Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Exorcising the NICU Ghost

My son's skin was translucent. That was one of the first things I noticed. His head especially showed a world of veins, right there on the surface, and I was struck by how incomplete that made him look. I knew he'd be fragile-looking, but his translucence was too much to bear.

I broke down in tears - my first real cry-fest since everything had happened - that moment when I first laid eyes on him. I'd spent 24 bizarre post-surgery hours, in a sleepy haze, medicated and immobile and repeatedly asking after my baby. When Monday dawned my first words were, "When can I see my son?" and I asked that question until they hauled me onto a wheelchair and instructed my husband to push me to the NICU.

It wasn't just the sight of my tiny baby boy in the isolette, all wires and gauze and tapes and tubes, that broke me; it was not being able to hold him. It felt beyond wrong, that I could see him there so vulnerable and alone and not be able to put him where he truly belonged: in my arms. It seemed then that nothing would ever be right, that something primal and essential had been denied and our fate was forever changed. So I cried. Those tears brought with them these hopeless feelings - we were all trapped in this situation, in this room, and the most important one of us was not guaranteed to make it out of there all right, and I was a weak, useless lump in a wheelchair. This was the moment, when I first laid eyes on my see-through baby, where I felt the most devastated.

It shocks me, then, to remember this terrible moment and feel it so far away already. My brain is clearly working hard to forget.

I don't know if I want to remember or want to forget. Most days, I think it's a little of both. Given my Swiss-cheese memory, I've felt my brain doing that thing it does with every painful situation, where it practically shuts down till the whole thing is blocked away. I'm doing that with the NICU experience, and so I'm here now, writing before it's all gone, because I know that ultimately, I will want to remember.

In hindsight, it was for the best that everything happened so quickly. However stunned it all made me feel (I still feel a bit so when I retell the story), I know that if I'd had time to think about things, to really understand how sick I was or that my baby would be confined to the NICU for who-knows-how-many weeks, I would have had a terrible reaction. I would have gone into denial and demanded to go home, or I would have wailed about how very wrong the whole thing was and been bitter from the get-go. The speediness of it all was good.

Also good was the care we received. I almost enjoyed being a patient, so good were they about checking on me, fulfilling my requests and keeping me comfortable, all with a kind, professional attitude. It actually was not as awful as I thought it would be.

But not good was the rest of it, though no hospital or staff can be blamed for my sickness and its consequences. Recovery from a c-section is excruciatingly slow and painful - how a woman can actually choose that torture over a vaginal delivery is completely beyond my comprehension - and it was made doubly so by the emotional toll of having a baby in the NICU. And while there is no doubt that my baby received the best care possible, I wish they had been better about how they communicated with us, because the vagueness of everything they would tell us was maddening and frustrating. I knew that no matter how badly I needed someone in that unit to tell me that my son was not going to die, it wasn't gonna happen. But I do wish someone would have offered perspective so that we wouldn't have had to have spent five weeks living in fear and dread, when neither was necessary at the extremely high levels we experienced them.

Almost four months later, the feelings seem to have been suppressed, and the images come and go. Most of it is fuzzy and distant, except for one: the sight of my translucent baby. That one is forever seared in me.


Posted by Tere @ 4/24/2013   | |


  • Blogger Kayla posted at 5/03/2013 10:23 PM  
    I honestly feel like I have PTSD from our NICU stay. Nothing bad happened but the whole experience in general just has me bogged down. I feel like NICU mama's have our own club.

  • Blogger Tracie Rathsack posted at 5/23/2013 10:59 PM  
    My own child did not have to go to the NICU, but my pregnancy twin - her boy was born with some heart issues. Sadly, he did not make it. I can not imagine what you mothers go through seeing your own children go through this. It breaks my heart. In time, as your boy gets older, you'll see him and that less....

    By the way, my own baby is now almost 4 months old!
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