All NICU moms hit it. I called it the 7 week wall when we were in the first time. We had been there for 49 days with Hayden and Logan. They were weighing in at around 5 lbs. They finally looked like normal babies. All the tubes were gone. They were taking all their bottles like champs, steadily gaining weight. I brought the car seats in for the car seat test, one of the last hurdles the babies had to leap before discharge. They never ask you to bring those in unless you are getting close.
49 days. 7 weeks. Discharge should have been right around the corner.
Except it wasn’t.
Both of them, despite being oxygen-less, sometimes forgot to breathe, dropping their heart rate and oxygen saturation levels down to dangerous levels and setting off those crazy alarms. Alarms that still haunt my dreams.
Apnea and Bradycardia. Spells. Episodes. A’s and B’s. All NICUs use different terms for these dastardly events that keep babies from coming home.
5 days. Babies had to be spell-free for 5 days. If they did try to pull any funny business, they had less than 10 seconds to pull themselves out of it before the nurses would swoop in. If they needed help, the countdown clock started back to 5.
Our clock re-started 5 times.
There really is nothing like washing your pump parts in the sink when those terrible alarms start yelling.
My heart sinks. I walk over and stand in front of the monitor, cross my arms, and plead with it to stop, beg it to stop.
Come on, baby. Breathe. JUST BREATHE. Please breathe. Tears well up in my eyes, threatening to spill over for the 15th time that day. Please take a breath. PLEASE.
The nurse comes in. Washes her hands, pumps the hand sanitizer
“Please, just give him a couple more seconds. He can do it. I know he can. Please.” I looked at her with red-rimmed eyes.
“I can’t, it’s already been 15 seconds,” she says, as she starts to unwrap him, rubbing his feet and hands, bringing him back from his episode.
I sit. Defeated. The tears flow freely now. 5 more days.
Or maybe it is 5 am on the day both your babies are due to be discharged, 66 days after their birth. 5 days have passed and they are ready. Your phone rings.
A private call.
Your hands shake as you answer.
“Hi this is Hayden and Logan’s nurse. I just wanted to let you know that Hayden just had a spell.”
“Okay,” is the only word you can muster, ending the call as you fall to the floor
Sometimes the end of the NICU journey is harder than the beginning. At the beginning, you know you are in it for the long haul. You are prepared for the wait. You are prepared (sort of) for complications. You grow accustomed to all the tubes. You get used to asking for permission to hold your own child. You get used to the alarms. You get used to pumping in front of strangers. You get used to the graham cracker breakfast and lunch.
Then that light at the end of the tunnel starts to get brighter and the hope gets stronger. The nursery at home, the one you so lovingly prepared, beckons.
They are so close, so close, but still so very far. The tears come more readily. As a matter of fact, you can pretty much cry on demand. Your postpartum hormones are still raging. You get unreasonably angry with each of your child’s caregivers: the doctors, the nurses, the therapists. You can’t help it, you can’t control it.
You are just done.
And each minute they remain feels like an eternity.
It’s the NICU wall.