By Gabrielle. Photo by Solly Baby — have you seen their beautiful baby wraps?
Emily Lundie was expecting Seamus’ birth to follow the same sweet path as the one on which her firstborn arrived. That would sure be perfect, wouldn’t it? But as we all know, life has a way of messing up our perfect plans in such a dizzying way that all we can do is ride along the best way we know how. Yes, we lose our balance. Yes, things don’t look the exact way we imagined. But perfect doesn’t ever mean the same thing for every baby. And that’s the greatest lesson Emily has to share with us today.
She is honest. So honest that your heart may fall when you read the first thought in her final paragraph. But it’s this shared truthfulness that helps another parent out there who may be experiencing the same emotion. It will get better. Please join me in welcoming Emily. I hope her words are just the thing you need to hear today. Hello, Emily!
This wasn’t our first rodeo. We already had a two and a half year old daughter, Madeleine, and were pretty sure we were awesome parents. She nursed like a champ, started sleeping through the night at seven weeks, still napped, and loved her vegetables. We were doing everything right, and it was working really well. I didn’t have a lot of worry about adding another one to the mix. Sure, I knew it was going to present some challenges, but I had every reason to be confident. Little did I know we were about to be knocked down a few pegs by one tiny little boy.
I had been in bed for a few hours, sleeping as well as can be expected when you’re eight months pregnant. In my sleepy haze, I rolled from my back to my side and felt that familiar gush of liquid between my legs. Instantly awake, my initial thought was, “It’s too early!” I wasn’t due for another month. I went to the bathroom to see what was up, trying to convince myself that I had somehow just peed myself, but I knew. Still, I clenched my muscles, locked my thighs together, and shuffled back to bed like a penguin hoping it wasn’t true. I lay there acutely monitoring every involuntary movement of my body – no pains and still felt the baby moving. Everything seemed normal, but…the water trickled out again. It was time.
I was surprisingly calm. It was 12:30 am on a Thursday, and my husband Bill was sound asleep. I got up, changed clothes, and took care of all my lady business. When there was nothing left I could do in the darkness of night, I woke Bill. He was also surprisingly calm, too. We had a laugh because we had just talked about putting together the hospital bag the day before. Now here we were trying to do it from memory in the middle of the night. We finished packing (hoping we didn’t forget anything), took care of the dog, I ate something (as I remembered they wouldn’t let me eat after I had checked in last time), and then we woke up little Madeleine. We packed a few things for her too, and then all headed to the hospital around 1:30 am. Along the way, we called Bill’s sister. I’m so thankful she answered her phone in the middle of the night, and she agreed to meet us at the hospital and take Madeleine home with her. We were excited to soon meet our son, but deep down, I was still a little worried with it being so early.
We arrived at the hospital, waited for an orderly to bring a wheel chair despite my protests that I could walk, and then headed up to the maternity ward. By this point, Madeleine was wide awake and enjoying the adventure. They set us up in a room where I answered a lot of questions and was hooked up to a bunch of machines for monitoring. And then we waited. My sister-in-law picked up Madeleine, and Bill and I were left alone. I was hardly dilated and hadn’t had a single contraction yet, but when that water breaks they like to get things moving. One thing I knew from my daughter’s birth: I was definitely getting an epidural. So when they suggested starting me on Pitocin, I wasn’t thrilled, but agreed knowing I would get an epidural and not have to endure the added pain.
They moved me to the birthing room, and got things started. We tried to rest and, really, not much happened until the daylight hours. My contractions finally started and I got the epidural, but I was still only a few centimeters dilated. I had called my mom earlier so she could make the two hour drive up. Despite the occasional dip in blood pressure, which they said was within the normal range, the baby’s stats were all good. Other than being early, everything was fine. I was informed my normal OB was on vacation, and that another doctor from the practice would deliver for me. Oh well, I thought, at least I had met the guy at least once. Everything is just so out of your hands. We waited some more, but my worries were definitely subsiding.
Around 12:15 pm I started to feel a lot of pressure and some pain on my right side. When the nurse came in, she explained that sometimes the epidural starts to wear off a little. Great, I thought. Almost as an afterthought, though, she asked me if it felt like I had to push. I thought about it for a moment, and answered yes…that’s exactly what it feels like. She decided to check me just in case, and gave an audible happy gasp. Not only was I fully dilated, but she could even see his head! I had gone from three to ten centimeters in under an hour. Suddenly there was a swarm of activity, and I was instructed not to push. My mom suddenly showed up. It was pretty much, “Hi Mom! Thanks for coming, please get out because he’s coming right now.” The doctor was literally in the midst of delivering another birth down the hall, but luckily was just finishing. He was in my room in minutes, and so were a herd of other people. There was the doctor, the nurse, a student, the NICU doctor, a NICU nurse, and of course, Bill. I was told multiple times it was all precautionary just because he was early.
