Sugar baby. That’s what they called him in the NICU. A baby admitted for low blood sugars that will likely be in and out in less than 2 weeks. It should have been a comfort, but it wasn’t. As I stared at my less than 4 lbs son, with his IV taped to his head, I tried to stay positive. Sugar baby, I reminded myself, in and out. But just hearing the initials NICU leaves you feeling like your sweet and perfect bundle is on the brink of expiration.
During those first few days, when I was still in the hospital myself, I visited baby A by walking through an underground tunnel. The tunnel connected my hospital with the children’s hospital next door and descended sharply downward in ominous slope. The steam pipes lining the seemingly endless corridor left the air humid and stifling. Each and every day I walked that tunnel, it felt like a descent into hell. And, it was. My own personal hell.
Oddly enough, in the beginning, I was not angry with God. Although my son was tiny and frail, my love for him was unfathomable. Instead of anger, whenever I looked around the NICU, what I actually felt was guilt for my sadness. Many of these other babies were much sicker than baby A. I truly did not believe that I had earned the right to worry. After all, I only had a sugar baby. These other parents were dealing with actual problems.
Despite my attempts to stay positive, the stress quickly took its toll. To ensure that our sweet baby boy was alone as little as possible, my husband and I were alternating shifts at the NICU. The constant driving back and forth, the never seeing each other, the worrying about the pets and the house and the cost, the daily climbing cost, it was all overwhelming. For a short while, I was able to trudge through with a smile. But, we all have our breaking point. Mine came on night 5 of the NICU stay, my second night home from the hospital, the night when reality hit.
On this particular evening, I was driving back to the hospital alone in the blinding rain, desperately speeding in attempts to make the 8 pm feeding. Yes, as cliche as it sounds, I was driving to the hospital in a full-on pounding thunder storm. As I drove feverishly, I thought about the wires, the IV drip, the blood draws, the tender scabbed feet, the whimpers of pain and the distance of not being able to hold my son. I thought about it all and I sobbed. For 40 minutes I sobbed. And, as a large puddle splattered against my window, blocking all view, it finally happened. I cursed God.
I was angry and sad and worried and frustrated and exhausted. And, I knew just who to blame. God. I tried for 2 years to conceive my son, and ultimately needed surgery before having success. How cruel could He be to finally give me a son only to force me to watch baby A suffer. The nerve of this God, to push me to my breaking point. Did I really need any more character building experiences? I think not. But, obviously, God thought otherwise.
In the hospital parking garage, I sat for a while just catching my breathe. As I finally stepped out of my concrete shelter and my feet hit the city pavement, I was thankful for the rain washing over me. At least it would hide my tear stained cheeks. There was need for the hospital staff to see me like that.
By the time I made it upstairs through all the check points and hand scrubbing and sea of hospital gowns, I had missed the feeding. Feedings were practically the only bonding opportunities I had with baby A in those early days.
As I stood by his hospital bed, with my fingers resting gently on his rising chest, unable to hold him, I sobbed again for the both of us. “I love you,” I whispered. As my words lingered over his peaceful slumber, I kissed his cheek, sweet as sugar. Then I sat there silently, loving him, until it was time to go.
I acknowledge that I am one of the lucky ones. Our time in the NICU was very short, comparatively speaking. It was only 10 days. And most importantly, we brought our baby home healthy and thriving.
I have also since accepted that it is EVERY mother’s right to worry. The emotion of a NICU experience is not about time or length of stay. It’s about the fear of loss that peeks in through the curtain of positivity. To you mothers (& fathers) currently living the NICU life, my heart goes out to you. Although it may not feel like it now, God is with you. And when you reach your breaking point (perhaps one of many), trust that he will carry you through.
If your family has survived the NICU, I welcome you to share your experience below.