Mother’s Day is coming up!
I thought we would do something special and have a feature guest post by Amy T. Grab your Kleenex box and bask in her moving story about how she spent her first Mother’s Day and how she plans to spend her second one a little differently (to say the least). Thank you for sharing with us, Amy!
Guest post – By, Amy T. (May 2017)
When I finally went into labour on May 4th, 2016, I was excited. For one, I was overdue and more than ready to meet my little guy. And secondly, Mother’s Day was on May 8th and I considered it perfect timing. I figured by May 8th, I’d be snuggled back at home with my baby boy, basking in motherhood, on Mother’s Day. How perfect, right? Wrong! By the early hours of May 6th, after 36 hours in labour, the OB told me that she was strongly recommending a c-section. Obviously not part of the plan, but I had mentally prepared for the possibility, so I gave the go ahead and they took me to the operating room. Having been in labour for so long, I now needed a second epidural, which proved difficult and took about 15 minutes to complete.
Finally the time came, and with my husband holding my hand, I felt my son being born. I noticed his dark hair as my husband and I squeezed each others’ hands and waited to hear his cries. And waited. And waited. Finally I noticed that there were many people frantically working over my son. After what felt like an eternity, I shouted out “Someone tell us what’s happening!” Someone came over and told us he was having trouble breathing, and was now on a CPAP machine. I wouldn’t be able to hold him – in fact he needed to be taken away right now before I even got to see him. My husband went to our son, whom we named Frank, and I was taken to recovery.
The next few hours were a blur. Being told Frank was now in the NICU, was completely unresponsive at birth, and had required life saving measures. That he had indications of brain damage from oxygen deprivation. That they wanted to start him on a cooling treatment to ‘reset’ his brain that would take at least 3 days. That if I wanted to attempt breast feeding in the future, I would need to start pumping every 3 hours, 24 hours a day. My amazing sister helped me pump all that night while my husband slept for the first time in 3 days. The next morning NICU called to say that Frank had possibly had a seizure during the night and was started on anti-seizure meds. The realization was starting to sink in that we would not be taking Frank home any time soon.
The next couple days were the hardest I’ve ever experienced. I was so scared, tired, angry, depressed, stressed, confused. My son lay in a glass box in the NICU, drugged to keep him comfortable, with needles in both arms and his belly button, a feeding tube in his nose, and monitors all over him. His body temperature was lowered to protect his brain, and he was often visibly shivering. To maintain his cooling treatment, we weren’t allowed to touch him other than briefly on his hand or foot.
I woke up on Mother’s day feeling completely numb. My wonderful husband and mom gave me Mother’s Day cards that I could barely look at. I went to the NICU to visit Frank and saw that a Mother’s day card from hospital staff had been left by Frank’s bed. There was still a little plastic bag of Frank’s hair there as well with ‘Baby’s First Haircut’ written on it. They’d had to shave the front of his head to attach electrodes. It feels so petty to admit this now, but I hated that card and bag of hair. All I could think was ‘more first moments stolen from me’. In hindsight I’m so grateful for the kindness that hospital staff had put in to those items.
I stared down at my son and wished for the thousandth time that he was okay, and apologized to him for what he was going through. Then I went down to the ‘pump room’ (basically a room for NICU moms to pump milk for their babies – two chairs and two pumps separated by a curtain for privacy). I sat down on one side of the curtain and started to pump. There was another mom on the other side of the curtain and we struck up a conversation. It was the first time I’d had a (somewhat) normal conversation with another mom about how old my baby was, his name, and all his details. Of course in the NICU, this conversation also included our babies’ diagnoses.
This mom told me how her baby girl had been in the NICU for months. She had a congenital heart defect that hadn’t been noticed on any ultrasounds, and was waiting for surgery. And on top of all this, her baby was too fragile to hold – she hadn’t held her in weeks. While her baby girl was in the NICU, she had been staying at Ronald McDonald house. She told me how wonderful Ronald McDonald house was, and how there had been a card and a flower outside every single mother’s room that morning. I told her that I was hopeful that I would finally be able to hold Frank the following day, and she told me how lucky I was. How lucky! Not how I was feeling, but her words shifted my perspective. My new NICU friend finished pumping and we said goodbye. We hadn’t exchanged names, hadn’t even seen each other. But I will remember her forever.
Our story has a surprising, happy ending. On May 9th, the day after Mother’s Day, Frankie’s treatment ended and we were able to hold him. The day after that, I was able to breast feed him successfully. All his tests were coming back completely normal. He was responsive. What had been likely a minimum 5 week hospital stay was shortened down to two weeks. And then his brain scans came back normal and showed he had never actually had a seizure. All of a sudden, one week after he was born, we were being discharged home with a healthy baby. He would still need to be followed closely by a pediatrician and the Growth and Development Clinic at Mac, but otherwise we were free. Frank continues to do well.
Most first time moms, I think, do things a bit differently than they had been planning. For me, those first few days apart from Frank put a kink in many of my carefully laid plans. They made me more careful, more patient, more sensitive, and yes, definitely more anxious. For example, when my son wants to breast feed allllll night long and I feel at my wit’s end, I try to remember the feeding tube in his nose, and I let him nurse as long as he needs. When he cries for me in the night, I remember how his first nights were spent all alone, and I force myself to climb out of bed for the third and fourth (and fifth) time and snuggle his little body close to mine. When he crawls away from me at top speed, I remember the cold sinking feeling when the doctors mentioned the possibility of cerebral palsy, and I try to bite my tongue and let him be an adventurous little boy. And when I have one of those super crappy mom days, I try and remember my NICU mom friend, who hadn’t even held her baby in weeks. Who was living away from home, pumping her breasts every day, just wishing and hoping to squeeze her close. And I push through, because – what else can we do? We’re mothers and it’s hard and it’s exhausting and it seems impossible at times, but I’ve seen just how much we can stretch and bend and come close to breaking, but not break.
Most of all this experience has increased my respect for all mothers a thousand fold. For my own mother who raised four children, one of whom had a congenital heart defect and spent weeks in Sick Kids. I honestly don’t know how she did it with three other children depending on her. For my friend Vanessa who spent the first 6 months of her daughter’s life at Sick Kids Hospital and remained so strong and positive and inspiring. And for all the other mom’s who were in the NICU that Mother’s day. For moms who hadn’t held their babies in weeks or months. For moms who held their babies only for a day, or never at all. For moms who have been through things that nobody can understand and keep going. I wish every single one of you a Happy Mother’s Day.
So what do I have planned for my second Mother’s Day, the first Mother’s Day I’ll be able to hold my son? Flowers and dinner and snuggles with my dear little boy and my awesome husband are on the list. Visits with my mom and step-mom and mother-in-law, who are all inspiring women. Chats with my awesome mom friends who help keep me sane. As strange as it sounds, I think I’m looking forward to it even more than I did my first Mother’s Day. I will squeeze my little Frankie tight (even as he struggles to get away and play) – my strong, brave, funny, loving little guy, and thank him. Thank him for making me a mother and his mama, putting me through hell, teaching me some life lessons, and filling me with patience, empathy, strength, and gratitude. I love you forever and always my baby!
Happy Mother’s Day!
Amy & Frank
Thank you to all the NICU staff at McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton, Ontario who are not only fantastic medical professionals, but amazing human beings. Consider donating to McMaster Children’s Hospital or Ronald McDonald House this Mother’s Day to help other moms who are spending their special day in hospital taking care of their children.
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