Fifteen minutes and two pushes later, Seamus, was born.
“He’s big,” they all exclaimed. They cleaned him up and weighed him: 6 lbs 3 oz. That was bigger than my daughter was at birth! He’ll be fine because he’s big enough, I thought to myself. They let me hold him for a quick minute, and it was as sweet as expected. I was surprised how much he looked like his sister, Madeleine. They told me they wanted to take him to the NICU to double check him, but that he really looked fine. He was big, after all. I let them take him from me, not knowing it would be days before I would hold him again.
A little while later, you know, after all that afterbirth fun, Bill, my mom, and I went up to the NICU to check on Seamus. I was in a wheelchair and I remember entering the NICU for the first time. There was a bright red light flashing above one of the rooms, beeping alarms going off, and a bunch of doctors and nurses surrounding a clear box that shielded the infant within from our view. Then, I suddenly realized that was Seamus’ room! That was my baby they were all frantically working on. A nurse came out and said everything was fine, but that we should come back later. They were having some trouble hooking up a few lines. WHAT LINES?! She said the doctor would be down later to brief us. I don’t think any of us really knew what to do, so we just did as instructed. We went back to my room and waited.
When the doctor came in, he told us that when they got Seamus up to the NICU, he had started grunting while breathing, and that his breaths seemed very labored and rapid. They decided to intubate him. They did a chest x-ray and noted a small tear in his lungs. He had a pneumothorax (collapsed lung) in the left one. He explained that air had escaped his lungs and created a pocket in his chest cavity. His blood gas showed he was not expelling carbon dioxide as he should. In addition to intubating him, they were giving him oxygen through his nose, and antibiotics and food by IV. He told us none of it was life threatening, but it meant he was going to have to stay in the NICU for a while until his lungs were functioning normally.
After he left, I started to cry.
It was a lot to process and I was obviously highly hormonal. I was relieved he was going to be fine, but sad that it was all happening at all. I felt like I had given birth, but didn’t have a baby. I had only held Seamus a minute before he was whisked away from me. Bill hadn’t even held him at all!
A little while later we went back up to the NICU. It was a lot calmer scene, but not really any happier. We went in Seamus’ room and he was just lying there limp, hooked up to what seemed like a million machines. It was very eerie. We couldn’t hold him, but we were able to touch him by putting our hand through a little hole on the side of his acrylic bassinet. We stayed there for a long time; gazing at him, touching him, talking to him, talking to each other, and making phone calls. But really, there wasn’t much to do. He felt like a stranger to me.
We went back to my room. Bill and my mom went back to the house. She was going to stay there and watch Madeleine and the dog until I was discharged. I ate, tried to pump, and napped. When Bill came back we went through the motions again, and then watched TV for a while. I remember feeling sad and concerned, but also very bored.
On Friday morning, we eagerly went upstairs to Seamus’ room to get the first of our nightly reports. They said he was doing really well, and that the chest x-ray showed improvement. We still couldn’t hold him, but I did get to change his diaper! I don’t think I was ever so thrilled to change a poopy diaper. It was really awkward doing it through the little arm holes, but we’d quickly get the hang of it.
Earlier that day, my catheter had been removed, and after that I bounced back really fast. Physically, I felt great. I was cleaned and dressed and ready to be discharged, which seemed to take forever. To this day, I am amazed how fast my body recovered from his birth.
Again, though, there wasn’t much to do. I got really frustrated dealing with work emails. My maternity leave was unexpectedly early, and they weren’t prepared. I knew I was not supposed to working, but what else was there to do? Thankfully, Bill made me stop, and I tried to just be present. We watched a lot of TV.
The NICU is such a strange place. It’s very quiet. Each room you pass has a usually sleeping baby in it, and sometimes a parent keeping vigil. Everyone just kept to themselves. If you happened to meet another parents’ eyes we’d just exchange smiles. It was how we acknowledged what the other was going through, while respecting that we were all too worried and exhausted to socialize.
Saturday morning came, and we waited for the nightly report. There was no change in his x-ray, but they said we could finally hold him! It was a full three days after he was born. I tried nursing him. t didn’t go great, but I was hopeful we’d get there eventually. I also hoped he would stop feeling like a stranger to me and start feeling like my son. I thought the moment I held him again, the love would instantly wash over us. It didn’t, but I wasn’t deterred. Bill finally got to hold him too, and I was really, really happy.
I was finally discharged, and ready to go home. Seamus wasn’t, though. They were still monitoring his lungs, and now he was jaundiced. I added Bilirubin to my ever growing medical vocabulary. This day was better. It was great to finally hold him, but it was also still just more of the same. I decided to go home without Seamus and sleep at home. I missed Madeleine, and wanted to feel like a mom again. I felt so useless at the hospital. I also figured it was best for me to get as much sleep as possible before Seamus was discharged. My bed seemed the smarter option than the small, vinyl couch in Seamus’ room. So, I went home…without my baby. Everything at home felt strangely normal and right. It was like any other Saturday for us. We ran some errands and played together. Then, every once in a while it would hit me that I wasn’t pregnant anymore. I had Seamus. We were a family of four now. He just wasn’t with us. I didn’t miss him. How can you miss someone you don’t know yet?
