How is it possible that I already have a one month old baby? I feel like I’ve been so focused on getting Jackson old enough to come home that, in my mind, these days haven’t counted towards his age. But, turns out, these days did indeed count and he’s a month old! This little boy amazes me everyday with his strength and resilience. He has been through more in the first month of his life than many endure in a lifetime. He’s a warrior and I am so proud to be his mom.
Before Jackson arrived, our doctors had thrown the idea of needing the NICU around because chances of him being premature were high. So, I knew we would be spending time in the NICU but never in a million years could I have predicted just how scary and challenging it would be.
Unlike most births, I didn’t get to hold my baby after he was born. Instead, he was immediately given to the NICU team where he was connected to a BiPAP machine to support his breathing, a central line was placed through his belly button for IV nutrition, a feeding tube was placed through his mouth to give him some oral nutrition, plastic was wrapped around him for warmth, leads were connected to monitor his heartrate, respiratory rate, blood pressure and oxygen saturation. And, amidst all this, I was fortunate enough to be able to touch his hand briefly before he was taken away from me and brought to the NICU.
After Jackson was settled in and my epidural wore off, I was able to visit my little boy for the first time. All I wanted to do was wrap my arms around him, feel his skin on mine, kiss his forehead.. but all I could do on his first day of life was touch him through holes in a plastic incubator. I didn’t get to actually hold my baby for over 24 hours, which felt like a lifetime.
Over the first 1-2 weeks of Jackson’s NICU time, I cried a lot. I cried when I looked at him because it made me so sad that his little body was going through so much. I cried when I held him because I felt like my body failed him. I cried when I left him because it felt like I was leaving part of myself behind. I cried when I laid in bed because the blanket I brought home that smelled like him just wasn’t enough. I cried when people told me to leave the hospital earlier so I could have more time to take care of myself because the time I spent with him was never enough.
Our first couple weeks in the NICU were so hard and so scary. Learning to rely on complete strangers to care for my baby, trusting their medical opinions and decision making, quite literally leaving his life in their hands was unnatural and terrifying. From being on the other side of the patient/doctor relationship to having zero control of the most important thing in my life is very uncomfortable and, although it has gotten easier as we’ve gotten to know the nurses and doctors, I still struggle with it daily.
The beginning of our journey felt overwhelming. The doctors told us to not expect Jackson home until around his due date which was three months away. Three months. Never have I wanted time to speed up so much. It felt like an eternity when he would reach the big milestones… coming off oxygen support, eating on his own, sleeping in a normal crib. The big picture was a lot. But we found that the big milestones are not the only things worth celebrating. Along the way, there are so many small victories.. the first time we were able to hold him, his first diaper we changed, the day he was able to come off phototherapy, every time they increase the amount of milk he eats and tolerates, when his IV fluids and IV nutrition stopped, when he began to gain weight, when he took his first bath, when he got dressed for the first time, the first time we could see his face without tubes (even if very briefly).. just to name a few.
And lately, we’ve gotten to see some of his personality come out… I think we’re in for some trouble with this kid!
Now that we are a month down, it’s hard to believe how quickly the time has gone by. I spend my days doing skin-to-skin or “kangaroo care”, reading “Harry Potter” to Jackson, pumping, journaling and trying to stay afloat at home. Some days are smooth sailing and others give me a few extra gray hairs. But learning to trust others, having faith that everything will be okay, feeling comfortable to speak up when something doesn’t feel right have all helped me get through. I have discovered a strength I didn’t know I had all because a little boy filled a void in my heart I didn’t know was empty. Everyday with Jackson is a blessing and everyday is one step closer to bringing him home.
He will get through this. We will get through this. And soon the NICU will be a distant memory for us all. But for now, on to another month!