I met Charlie two days following her birth. The two days prior to our reunion are a blur in my memory. I remember being confused and disoriented. The vein my PCA pump ran into blew, I had an allergic reaction to the tape on my IV sites, the magnesium sulfate felt like a punishment for Charlie’s early arrival, and my back ached from the numerous failed epidural attempts. After everything settled down, I was deemed well enough to see my baby.
My wheel chair ride down to the NICU is a hazy memory. My husband expertly rolled my chair through a maze of hallways and elevators. Once we reached the NICU, I had to fill out a questionnaire and scrub up for the first of thousands of times. Even now, the smell of the hospital soap reminds me of that first hand washing. Finally, I was permitted to pass through the heavy doors into the NICU.
My husband pushed my chair past one isolette after another. With the constant sound of alarms, rhythmic hum of the respirators, and rows of glowing isolettes, the NICU did not look or feel like a nursery. Instead, it appeared as something out of a sci-fi story. My wheel chair ride ended beside a glowing isolette. Within it, Charlie slumbered.
I rose from my wheel chair, gingerly lifted the blanket draped over her isolette, and anxiously peered in. Through all the tubes and wires, I could see she was beautiful and perfect. Gently, I placed both of my hands on her isolette. It was the closest I could come to holding her. We were not allowed to touch her yet. Afterwards, I slumped into my wheel chair, placed my head in my hands, and sobbed.
I was overcome and inconsolable. That was not how things were supposed to be. I was heartbroken at the loss of our expected birth experience. I was grief stricken that my baby now had to fight for survival. I ached to hold her or touch her. I was frightened for my baby. I was angry at the numerous strangers in the room for being present for a very private moment. I felt robbed of the pure excitement and joy that I expected to feel when meeting my baby. I was devastated.
A nurse walked over and explained how Charlie was doing. My thoughts were distant. I did not really hear or understand anything she said. However, the moment was important. It was my introduction to the nurse that was among a handful of people that were key to my NICU survival.
Charlie’s first few weeks are foggy. During that time, I did a great deal of crying and functioned on auto pilot. Several days later, I was discharged from the hospital. I decided that I was going to do the only thing I could do for Charlie… be with her. I wanted her to know that she did not have to battle on her own. Nor, did I want her to die alone.
Every day, I held my breath and watched as Charlie grew. Luckily, I had an unexpected cast of characters (such as the nurse) that provided much needed emotional support.
I find it remarkable that I had lived my life without knowing what it meant to be overwhelmed with emotion until the day I first met Charlie. The sights, sounds, and smells from the NICU often act as a reminder.
I took this picture the first time I saw Charlie. She weighed 708 grams.