Yesterday, I went to the NICU for Olivia Moonpie’s noon feeding. I’ve been working with her on breast feeding every day at lunch. She hasn’t quite gotten the hang of it yet, but we’re close.
I like being there at noon. It seems to be one of the quieter times in the NICU. I like having the option to sit and chat with the nurses while they chart or just be quiet with the Moonpie. All the babies are usually calm because one way or another, they are getting full tummies. Most parents come before or after work. It’s just one of those times when it seems less like an intensive care unit and more like a nursery.
I was holding Miss Olivia Moonpie while she got her gavage feeding after a very unsuccessful attempt to nurse. Note: A diaper change that requires five diapers will wear a preemie out to the point that no amount of being hungry will make them suck on a breast. She was sleepy and full, I was happy holding her.
Then the nurse told me about what their afternoon held. It would seem that earlier this week, a 24-week preemie was born there and briefly admitted to their NICU until he could be air-lifted to the nearest level four NICU (that would be the one that Lennox and Zoë were born in). His mother remained at our current hospital. Unfortunately, the little one was not strong enough and was not going to make it. He was being kept on life support so he could be brought back to his mother to say goodbye.
I hugged Olivia Moonpie, kissed her head, dressed her back in her warm pajamas and tucked her in bed. As I walked out to my car, I passed by the ambulance from the children’s hospital.
Since then, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about that mother. I remember holding Lennox after they stopped trying to treat his last pneumothorax. They gave him morphine for his pain, unhooked all of his monitors and iv tubes and respirator and brought him to us to hold. He was a day younger than the little boy who died yesterday. There are so many things I’d like to tell that mother. She needs to know that it’s ok to scream and cry and just be miserable. She needs to know that the awful, horrible thoughts she has sometimes are ok, too. She should know that the nightmares may come, but that eventually they stop coming as often. I wish she could know how sorry I am and how much I wish she didn’t have to find her way through this deep, dark forest. I wish I could just sit in a dim room and hold her hand and let her know she isn’t alone. If I thought it would help, if I thought she would welcome it, I’d put Olivia in her arms and say, “It isn’t easy. It isn’t quick. It isn’t fair. But, it can and will get better over time. Believe me, I know.”
I have thought about asking the nurse to give her my card and tell her my story. I’d like her to know there is someone who has been there and who won’t judge anything she thinks, feels, or says because I’ve already done all of that. It’s like the “Each one, teach one” approach to grief.
These weeks in the NICU with Olivia Moonpie have been hard. Even though it is a different hospital and a different situation, we are surrounded by memory triggers. From the smell of the alcohol gel, to the sound of a CPAP, to the chime of a bed temperature alarm, to the hypnotic wave forms on the monitor that you watch obsessively and will to stay where they are supposed to. The little things overwhelm me. Watching her drink from a bottle can dredge up all of the thoughts of things that Lennox and Zoë never got to do. I smell Olivia Moonpie’s head and she smells like baby…milk and Desitin and Johnson’s baby shampoo. Lennox smelled of iodine and blood. Zoë … I don’t remember what she smelled like.
You struggle with the grief over what should have been and then realize if it HAD been, you wouldn’t have THIS. And you wish, just this once, that you could have had it all.
Mama, I don’t know your name. I won’t see you sitting by a bed in the NICU. I did see your lovely son being brought in, minutes after he was born. I just want you to know, whoever you are, that I remember with you.