Thursday, January 17, 2013

Life after the NICU

I still haven't had the energy to write out Dexter's NICU journey. The thoughts behind this post have been nagging at me and I decided to get them out first.

Nothing can prepare you for an unexpected illness or birth defect in your baby. So many ultrasounds and tests are done throughout most modern pregnancies that it is easy to assume that you would know if something is wrong. I went into a complete state of shock when I found out about Dexter. I didn't cry and sob when they told me that something was wrong. I didn't break down when the transport team brought him to me so I could say goodbye. I shed only a few tears the whole time he was in the NICU. I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream. I was just so shocked that I was numb. Nothing seemed real. My family who was there cried. They were terrified, and upset. I watched them and I wanted to cry too. I knew I should be scared. But I also knew that if I released, if I allowed myself to feel everything, that I would be of no use to Dexter. I had to stay focused so that I could comprehend and pay attention to every detail the doctors told me. I had to be strong for him. The only way I could do that was to shut out my feelings. So I did.

When you first go in to the NICU at Akron Children's you get a lot of papers and information. One of the papers you get is "how you may be feeling." It talks about the fear, uncertainty, guilt, anger etc. that parents of NICU babies often feel. I remember reading over it and wondering why I didn't feel any of those things. Was that normal?

So fast forward to 3 weeks after Dexter was born. I got to bring him home. I slowly adjusted to the idea that this little boy really was my son. I have TWO kids!? The shock started to wear off, slowly. I started to bond with him and connect with him more. And then is when MY journey really began. All those feelings I should have had while he was sick started to creep up on me. Just little things at first. He would smile at me and I would realize, "I almost lost him." I would read about friends on facebook having babies and I would get jealous. Why did they get a healthy baby and I didn't? They got all the newborn snuggles, and the bonding time. Dexter and I did not. We missed out on the first 3 weeks of "normal" mother/son bonding. I got angry. Why my baby? What if that missed time changes our bond?

I felt guilt for a long time after Calvin was born. He was a c-section delivery and I had complications. I missed out on having him put on my chest when he was born. I missed out on the peaceful bonding time those first few days because I was so sick. So when Dexter was born and I got my VBAC I was so excited. I got to have him put directly on me when he was born. I got to snuggle with him and start the bonding process I had imagined. But then he wouldn't nurse, and he started puking, and 12 hours after he was born he was on his way for x-rays and tests. I was so close to the experience I wanted and it was snatched away. I was so angry...I AM so angry. What did I do to deserve this? What did he do to deserve it? Nothing.

Then there's the guilt. Was it something I did, or didn't do, that caused this? I'm overweight, I don't eat the healthiest, I forgot most of the time to take my prenatal vitamins. Did my body fail him? Is this my fault? The doctors all say it isn't. That these things just happen. Doesn't stop the feelings from coming. I'm his mommy. I'm supposed to protect him, and I couldn't. I couldn't do anything besides pump milk for him and sit by his bedside.

I think the worst feeling of all is the fear. Now that it is all over I think about all the things that could have happened and I get scared. I feel sick. Every time he spits up I worry. Every time he doesn't have a bowel movement for a couple of days I worry. I laid awake so many nights listening to his breathing, afraid he would stop again. I bought a snuza monitor because I was losing sleep. I worry about him malrotating again. I worry about other things that "could" be wrong that we can't see. I have flashbacks remembering the puking, the goodbyes, the tubes. I remember the phone call I got that he had stopped breathing several times and they were going to intubate him. And now I can finally cry. I have anxiety attacks, and insomnia sometimes.

I am not writing this post for sympathy. I have battled with myself over whether to write it at all. I don't want to sound like I'm "attention seeking." That's how I fear this will come out sounding. I am writing this post because I want other parents who have been through the NICU or other similar experiences with their kids to know that they are not alone. That just because your baby is home and doing well now, doesn't mean that you won't still have these feelings. People say to move on, and that it is over now. Well meaning people will tell you to not dwell on it, don't think about it, it is in the past. It's not so easy. I think it is comparable to grieving. Everyone handles it in their own way. For some people it takes longer to move on. Whether your baby is still sick, or he/she is home and you are still processing. Wherever you are in the journey, you are not alone.

Dexter is happy and healthy. He is ok now. I'm not there yet, but I will be.