As a Boston newborn photographer, I’ve heard a lot of client stories about NICU stays, and one common theme among all these new parents is how lucky they feel to live in Boston and have access to some of the world’s best hospitals. One might think that hearing all of these positive stories would have prepared me a little better for my own NICU experience, but no parent expects their 39 weeker to end up needing special care. So how’d we find ourselves in this situation?
How He Landed Himself in the NICU
About 18 hours after Cooper was born, my nurse me asked if I wanted her to take him to the nursery for two hours so I could sleep. I hadn’t slept at all the night before because I could feel my contractions despite my epidural, and somehow I wasn’t able to sleep at all in the hours after he was born either. Though I didn’t really want him to leave my room, I also desperately need to catch some z’s, so I agreed. Shortly after she wheeled him out, I passed out, only to wake up later to an unfamiliar masked man hovering over my bed. It was 2 AM and I was having trouble processing what he was saying, but I certainly heard the words “neonatologist,” “choking,” and “Cooper’s been moved for observation.” After a minute or so, I was able to piece together what this stranger was telling me. Cooper threw up a lot of colostrum and mucus while in the nursery, choked on it, and stopped breathing very briefly. The nurse promptly called the level 2 nursery, where he was taken for observation. The neonatologist told me not to panic, and that it was likely related to his fast delivery.
A little while later, it was time to nurse, so they wheeled me down to what would become his home for the next 10 days, though I didn’t know it yet. While feeding, he had his first recorded “spell,” in which his oxygen dipped below 88 and stayed that way for 20+ seconds. Suddenly, what was supposed to be a NICU stay of just a few hours turned into a 48 hour stay. I still had 36 hours to go until my own discharge from the hospital, so at this point I was operating under the assumption that we wouldn’t be separated for too long.
The Waiting Game
Fast forward to Sunday night. Cooper had been doing great, and aside from the initial incident and that one feeding spell in the wee hours on Saturday, everything was good. The nurses had finagled a way for me to board an extra night at the hospital so that I could nurse him through the night, and then we were going to go home together Monday morning. Perfect. Until it wasn’t. I was taking a little post-dinner nap around 7 pm when I again woke up to someone hovering over my bed. This time it was the night-shift nurse, coming to tell me that Cooper had just had a sleep spell. Unlike a feeding spell, this is potentially more serious and warrants a 5-day stay. I felt like I had been punched in the gut. I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that my full-term baby would be staying in the NICU for almost a week.
The next few days were looooong, but they also weren’t entirely terrible. We’d start each day by calling the hospital to find out how Cooper did overnight. These calls were undoubtedly the worst part of the whole experience. Adam and I would hold our breath (no pun intended) waiting to hear if he had another spell overnight. On 3 different occasions they told me he had had one. Each time I’d feel my stomach sink, convinced he’d never come home. After all, a single spell would re-set the clock for another 5 days. I’d pick myself up, go spend an hour or two with my older son, and then get to the hospital by 9 or 10 each morning. I was allowed to stay the entire day, which was great because I was nursing and didn’t want to lose the momentum we had going. As a bonus, I could order as many delicious meals as my heart desired, so that was a little silver lining ;).
Home Sweet Home
I remember messaging with a client of mine from the hospital one day. She had endured a MUCH longer NICU stay, and she told me that someday I might actually look back fondly on our short time in the NICU. We eventually left on day 11, and although it hasn’t been very long since our discharge, I already can look back fondly. I’ll always be so very grateful for the wonderful people who were a part of Cooper’s first days. This might sound weird, but in a way, I almost feel like I have been handed the gift of time over these last 6 months. I was given 4 months of one-on-one time with Greyson before his brother arrived (thanks, Covid!), and then nearly two weeks of mom and Coop time, when I was able to tune out the rest of this absolutely insane world and just focus on my little dude.