I would be remiss if in all my “baby-themed” posts I didn’t mention the TLC reality show, “Bringing Home Baby” at least once. Toward the end of my pregnancy, I watched this show every afternoon, sometimes several if they were having a marathon. For anyone who hasn’t seen it: In the beginning of the show you are introduced to a couple, usually pregnant with their first child. A camera crew follows the couple through the labor, the ride home with their new baby, and the first few days adjusting to home life. To a pregnant lady, it’s good stuff.
I mention this show because if camera crews had been there for our exit from the hospital, it would have been unlike any episode of “Bringing Home Baby” I ever saw.
As I wrote in previous posts, my son had complications at birth that required care in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). He had aspirated fluid during labor and required oxygen through a tube in his nose and medications to clear out his lungs. We were told he would not be allowed to leave the hospital until the oxygen tube was removed.
That was before they discovered our baby’s mutant powers: a superhuman ability to resist sleep and an extremely volatile temperament. (OK, so they weren’t X-Men worthy powers, but they were impressive nonetheless.)
The morning we arrived to find the oxygen had been removed, we were so excited. We were all going home! Since our boy was no longer attached to the oxygen equipment, the nurse said we could spend some time with him in the “pumping” room, away from the noise of the NICU. I was so happy to hold him without the fear of pulling any important tubes and wires. It was the closest we had gotten to “skin-to-skin” since his birth 10 days before.
My husband was snapping pictures when the NICU doctor stepped in. After introducing himself and making brief small talk, he asked a rather odd question, “Did you take any drugs while you were pregnant, legal or otherwise?’
I think I might have laughed. Now that I had been living in my new alternate universe for over a week, I was getting a little more accustomed to the unpredictable nature of this place. My alter ego in Universe A would have never been asked that question.
“No. No drugs or alcohol. And I only took the over the counter medicine my doc said was safe for pregnancy. Why?”
The doctor apologized and explained that even though the oxygen had been removed, our baby would have to remain in the NICU for observation because of his extreme temperament. My boy hardly slept, and when he did sleep he would wake up screaming and crying so loud he would wake the other babies. The nurses were spending a great deal of time holding and rocking him when I wasn’t there to soothe him.
Let’s step back for a moment. My boy had been so comfortable and happy in his safe, cozy, quiet womb that he had gone ten days past his due date. During labor, he refused to come out, apparently holding on for dear life to one of my internal organs (a kidney, maybe?). When he was finally forced into this world, instead of being held lovingly by his mom, he was rushed to the NICU and put on oxygen and IV drips, surrounded by bright lights, beeping equipment, crying babies, chatting nurses and doctors…not to mention the fact that he was being poked for blood work every few hours.
My baby wasn’t withdrawing from drugs. My baby was PISSED OFF. And rightly so! My heart ached for him and his obvious distress, and I longed to take my little guy home to our calm, quiet house where I could hold him, and hug him, and love him – make him feel safe and comfortable again.
But my boy remained in the NICU being observed and monitored for six more days. To rule out food allergies, they tried different kinds of formulas. They also ran more tests to be sure that his lungs were indeed clear, and that there wasn’t a medical reason for his fussiness. An observation chart was filled in, recording when my boy slept and what his temperament was upon waking.
To make him more comfortable, the nurses kept the lights low, and the curtains were drawn in his area. Someone brought in a small radio to play classical music and a newborn-sized baby swing to rock him when he was upset. They wrapped him up tight like a burrito in his receiving blankets and surrounded him with a beanbag snake-looking thing when he was in his bassinet to give him the sensation of being held. It eased my anxiety to see how much care and loving attention they were giving my son.
Things improved a little when they switched him to the most hypoallergenic formula, and I guess at that point they figured they had done all they could. It was clear he was not withdrawing from drugs. We was a very fussy, “high maintenance” baby, who maybe had colic. They wished us luck and said we could take him home.
My husband brought in the car seat, and I carefully un-swaddled our baby burrito so he could be positioned and buckled in correctly. The moment I placed him in his seat, he started screaming. Try as we might, we couldn’t get him to calm down, and I wondered how we would ever get him out of the hospital and into the parking garage. Seeing an empty supply cart, the nurse had an idea: Place the car seat on the cart and wheel the baby through the hallways – perhaps the movement would soothe him until we could get him to the car.
We discussed the best route to the garage, the path of least resistance. This was starting to feel more like a jailbreak than a “Bringing Home Baby” episode.
With our screaming baby in the car seat on top, we positioned ourselves around the cart and started to move. We started slowly. Our wide-eyed boy, soothed by the movement, quieted down. But as the halls became noisier he started howling again, so we decided to move a little faster. Once again, the pace calmed him. Anytime we were forced to slow down, though, our boy wailed in protest.
We were starting to attract attention from curious on-lookers.
“Let’s just get to the parking garage,” I muttered.
By now we were moving at a pretty good clip, somewhere between a brisk walk and a light jog, which our boy seemed to like. My husband was positioned in front and acted as our lookout at each intersection so that we didn’t take out some poor, unsuspecting elderly person who had the misfortune to amble out in front of us. The nurse pushed the cart from the back. I stayed beside my baby, steadying the seat and holding his little hand, reassuring him with little “shushes”.
Now people were REALLY staring. We didn’t care, though, because we had caught site of the parking garage. Almost there!
And then – maybe it was the excitement, or the movement of the cart, or all the crying and howling – our baby spit up all over himself. We stopped the cart just a few feet from the door, and my husband ran to get the car. I was bawling my eyes out right along with my baby, and the nurse did the best she could to calm me down as she helped me clean him.
When the car seat was finally snapped into its base in the car, the baby stopped crying. I stopped crying too. The nurse, looking exhausted and a little disheveled, gave me a reassuring hug goodbye.
As we drove away from the hospital where we had been for 18 days, I felt free. We were going home with our boy, and everything would be great. He would adjust to our peaceful home and abandon his volatile, mutant superpowers for a happier, more content temperament, and I would bask in the bliss of motherhood.
But what any sci-fi movie or comic book fan can tell you is that mutant superpowers don’t just go away…