It's unlikely you haven't heard the word on the street, people, but Maria is home, home, HOME!!! If we were a bit vague or coy about the details in the last week, it's because we didn't want to jinx things. In the time span of thirteen days, she went from needing four or five tube feedings and four bottle feedings a day, to only a couple of tube feedings a day, to only bottles, then from an isolette into a bassinet (or a "cot," as they say up here), then from all her vital signs being monitored to just her oxygen saturation to no monitoring at all. Saturday night the nurses set me up in a little room with her all by ourselves for a test run. When I failed, repeatedly, to drop her that night, they gave us Sunday to get ourselves together, and on Monday morning, after we went out to Jeff's birthday breakfast, I walked into the NICU to find the discharge orders already written.
Yes, I cried.
So, just to recap, she was born at 31 weeks 5 days, and was 2 pounds and 10 ounces and was 14 and a half inches long. After 39 days in the NICU, she left it weighing 4 pounds and 6 ounces and was not quite 17 and a half inches long. Shazam. The nurses fought over her.
As things continued to not go wrong over the month, I gradually worried less and less. The doctor told me she'd ordered a routine ultrasound of the head, and I got so nervous waiting for it to happen. Days went by. One morning I asked her nurse, "Seriously, WHEN will they do the ultrasound???" Her nurse looked at me funny, flipped through the chart, and informed me that it had been done the previous week. No one had bothered to tell me anything about it because it was negative. (Criminy!) Hearing screen was fine, eye test was fine (that will be rechecked, but she never did need any oxygen or breathing help) and she rarely did anything on the monitor that wasn't secondary to screaming her head off for her dinner. When they started letting her eat as much as she wanted, they were astounded by the amount of milk she could knock back.
In summation, she did seriously well. We met a mom who didn't hear her baby cry for the first time until she'd been in the NICU a hundred days, a mom who'd been told it was unlikely her baby would ever walk or talk, moms who had no money, no car and, worse, no partners. Moms who gushed enthusiastically that the spinal tap or surgery went off without a hitch. And we met one awesome, crazy organized mom, whose SECOND pair of NATURALLY conceived twins were in the bassinets across from Maria. Yes, that's right, she'd had a pair of twin boys five years ago, then had a daughter three years ago, and then, when she tried for a fourth, got another pair of twins. If that doesn't make your blood run cold, nothing will.
One final thought about our hospital experience. I wasn't so crazy about the Canadian health care system when we arrived. But nothing will convert you to the belief in socialized medicine like a health crisis that ended well and resulted in no bills.
Here's Maria's white board over her bassinet the day she was discharged. Jeff got creative.
Headed home on the big day:
Best birthday present ever!
Kurt being a precious big brother on the way home from the hospital…
and later that night:
There aren't any pictures of Kurt grabbing her bottle out of her mouth or screaming inconsolably to find his place on my lap taken, because I just didn't have the camera handy.
Jeff kept his hospital bracelet on until she came home. Here he is ceremoniously cutting it off:
Maria is being integrated into our lives gradually.
And why not, as she is looking like a suspiciously regular old baby, only smaller.
Jeff and I are mutually astounded at how much easier it's been this time around, the whole bringing the baby home. People keep sending us concerned "How are you?" messages and all I can say is yes, we really really are fine. The positives of having had a baby in the NICU for these weeks include not having anyone recovering from a c-section, everyone starting out feeling relatively rested, and a freezer full of breast milk. There's also a distinct lack of pressure to have everything be perfect, because, hell, that really went out the window a while ago. We're just happy to be here.
And then there's the second kid thing. When Jeff and I went to Kurt's follow up appointment with his pediatrician after he was just born, it took us an hour to get ready. We packed everything we could conceivably need for that appointment which was a ten minute drive away and spent a lot of time figuring out what he would wear, including his coat and hat, which were very important considering the average daily high temperature in January in Santa Barbara is sixty five degrees. On Wednesday I took Maria to her follow up appointment with Dr. McQueen. I put some tights on over the onesie she'd been wearing since the previous day, and just barely remembered to stuff a diaper and some wipes in my purse on the way out to the car.
I remember furiously worrying about whether I was bonding with Kurt enough, interacting with him enough (in the first month!), whether he was being jostled too much, whether he was getting sick, eating enough, whether he was breathing…always with the breathing! Some of the the pressure came from well meaning friends and family who just kind of unknowingly gave voice to to irrational worries that we might have been able to quash on our own, but most of it came from ourselves.
Then there was the breastfeeding. It went badly for three horrifying months with Kurt before I finally gave it up. I tortured myself about it. When Maria was born, well, before that even, Jeff said to me very seriously, "If the breastfeeding goes badly with this one, you will give it up sooner rather than later, or I will kill you." (He was probably just kidding, of course. It's more likely he'd kill himself.) Getting Maria the heck out of the NICU boiled down to two main issues: weight gain, and eating on her own. The best way to make this happen was to give her pumped breast milk, first with the feeding tube, then with bottles. By the time she was discharged, she was thoroughly on the bottle. She did try to nurse, especially at first, but she didn't get much, and frankly, I don't appear to lactate like normal person without the help of massive amounts of drugs, and I'm not too keen on taking drugs to "naturally" feed my child. I feel certain that if I had been willing to let her lose weight, and/or let her stay in the hospital bit longer, and screw my older child out of time with his mom so that I could stay all day and night at the hospital to practice breastfeeding on demand (there were moms who did this), or in general been a bit more willing to suffer for the cause, I could have made it happen. But I wasn't.
If you have any questions about who Maria resembles, I give this picture of Jeff to compare with the one of Maria below.
In fact, when I showed him the pictures side by side, he said, "Hey, maybe we don't have to do a paternity test with this one!"
Of course we'll get one.