(Audio Version Below) For Ezekiel's birth I had a scheduled induction. Everything had been going great in my pregnancy, but because of his estimated size and the fact that Chris was deployed, my Doctor recommended a scheduled induction in the hopes that an actual date may be able to get Chris home. She had explained how the induction would go and estimated labor would be around 12 hours. Even after having a scheduled date, Chris was told he would not be flown home for the delivery. We were crushed but I had my plan B in place and was ready to go. A week before delivery, I received a phone call from Chris that he was coming home in 2 days, just five days before my scheduled induction. We got our miracle and we could not have been more excited.
The evening of my induction came and we arrived at the hospital. As I was checked into my room they began the process by inserting a dose of cervidil to soften my cervix and prepare me for what I had been told by my doctor, the insertion of a foley bulb. Eight doses of cervidil, 30 hours later, and only 1 centimeter dilated, I learned that the hospital was out of foley bulbs. I was frustrated at this point but thankfully a nurse made it happen and got me one from a different location after countless attempts. Once the foley bulb was placed, Ezekiel was here 12 hours later, as my Doctor had predicted. At hour 54 it was time to push and I was concerned how I would be able to do it as I was beyond exhausted. Less than an hour later Ezekiel arrived. Before arrival, the umbilical cord had torn from him and he came out not breathing. The peds team came rushing into my room and there was an atmosphere of panic. They quickly took him over to the warming table, and he began breathing. At this point I was not concerned. I saw him look at me when he was born and I knew everything would be fine. What I could not have anticipated was the week NICU stay that would follow.
Zeke's vitals were low and they were working to get them where they needed to be. I did not get the hospitals standard hour of skin-to-skin, and instead I was in and out of sleep, barely aware of what was happening in the room. A few hours later, we finally made it down to postpartum, but upon arriving, Zeke was taken to the NICU almost immediately as his vitals had dropped again. That evening as we were visiting in the NICU, his vitals returned to normal and they informed us that if they maintained throughout the night, they would bring him up to me in postpartum in the morning. It was almost like it was a sure thing. There was no doubt in the nurses mind. I was so exhausted that the reality of the NICU had not really set in yet and I was just looking forward to having my baby in my room with me. The next morning came and I was awoken by the lead RN from the NICU and Zeke was no where in sight and I remember feeling confused and scared. She let me know that a blister had appeared on his head overnight and that they would need to keep him to run a few tests. These tests unfortunately took a long time to gather.
Zeke was completely healthy and every nurse that attended to him knew it. They were all shocked at the tests being ran and were sure the blister was from long labor. The RN was following protocol and made the decision that the tests were safest for him. Watching my precious newborn be pumped with countless antibiotics as mere precaution, was extremely difficult. Of course we were so blessed for his health as many around us did not have that same reality, although it did not make our stay easier. Two days later I was discharged and Chris and I left postpartum, without our baby. During my time in postpartum I watched mamas leave with their babies and it was celebratory. Nurses congratulating each family and their new baby as they left to go home. Our discharge was anything but celebratory. Going down the elevator with no baby in my arms, getting in the car with an empty car seat and a silent drive home. Chris and I just bawled in disbelief. We never thought this would be a part of our story. I never envisioned driving home from the hospital without my son. I felt an extraordinary amount of guilt leaving him there. When we got home I went upstairs to get some things to put in my diaper bag to bring back to the NICU and I was overcome with emotions. I fell to the floor in tears holding his clothes. No one told me this could happen. As silly as it sounds, I thought the NICU was only for premies. We had no issues in pregnancy and he looked amazing all throughout my labor. I never even thought about the NICU.
For the next week, we spent every moment we could in the NICU. We would arrive each morning at 6am and we would leave after the 9pm feeding. Driving there and home each day was numbing. A constant reminder that we were not together and home as a family as I had envisioned and dreamed of for months. It almost felt like groundhog day. The same thing over and over and over with no resolve. Chris and I remained thankful for a healthy son and prayed our time in the NICU would not be long. Our days were filled with diaper changes, feedings, and cuddles, but all while Zeke was attached to so many machines. Multiple IVS, heel pricks throughout each day, blood draws and more. We never got use to those wires. Each morning we would watch the Doctors and nurses do their rounds. When they got to our section, we were always anxiously awaiting one of them to tell us good news. Day one, day two, day three..nothing...day four...nothing...but then came day five. Finally, our good news came. All of the tests came back normal as many nurses and doctors had anticipated. That last night before going home, we were able to spend it there with Zeke in a family room they had in the NICU. There was a bed, a microwave, a bathroom and a mini refrigerator. It was not the most comfortable room but it was one of the best nights of our life. It felt perfect. It was our first overnight as a family and it was surreal. We were together and we were blessed. That next day we were finally able to bring our baby home and we were overjoyed.
Unfortunately, Chris had to be back at work the following day and I would be left at home on the first day with our baby, alone. I had no clue what I was doing and although I had the support of many friends and my family, it didn't feel like how the story should have gone. Chris had no time with Zeke, and we had no time as a family. His leave he had been given was used during our time in the NICU, and then was cut short due to the status of his ship. During this time it was challenging but we felt so blessed that Zeke was here, healthy and home. I remained calm throughout my entire labor and even during our NICU stay and didn't feel as though it was that traumatic, until I had Zane.
Zane has his own story of how he came into this world but for the most part it was fairly normal. Things went much faster and smoother during labor and delivery and we had a 24 hour discharge. It was such a feeling of relief and joy. I had no clue the amount of trauma I was carrying from Zeke's birth. The second Zane was placed on my chest and everyone left the room I had a feeling of sadness. Only 14 months later, I am holding my second son, and I am realizing this is how things were supposed to go with Zeke. The precious hour I had with Zane I never had with Zeke and I felt instant guilt. It was a beautiful hour of joy and thanksgiving but also of sadness. I was completely robbed of this experience with Zeke. I couldn't help but think that maybe if I pushed to not have an induction things would have gone differently. Yes, Chris may not have been there for the birth, but maybe I could have saved us all some heartache. I felt as though I failed Zeke. That I chose for everything to happen to him that did. I felt guilt that everything went so smoothly with Zane and he wasn't put through everything Zeke was and that it was my fault. This is something that two years later I have still not healed from. Instead of focusing on the what ifs I choose to focus on the blessing of a healthy, growing two year old...but that doesn't take away my trauma. My heartache. My mama guilt. I don't think anything ever will.
For all you mamas that have experienced a NICU stay...whether it was 2 days, 2 months or longer, your feelings are valid. Your trauma is valid. Your story is valid. For the NICU mamas with angel babies in heaven, that never got to bring their baby home, your strength is something I cannot fathom. My heart and prayers go out to you and your family. I cannot understand but I can show you love and support...today and always. I look up to each and every one of you NICU mamas and admire your strength and I am always here for you. Whether it is to chat, cry together, rejoice together and everything in between...I am here. Lets stop blaming ourselves and realize this was part of our babies story and part of our story. In the midst of trauma let us realize the growth and strength that has been developed in us. It may not be what we expected but it is still beautiful.