates to a collapsed lung.

As I hovered around her in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) with my mother and sister present, all of the anxiety and stress started to flood. Not only did the image of my newborn being wired up like a science experiment affect me, but I always had to contend with one of the more sobering environments known to man: the NICU. The NICU had infant cribs spaced 4-5 feet apart, so attending to Everly meant walking down an aisle with several afflicted babies. While most of them were in stable condition, the babies were as small as 2-3 pounds and several were in incubators that didn’t allow direct contact. When you walk your struggling newborn into that…whew, I don’t know if I could ever possibly forget that moment.

Everly went through a few rounds of tests and the initial diagnosis was as optimistic as a NICU verdict can be, I suppose. When we first left my wife, the doctor assured her it was a temporary measure but the NICU decision was quickly made that she would not be leaving any time soon. That’s when our second complication arose: my wife had tested positive for a viral infection she had been battling that week. Guess what they don’t allow around dozens of premature and sick babies? People with viral infections. Thus, after having her daughter taken away from her in a rush to intensive care, my wife was informed that she could not visit the NICU, even as her own doctor cleared her physically post-birth. We’re in a panicked state of concern and forced to separate, as I was tethered to Everly’s side while my wife was relegated to a hospital room.

We’ll wrap the story up tomorrow with some serious lessons in gratitude to be shared. As promised yesterday, here are three items I’m grateful for today:

  1. A compassionate and motherly wife, witnessed innumerable times daily but specifically last night during those midnight and 3:00 am feedings with the baby…even with another workday looming.
  2. A yard of our own. I only mention this because I was complaining about mowing, weeds, and tree limbs for far too long yesterday.
  3. Witnessing my daughter’s path to independence. Again, I include this mostly due to how much I grumbled this morning after watching her climb into her carseat (like 8 minutes…making us run late AGAIN).

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