You know how when you’re riding a roller coaster and the train goes up and up and up until you FINALLY reach the very top and before you know it you’re plummeting to the bottom? That’s one way to sum up the next events in Scarlett’s journey. Only instead of reaching the top, we were waiting for Scarlett’s lungs to be strong enough to handle extubation.
It felt like foreverrrr (like that long ride to the top of a mountain) but when she finally moved onto CPAP it was as if Scarlett had all of this built up momentum and her lungs were ready to get to work! The doctors starting weaning her down on the oxygen and the amount of pressure she was on a little every other day. It was a tricky process – another balancing act of sorts, but this time it wasn’t as complicated and terrifying. Things were moving along a little smoother and Scarlett was just rolling with the punches.
She, of course, was NEVER shy in letting us know when/if they were pushing her too hard, too fast. During that time more of my “mommy instincts” kicked in and I could read Scarlett’s cues better than anyone and could tell when/if she was struggling. (Ah! the beauty of motherhood – & finally a sense of normalcy!) With Scarlett on CPAP, it was so much easier to pick her up and hold her to my chest. I didn’t need an entire ARMY of nurses (not even joking) to help me hold her, and I was no longer limited to just one hour a day of cuddles. I could spend the whole day holding her – and trust me I did. Isn’t that crazy? Stop and think about that for just a second, if you will. Imagine having a child and only being allowed to hold him/her for ONE HOUR each DAY. And that’s IF your baby is having a “good day” and can handle the stress of it. Because for these tiny fighters movement like that can be stressful for them. Extremely beneficial, but the process is stressful. (That’s the reality for most parents with a baby in NICU. It makes you wonder how both the baby and the parents [especially the mothers] handle it.)
My honest answer: GOD
One of my favorite memories from that time is one day during rounds; Dr. P was discussing whether or not to wean Scarlett that day or wait a few days and give her some time to adjust. (The day before while I was holding her, she struggled a bit when they tried to wean her settings. So we had to go back up on them). Anyway, after he asked that (I think), when no one said anything I replied with, ” No I think we should wait a couple of days and give her some time.” I will never forget his surprised look on his face. Haha. I don’t think he was expecting me to answer him. I honestly don’t even know if he was asking or just “thinking out loud”. BUT whichever it was, he took my statement and said “Okay! Well, Mom says we should wait so, let’s wait!” It was too funny! From that point on, anytime Dr. P did rounds he always offered me a jelly bean (and he LOVES jelly beans so it was kind of big deal).
Now that it was easier to pick Scarlett up and carry her, a lot of our immediate family couldn’t wait to get in on the #ScarlettSnuggles. Finally, our family members who had waited just as long as I had, could love on her and hold this tiny little life we had welcomed into our family. It was amazing to see how everyone was able to bond with her. I honestly believe that is part of the reason why Scarlett had done as well as she had. She just could feel all of the love that so many people had for her.
However, with family members stopping by more frequently, I always made sure to stress the importance of them being HEALTHY enough to visit. If they had the sniffles or even a slight cough, I politely asked them to stay away (although most people knew better than to ask to visit in that state). She was still fragile and it was not just her health I was protecting but the other babies around her. Germs spread like wildfire and that flu/strep season was the worst year ever!! Not even kidding, even I caught strep TWICE while Scarlett was in NICU. It absolutely killed me when I did because it meant I couldn’t see her for a few DAYS! Ugh. It was torture. So I made my health a priority as well and kept myself pretty isolated from people, especially if they were sick. But since I was traveling back and forth in the cold and coming in and out of the hospital everyday I guess I was bound to catch something at some point. I’m just thankful it was never the flu! (I will say though, I had NEVER had strep before so I was pretty mad that I’d somehow caught it twice that year!)
Along with holding and cuddling, there were a few other things that were much easier to do now that Scarlett didn’t have a tube in her throat. Instead of a sponge bath, we could now give her a semi-normal bathing experience. We would put her in a container (almost like a bowl) and line it with warm blankets. We would fill it halfway with water and give her a bath and even wash her hair (so I had lots of sneak peeks of that full chubby little face)! It was awesome and it helped me get comfortable with handling such a tiny baby.
That is one of the many amazing things about UMC NICU. The staff “allows” the parents to have a lot of hands-on experience with their babies. Of course, they are there to help and instruct us when we need it but for the most part, they pretty much let you get familiar and comfortable doing things on your own. It was a great way to really bond with your baby. I’ve read stories from some of my NICU/Preemie support groups where some hospitals stick ONLY to the ONE HOUR hold NO MATTER WHAT and the nurses do everything else. (Even when parents asked if they would allow them to do it instead.) UMC NICU is the BEST! And we were so blessed to have them take such great care of Scarlett. (And that’s an understatement…but more on this later. I promise.)
Knowing that Scarlett was well taken care of and in more than capable hands, I took advantage of the “sick time” and made a few trips back home. (Meaning I put an hour and a half traveling distance between me and Scarlett!) My anxiety level was a little elevated during those times (if I’m being honest). But there were things that needed to get done at home in preparation for her homecoming. I was keeping my eye on the prize baby! So feeling comfortable enough with her current situation I left. During that time BJ & I were able to spend some time together which was really nice. It was important that we still made time for ourselves too, just like any other set of new parents. Honestly, I feel like our relationship has changed so much because of our experience with Scarlett. We have grown so much stronger both as individuals and as a couple. (Which are just a few of the positive things to have come out of all of the craziness we went through.) It also helped that our families were RIGHT there, in the same city as Scarlett and could keep her company while I was away. I don’t know how many other hospitals work, but with our NICU, grandparents had 24/7 access just like the parents (unless we requested otherwise) so they could pop-in to see their grand-baby anytime they felt like it. That gave this momma some peace of mind when I was gone.
It’s crazy when you stop to think of simple things like picking up your newborn, bathing them or cuddling them. Those are all things that most people don’t even think twice about doing when they have a baby. But when you are a Preemie/NICU parent, all of those things come at different stages and each one of those things is a HUGE stepping stone. You definitely get a very different perspective on parenting when you’re thrown into NICU life. You learn really quickly not to take even the smallest and tedious things (like changing dirty diapers) – for granted. For some parents, those are the only memories they’ll have of their child. Which again, is another reason why I love our UMC NICU family so much.