This is the Fourth in a series about the birth of our son, Simon Alister. To read the whole tale, start here.
We filled the first few moments of Simon’s life with smiles and tears and photographs. When the umbilical cord had finished feeding blood and nutrients to Simon, the doctor sealed it with a small plastic clip, and offered me a pair of surgical scissors to cut the cord, an honor that we had decided to bestow on Aunt Mary, so I passed the scissors to her. With a quick snip the umbilical cord was cut, and Simon was officially untethered from his uterine life support system.
We had a few more precious moments of “skin to skin” contact before the NICU team “borrowed” Simon for a preliminary check-up, since this was his fist check-up and he was six weeks early, they wanted to be sure he could tolerate life outside of the womb. We waited with bated breath as they examined him and weighed him. Finally, they said he was a healthy baby boy, 5 pounds 13 ounces, and that everything was normal. Then they brought him back to us so that we could spend a little more time basking in the euphoria of welcoming our son into this world.
After a short while we were told that it was time to move him to the NICU, and I was invited to go along. In the first few days of Rebecca’s hospital stay, we had been visited by the NICU doctors who had told us that Simon would be cared for by the NICU after delivery—we dreaded the thought, but we knew it was necessary, and had agreed that I would go with him. But when the time came, I didn’t want to leave either of them alone. Luckily, Mary was in our birthing party and, having had a son of her own, she would be a comfort to Rebecca in my absence.
The NICU team placed Simon in an incubator—as a precaution while he was moving through the hospital. I took a moment to hug and kiss my wife goodbye, and then Simon and I set out for the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
I was surprised by how short the walk to the ward was. We entered and crossed the darkly lit room to an empty warming bed on the far wall. As they began moving Simon out of the incubator, I scanned the room and was surprised when I could count dozens of warming beds, incubators, IV pumps, monitors, and other equipment. I turned back to Simon as he settled into his warming bed and met his nurse. She went to work connecting monitors, verifying vital signs, and calmly explaining everything to me as they went along.
As she worked a stream of other nurses were coming and going. They helped her set up Simon’s place in the NICU and volunteered to assist with the other newborns in our nurses’ care. As the time passed, I became acutely aware of several other clusters working throughout the NICU and of the faint cries coming from around the room. All at once I was struck with the realization that I was surrounded by infants in various degrees of intensive care—I was both impressed and grateful for how quickly and efficiently the staff was working, despite what looked to be an extremely chaotic night.
His nurse checked him over once more, to be sure that nothing had been missed and that nothing had changed since delivery. They had attached him to several monitors and had placed an IV in one of his arms to provide him with dextrose fluids while he waited for his mother’s milk to come in. After he was settled the nurse told me that it would likely be a while before the night attending could make her rounds and that, as parents, we were allowed unfettered access to Simon during his stay.
Simon was resting under the light of the warming bed, and I stayed to comfort him, hoping to meet the attending when she came to complete her rounds. Time melted as I watched him, thinking on all the possibilities that the future held for him and us, I sent Rebecca photographs of Simon while checking on her, several hours had passed and I didn’t know when they would mover her to the Mother/Baby wing.
I was beginning to worry about Rebecca, so I decided that I would look for her in Labor and Delivery. There were still teams of nurses working with new arrivals throughout the ward, and I could see that it was going to be a while before the attending could make rounds. I let Simon’s nurse know what I was doing and retraced the short walk to our delivery room.
I was relieved to see Rebecca on her feet and getting ready to be moved back up to the Mother/Baby Floor. We thanked Mary, loaded up our belongings, and took a trip around the Labor & Delivery Wing making sure to let the whole hospital know that Simon had arrived! It was a short ride up to the Mother/Baby floor where we only took a moment to drop our stuff before heading back to the NICU to spend some quality time with our new son.
Several hours passed in a blur of joy and confusion as we felt the glow of new parenthood and grappled with what a journey through NICU would be like. For his part, Simon’s reports continued to be positive. His respiration and body temp were good, and he was trying to feed, all of which were good signs. A while later we decided to return to the room and get some sleep—it had been a long, eventful day!
I want to tell you that it was easy, that our journey through the NICU was a cake walk. I want to tell that story, because it’s easy to remember it that way. Memories are like the small stones collected by a riverbed. Each one a pebble in the cascade, overshadowing and softening the edges of every other one it touches. When I glance into those glassy waters, I see all the beautiful moments since his birth, like a stream of milestones and smiles, but I know that there was more to it than that.
When I reach deeper into those moments, I can recall the litany of difficulties and the doubts that we felt along the way. I can remember the decisions that crushed us and why we had to make them. We are infinitely grateful for the love and support of our friends and family, and for the expertise and ready advice of the nurses and doctors at both Phoebe Putney and The Veranda. Thank you all for everything you did to help us through those first weeks and through these first months.
The truth is: our experience, regardless of how harrowing it was for us, pales when compared to the experiences of many NICU families. We were lucky, Simon came into this world happy and healthy, though lethargic and a bit underweight. Officially, Simon spent a week in the NICU, but many of those days were spent in the Pediatric Wing where Rebecca and I were responsible for his care. We had some early missed steps but after some coaching we were able to help him eat enough to gain weight.
It’s been (nearly) 7 months since those difficult beginnings, and Simon continues to amaze us every single day. We are looking forward to sharing in the adventures that life offers our family and, as much as we can, sharing those stories and photographs with you!