Back at the hospital on Sunday, they told us they didn’t do an x-ray overnight. His Bilirubin had increased from 9 to 12, which was bad. However, they had lowered the amount of oxygen they were giving him. They were also able to increase how much breast milk/formula he was getting and he dropped one of his IVs. It was another long, boring day, but at least we could hold him now, and with one less tube, too. It was so hard trying to hold and maneuver him when he was hooked up to all those wires and tubes.
By Monday, my mom had gone back home. We decided to treat it like a regular Monday morning. Madeleine went to daycare, but instead of us going to work, Bill and I headed to the hospital. I’m so thankful that our hospital was only 15 minutes from our house. The whole ordeal would have been so much harder if we had to travel far each day. Seamus was off oxygen and his last IV, so no more tubes! His Bilirubin level had increased to 13.9, though, so they decided to put him under a BiliBlanket. We stayed at the hospital until what would have been the end of our work day, picked up Madeleine, and headed home. Then, we were back in our normal nightly routine with her, except after Madeleine went to bed I would always go back to the hospital. I’d stay for one more nursing and/or pumping session, and then return home around 11:00 pm to sleep. This became our routine for the final three days of his NICU stay.
Tuesday, his Bilirubin level spiked to 15. They laid him on his stomach on top of the blanket and shined a high intensity light on his back.
Wednesday, his Bilirubin level dropped to 13. They took him off the blanket, but kept him under the lights.
Thursday, his Bilirubin level was at 10 – normal! He could finally go home, but not before we had one more surprise. The doctor asked if we would come with him to review Seamus’ x-rays. I remember, as he led us to another room, he oddly told us we were much more nicely dressed and groomed than most of the other NICU parents. Uh, thank you? We sat down in a small room with a computer and he pulled all Seamus’ x-rays up from the past week. Since they x-rayed his lungs so many times, they were able to pick up an irregularity. His left diaphragm was always in the exact same position each x-ray; it never moved. He explained that Seamus had Unilateral Diaphragm Paralysis. He explained that it was nothing serious, and wouldn’t affect his day-to-day life at all. It just meant his right side would have to work a little harder to compensate. Apparently there are many, many people walking around with this exact condition that never get diagnosed and never know the difference. Unless you’re getting multiple chest x-rays, there’s no way to spot it. Would he have any breathing issues? Would he have asthma? Will he have trouble running and playing sports? Does it need to be fixed? Should we be concerned in any way? The answer to all our questions was no. Since they found it, though, they needed to tell us. Okay, can we go home now? Finally a yes!
Seamus was in the NICU for one week, and it was the hardest week of our lives. My heart goes out to all the parents and babies whose NICU stays are much longer than ours was. It is not easy.
I wish I could say that it was smooth sailing after we were at home, but Seamus and life continued to throw us some curves. He was a difficult nurser and never got the hang of it. I gave up trying after a month full of difficulties. He had reflux. He developed torticollis, which caused a flat head on one side. He went to physical therapy and had to wear a helmet for months to round his head back out. We moved twice before he was nine months old, one of which was cross country. He didn’t truly start sleeping through the night until he was ten months old and we were finally settled in our new house.
Now, he’s two. He’s a picky eater, is extremely loud, gets frustrated easily, and throws one heck of a tantrum. We often joke that had Seamus been our first child, he’d have been our only child. Except that it’s not really a joke! He’s the best birth control we could have asked for, and we know for sure our family is complete now. There’s no way I’m going through this all again.
It took me a long, long time to fall in love with Seamus. Almost a year or so. He felt like a stranger in our family for so long. Now, I love him to death and can’t imagine our life without him. Yes, he’s a challenge, but when he’s good, he’s so good! Cuddly, funny, and sweet. The day-to-day is hard sometimes, but I know it will get easier as he grows. It has to, right? If Madeleine was our perfect baby, then Seamus was our perfectly imperfect baby. And if it was the only way for us to have our little Seamus, then I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Heartbreaking, right? Emily, I want to thank you for your blunt honesty. And though I felt heartbroken for you when I read that it took you a long time to fall in love with Seamus, I whispered a little Hooray when I read your final sentence: “And if it was the only way for us to have our little Seamus, then I wouldn’t have had it any other way.”
Friends, I’d love to hear your response to Emily’s story. Did any of you experience your own version of the difficult birth and beginning affecting your relationship in the early days? How did you finally connect? Any help for others who may be walking down that same perfectly imperfect path is always a wonderful thing!