When the Bean was born, we knew she was going to be spending some time in the Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). They had made sure that there was a spot available for her there before they offered me the C-section. The pediatrician on duty in the NICU came to my room during the week before the Bean was born to let us know what to expect after the birth and during her stay. I felt so grateful that they were so prepared, but it also was not how I had imagined things going. Of course, with the birth of a baby, things rarely go exactly as we dream they will.
Immediately after the Bean was pulled out of my belly, my Sweetie went with her and the nurses to the weighing station where she was cleaned up and weighed and measured. She had to be accompanied by her Daddy until they put her tiny ID tag on so there was no question that we had the right baby.
She did fine on her APGAR score (I don’t remember the number) but she was super tiny: 3lbs, 13oz and 17 inches long. She was so skinny. It’s weird to look back on the pictures. They wrapped her up in a blanket and brought her over to me so I could see her and touch her tiny face. Too soon, they took her away to the NICU to care for her.
Overnight, while I was puking on the floor of my hospital room (see Birth of a Bean for the story), the Bean was dealing with some fluid in her lungs. She was almost 5 weeks early, and I’d been given an injection a few weeks earlier to help mature her lungs. But she didn’t get squeezed the way babies do when they’re born vaginally. That squeezing is so beneficial for clearing the lungs of amniotic fluid. They taped a tiny nasal cannula onto her face to blow air up her nose and down into her lungs to dry them out. They didn’t tell me about her respiratory distress until the following day when I was in better shape, and by then she was fine.
She was slightly jaundiced, so she got to spend some time under a tanning lamp to break down the bilirubin in her system. I still have the foam eye shades that she wore to protect her eyes. They had to test her blood several times over the next week and they really had trouble getting blood out of her tiny veins. For the bilirubin test, they just prick the heel and smear a tiny drop of blood on a special piece of paper. But the Bean wasn’t giving up her blood that easily, and they had to squeeze and press her tiny foot really hard to get anything out. One young tech just couldn’t get anything out and had to get a more experienced nurse to help. Watching them do all that made me a little uncomfortable at first.
Because the nasal cannula was in her nose, the Bean initially had an NG tube inserted into her mouth and down her throat to her stomach, so that we could feed her. She was too small and weak to get enough milk through nursing. Once she didn’t need the extra airflow anymore, they moved the NG tube to her nose so that we could also practice breast feeding. I started pumping my milk as soon as I was able to, and the nurses fed that to her through the NG tube by attaching a syringe to the end. Her first feeds were 1 ml of milk every three hours. At the beginning, they also added something to my milk to help fatten her up faster. The Bean hated that tube. Even at 3 days old, she was grabbing at it with her tiny fingers and doing her best to pull it out.
There were sensors attached to her skin and around one of her feet, with wires leading to a machine that reported her vitals: heart rate, oxygen level, and respiratory rate. She also had an IV needle in her hand. It was so sad to see my tiny baby hooked up to all that machinery, and it took some practice to get used to dealing with the wires.
I very clearly remember the first time I got to hold my daughter. My Sweetie pushed me to the NICU in a wheelchair, and I was initiated into the routine of scrubbing my hands before entering. The Bean’s incubator was close to the entrance of the NICU, and I could see her tiny curled up body from the door as I scrubbed. I went to her bedside, but didn’t know what I was allowed to do. I’d never seen such a tiny baby, and though I’ve held many newborns, I felt like she would be so fragile.
It happened to be time for her diaper change and feeding, so the nurse was at her bedside. She asked if I wanted to change the diaper, and of course I was excited to get right to work being a Mom. But even though I’d changed a ton of diapers, once again I wasn’t sure what to do with such a tiny person. So the nurse walked me through a diaper change and taught me how to swaddle her. Then, I got to pick her up. The nurses were amazing towards us and gave us all the advice and comfort we needed. For the at least the next few weeks, the NICU would be our home away from home, and the nurses understood that we needed to feel comfortable there.
My little girl was so tiny that even preemie clothes looked baggy on her. I picked her up in awe, and started crying happy tears. It was almost 24 hours after her birth and I was finally truly holding my daughter for the first time. It didn’t matter that I was in a busy NICU instead of my private room. I didn’t care about all the tubes and wires and machines and monitors and lights in that moment. It was just me and my daughter, finally meeting in person. She was just so precious. My Sweetie had already had some time with her and our parents had been into the NICU to visit before I was able to go, so I really cherished that initial time we had. Finally, we were all together as a family, and about to embark on the greatest adventure of our lives.