Jack's first week of life was a serious roller coaster. Soaring highs and horrible lows.
Labor and delivery went so smoothly. It wouldn't be fair to say that giving birth was easy, not at all... but I was lucky and my doctor and nurse were great, so it wasn't all that hard either. Jack received a gold star 9 on both APGAR scores at 1 and 5 minutes after delivery -- a very healthy, hearty newborn! He was lifting his head and peering around right away. We spent over an hour snuggling him and marveling over how perfect he was after delivery before they wheeled him to the nursery for the standard newborn tests.
Once we were settled in the tiniest recovery room possible, they brought Jack back. Our little slice of heaven passed all of his tests with flying colors! Our families came to see him. We continued to stare at him in amazement. He mostly slept (he'd been hard at work over the past 24 hours!) I felt great. I felt like I could have ten more babies! This was going to be easy.
That night, we had Thai food delivered to the hospital and posted way too many photos of Jack to Facebook. He was wheeled off to the nursery -- after being awake for the past 36 or so hours, I wanted to try to get some sleep. After attempting (unsuccessfully) to snooze in the recliner, Kyle went home to get a few hours of rest too.
Jack arrived the next morning, wailing, around 6 AM. "He's hungry!" the nurse said. And then she left.
I tried feeding him, but he kept crying. I realized that I hadn't once burped him after a feeding -- oops. I tried burping him, swaying him back and forth, feeding him again... nothing was working. I called the nurse, feeling completely ridiculous. "Can someone come to my room? My baby is crying." I had no idea how to stop it!
The nurse came, said he probably just had a burp he couldn't get rid of, said she felt gas bubbles, and took him back to the nursery to try jostling him around a bit there. I called Kyle in a slightly murderous rage -- why wasn't he back yet? He was "so tired." Not what a new mom wants to hear, am I right? I had a nice, long cry in my room. They brought Jack in again -- still hungry, and now, angry! I tried feeding him again, and he fell asleep. Ah, success!
More family visits. They moved us to a larger recovery room. I fed Jack every hour or so (this nursing business is no joke!) I still felt really good though. Walking around was alright. I cut back on the pain medicine.
Then the nurse came to the room and said he was slightly jaundiced. They were going to put him under the lights for awhile and see if his bilirubin level would drop. Nothing to worry about... I just had to make sure to feed him as often as he'd like (a common theme in his short lifetime so far).
The next morning, thanks to phototherapy, Jack's bilirubin level was back to normal. The pediatrician still wanted to see us the following day, but we were given the okay to leave. We drove home from the hospital with our little bundle, a family of three. Five, counting the dogs, who were bonkers when I walked in the door. I cried again, feeling a little overwhelmed as they raced around. But Kyle brought Jack inside, we made the introduction, cooked a dinner with him snoozing in the bouncer, and felt like things were going to be okay.
The next day, we took him to the pediatrician. She thought he still looked yellow and sent us to get a heel prick. We were annoyed that he had to get stuck yet again. She called us back later that night, when my family was visiting with a homemade meal. "You need to take him to the ER at Children's Hospital," she said. "Can we eat dinner first?" Kyle asked. "No, you need to go now."
I thought she was completely overreacting, so we did eat before driving to the ER (Mom Lesson #1 -- when in doubt, overreact). After all, Kyle and I both had jaundice when we were newborns. My mom parked me next to a window to soak up the October sunshine. Kyle, on the other hand, spent six days in the hospital nursery under the lights (I didn't know that at the time!) I'd never realized jaundice could be severe. I thought it was basically harmless.
When we got there, things went downhill very quickly. His bilirubin level was extremely high. Like, approaching permanent damage kind of high. He was closing in on hearing loss, brain changes, his-life-will-never-be-the-same stuff. About twenty different nurses were trying to get an IV into his tiny, three-day-old veins -- and not one of them could manage it. For over an hour, we watched and listened to him scream while they stuck him with needles in his arms, hands, and feet. They finally put it into his scalp. That was the worst hour of my life. I still get sick to my stomach thinking about it.
Then they put him into an isolette, under phototherapy lights and on top of a phototherapy pillow. He was moved to the NICU and given lots and lots of fluid. Kyle and I sat and looked at our baby and each other in shock. We couldn't touch him at all. We drove home around four in the morning. Just the two of us. We had to leave him behind.
The next two days were tough. His bilirubin level started dropping almost immediately, but it took awhile to get back into the normal range. Once we could take him out of the isolette and hold him for a few minutes, it was scary to snuggle him with the IV in his head. I'm sure you can imagine how much fun breastfeeding was. There was also the fact that I was just a few days removed from giving birth -- and no matter how "awesome" I felt after delivery, I was not supposed to be walking through parking garages, up and down stairs, and in endless hallways like this. I was stressing about the lactation consultant's advice right after he was born: "Don't pump! Don't supplement with formula!" These were things we had to do now, because this whole situation was no longer normal. And none of it mattered to me -- none of it. I just wanted him to be okay.
Kyle and I knew we were lucky, comparatively speaking, in the NICU -- there were babies and parents in those halls dealing with things I cannot even comprehend. And once Jack was discharged, I was incredibly grateful. He was healthy! The IV was out, and our baby was coming back home.
But in spite of that, over the next few days I felt (physically and emotionally) like I'd been hit by a freight train. It wasn't the way his first week of life was "supposed" to go. I felt like I'd done something wrong, like the jaundice was my fault. I worried that the experience had traumatized him.
I cried a lot (as much as Jack?) on Saturday night and Sunday morning, watching the clock and remembering every detail from the previous week (at this time we were getting admitted to the hospital... at this time Kyle went and bought the Monster energy drink and chips for his dinner... then the Pens won in a shootout...I decided to get the blessed epidural...the nurse said we were ready to go...he was born...the sun came up...)
The day Jack was born was the happiest day of my life, and the days that followed had moments that were funny, touching, and beautiful. But that week also contained some of the saddest, scariest, and most confusing times too. I guess that's how it is for everyone -- the beginning of a baby's life is bound to have both the miraculous and the overwhelming. They're all separate versions of the same song. Ours just started out on a more tremulous note than I expected.