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By Jamie Krug
This is not how it was supposed to be.
He is five weeks early – too early – and I am already on this table. There's a flurry of activity; there are three times as many people in the operating room as there were for my daughter’s birth.
This doesn’t feel right.
When my daughter Parker was born just 16 months ago, it was everything I hoped it would be. I remember the moment they handed her to me in the recovery room. There's a photo from that moment. She had just latched on, on the first attempt, as though both of us had been doing this forever – as though we had known each other forever. The look on my face is a combination of triumph and relief. I remember thinking, “I can do this. I can be a mother, her mother. It was the moment I really became a mother – somehow even more so than thirty minutes earlier, when they had lifted her out of my body.
All throughout my pregnancy with Owen, even in those moments when I was petrified about the idea of having children only 17 months apart, I was looking forward to this – to these five days I knew I’d have with him in the hospital. We would get to know each other, to snuggle, to nurse. I would breathe in his smell and hate to put him down – hate to hand him to anyone else.
Now here I am, alone.
No one has handed him to me. He is not in my arms.
I am a new mother without her baby.
When Owen was delivered and immediately taken to the NICU, the doctors assured me that he was fine, that he would “just need a little bit of oxygen.” I asked if I'd be able to nurse him soon, and they said they didn’t see why not. He was only being brought up there to be checked out, and for that tiniest bit of help from some additional oxygen.
This is not how it was supposed to be. He was supposed to be in my arms.
And then, hours later, we got the news that he was being put on CPAP – a machine that pushed the air into his lungs because he was not able to fully inflate them himself.
And then he developed a hole in his lung and had to be rushed into surgery to have a tube inserted into his chest.
And then he had to go on a ventilator.
And then he crashed on the ventilator.
And then he crashed again.
He had to be transported by ambulance to a larger teaching hospital an hour away with a NICU that was equipped to care for the most critical of cases. That was my baby. How did that get to be my baby? What happened to worrying about “ten fingers and ten toes”? He has those. Somehow, that’s not enough.
And I am utterly useless. I'm the one person that can’t do anything for my son right now – at the exact time when I should be the only one he needs. I can’t hold him. I can’t nurse him. I can’t change his tiny diapers and watch his spindly little newborn legs kicking around. I can’t smell the sweet, intoxicating newborn smell I know he exudes. It has been mere hours since he was born and I'm on the sidelines, with no hope of being taken off the bench anytime soon. I'm not only not a player, it seems as though I’m not even a factor.
My husband visited our beautiful boy and has taken a few pictures for me on his phone, since it is still too soon for me to get out of bed after my c-section. It's surreal to be shown baby pictures of your own child on an iPhone.
This is not how it was supposed to be.
With all of the tubes and wires coming out of his tiny, frail body, the only things that make it look even remotely like there may be a human baby in there, rather than a science experiment, are that he's wearing a diaper and a tiny pair of blue socks that have had to be rolled down twice to stay on his five-weeks-too-early feet.
At the last minute, I spot that telltale newborn staple, and for some reason, this singular item pulls me out of the shock of seeing my newborn attached to so many wires – his face obstructed by tubes and tape and Velcro – and I am suddenly feeling every emotion possible. The baby blue suction bulb is hanging out alone in the upper right-hand corner of his isolette.
A blue suction bulb? Really? Are they taunting us? What exactly are they going to do with that? If he starts choking or has too much snot up his nose are they going to go ahead and disconnect his breathing apparatus so they can stick that thing up his nose and get out his “boogies?" It feels like they are mocking us - like they are telling us, “Remember this thing? This tiny piece of molded rubber that you have at home for your daughter? This thing that you were surely planning to
steal take home with you when you left the hospital, along with the rest of the A & D ointment and extra diapers left in the bassinet? Well, that ship has sailed, lady.”
I have been rendered about as useful as that blue bulb.
I'm in the corner, just out of reach, out of view. There's nothing that I can do to help my baby boy.
I am that useless blue bulb.
This was not how it was supposed to be.
I will hold him for the first time three days later and finally nurse him when he is 11 days old.
When he has an MRI at 7- days old, we will be told that he had a stroke, likely within the week before he was born.
He will be diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, then a rare brain malformation, then, eventually, Autism.
This is not how it was supposed to be, but I am no less his mother than hers, nor does it feel that way. I turned myself from that useless blue bulb into his fiercest advocate – fighting for him when I needed to, sometimes armed with nothing other than mother’s intuition when it just felt like something wasn’t right.
Because I am his mother – and that is who I was always supposed to be.
Have you ever felt useless as a mother? When have you felt most capable?
You can follow Jamie on her blog JamieKrugAuthor.com , or on Twitter , Facebook and Instagram.
Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.