Our baby is in the NICU. That has taken a little while to settle in. Adela Grace Freer Walters was born on Tuesday morning, May 2nd, weighing in at 4 pounds 7 ounces, or 2.15 kilos. Her birth came as a surprise, even though we knew my risk for premature delivery was high. I was expecting labor to be exhausting and difficult, but it was a completely different experience from the birth with Rayna. In most ways, it was much easier. The contractions were spread apart and gentle (for birthing contractions) and I spent the first hour of labor preparing myself for a long road ahead. When my doctor told me the baby was ready to come out, I really didn’t believe her, because I wasn’t even sure I was in labor. She assured me my daughter would be delivered soon, but I was in shock, trying to comprehend how she could be ready so quickly. We were moved to the birthing room and I had Jeff turn on some music because if this baby was going to just cruise on out, I wanted to enjoy it. The midwife and my doctor patiently waited between contractions followed by a period of pushing that lasted maybe half an hour. And then, Adela was here. She was precious and tiny and purple, and after a minute they swept her out of my arms and onto a table to receive oxygen. Her little lungs weren’t quite ready to handle the environment, and so she was placed in an incubator that held in O2 and kept her warm and snuggly. She had a feeding tube placed and was tested for all sorts of maladies, and from those tests, we learned she had an infection that was likely the reason I went into labor.
Everything happened so fast, it was hard to take it all in. Suddenly, I wasn’t pregnant and our child was being taken care of down the hallway. The experience of having a preemie is something I had read about (especially during my weeks on bedrest) but didn’t really understand. To me, Adela looks like a tiny version of a perfect baby. From the outside, I couldn’t see how underdeveloped she was and so it has been hard to accept how much help she has needed to thrive. Her systems, from her brain to her digestion to her lungs, all struggled at first to adapt to life outside of the womb. But though she was born 6 weeks early, the doctors and nurses have said only positive things about how she is doing. And so we count our blessings, that she is being so well cared for, that she is making progress in gaining weight and in eating, that she is being treated for the infection she was born with, and that she made it through her jaundice treatment. These are all enormous gifts, on top of the simple beautiful fact that we have a new daughter. And so we are thankful.
But it also feels like a curse, to have our daughter in the NICU. I want to tell everyone I encounter that I am missing something, that what you see is not all there is to me, to my family. We are not complete, one of our people is in the hospital, and this is so hard. When we go to visit Adela, we have to follow norms that sometimes feel ridiculous (moms are encouraged to do skin to skin but dads are not) and other times are simply annoying (like not being able to hold her for an hour after a feeding, just in case it makes her barf). We have to wait for the nurses to hand her to us and it feels, at times, as though she belongs more to the hospital staff than to us. She eats on a schedule and so I was chastised for letting her nurse, which sounds absurd except her professional team is more concerned with conserving her energy than establishing nursing. I get it. I get all the precautions and the limits and the protectiveness; the babies in the NICU need every opportunity to grow and God forbid something avoidable causes them to struggle.
And with a preemie, setbacks are to be expected. Yesterday, Adela was out of her incubator and in a crib, bundled up as though she were headed to the Artic. Even with multiple layers of clothing, a hat, socks and mittens, she wasn’t able to keep her temperature at a good level, and so today she is back in the incubator. I know in my head that this is not a big deal because temp regulation is a typical challenge for babies born at 34 weeks. But my heart hurts as this will add days on to Adela’s NICU stay, and so I’ll have a good cry and pray to feel more content about God’s plan with all this.
I know we are so fortunate to have excellent medical care, a baby that is doing well given her age, and especially to have the love and support of our families and friends. But this sucks. We are aching for naps with our newborn, the fun of watching her change, and even welcome the sleepless nights a new baby brings. The limbo that a NICU baby creates is uncomfortable and exhausting: we have a child, but she isn’t with us; Rayna has a sister, but she hasn’t met her; and we have to wait and see just how long we will remain in this trying place. While we are enamored with our new little girl, we are so done with hospitals and so anxiously await our NICU story being over. Love!