Thursday, August 1, 2013

Little Baby, Big Day

Yesterday afternoon, my sister-in-law sent a video of Little Sis taking a horseback riding lesson at a race horse sanctuary on St. Thomas.  As Little Sis and her horse walked laps in the paddock, I could hear the gent giving her the lesson reminding her to "Breathe!  Breathe!"  Because you know, of all the fundamentals required for horseback riding, breathing is pretty much...essential.

I used deep breathing--counting deep breaths--as a strategy for getting through painful contractions last week.

And it's hard not to admonish from the sidelines, "C'mon, Tootsie!  Breathe!" when she "forgets" during an apneic episode.

We've been all alternately holding breaths and panting.  When we are deep in intense or stressful moments, we paralyze our breathing without recognizing we are doing so.  That's why we hear so often as part of singing, dancing, playing musical instruments, swimming, lifting, concentrating. stretching, meditating, enduring transitions, preparing for pain:

Don't forget to breathe.  Take slow, deep breaths.  Inhale through the nose; exhale through the mouth.

Because deep breaths are calming.  And I have extra time for them right now.  Baby is practicing regular breathing.  It's a habit she will have to show she has mastered before we go home.

Yesterday morning my goal was to take a shower and wash my hair, the same goal I had on Tootsie's birthday.  It was the first, but it won't be the last time she foils my plans for basic hygiene.  Yesterday, though, I triumphantly showered and shampooed.  I applied deodorant and lotion and I put Real Clothes on.  I felt like a million bucks as I scoffed at the wheelchair and told the nurses I would walk to the NICU.

We'd already heard the first good news of the day from the NICU:  Tootsie's blood culture came back negative, a sign she was defeating her infection (she needs at least two more negative cultures to confirm a fully treated infection).

We arrived to find her a reassuring rosy-pink color and wiggly:  stretching, grimacing, kicking, raising her arms overhead.

The nurse declared her ready for her first feed:  5 cc of breastmilk via her tube.  I got to administer my magic milk, gently pulsing a syringe over five minutes.  I also swabbed her mouth and lips with a breastmilk-soaked q-tip.

She'd been too weak to feed only yesterday, but today was looking auspicious already.

Casual leg=vacation mode
The nurse told us this would be the first in a cycle of three-hour feedings, with the next one at 2 PM.

We went back to the room for lunch, a nap, and a surprise visit from the sister of a dear friend of ours.  She brought chocolate, a hand-crocheted hat for Toots, and a book set in Maine (since I missed my time there).

Husband returned to the NICU for her next feeding, and got to change a diaper too.  He reported that they'd begun swaddling to help calm her and maintain her regular breathing patterns.

I went down for her 5 o'clock feeding with one of our dedicated nurses in tow who was determined to catch a glimpse of our girl.  Evelyn was there for the next round of good news:  the umbilical line monitoring her blood pressure wasn't working, and because they knew her pressure was stable, they took it out.

That was the line that precluded us from holding her.  And I would get to hold her, for the first time, if I wanted.  I resisted jumping up and down and clapping.

I settled into a comfy recliner, pulled my top down, and snuggled my baby right up on my chest, skin to skin.  It was her first time lying on her tummy, and she looked and felt content.  My whole body, heart, and soul absorbed her in that two-hour snuggle worth waiting for.  I put the Patty Griffin Pandora station on so I could sing to her.  We dozed.  Then I FaceTimed with my mom and the girls so they could see her and me, together.

Biology and bonding did its work.  Soon I felt the twinges of my uterus contracting down and my breasts leaking milk, even though she hadn't even suckled.  Pumping was working to stimulate my production, but being around my baby brought my milk in.

My view of our little nugget:

Finally it was time to return her to her giraffe.  We started with a diaper change.  Tootsie had missed her 5 o'clock feeding because it appeared she hadn't fully digested her last round of milk.  She'd have to digest and poop, probably, to be ready for more.

But inside her nappy was the next surprise.  The nurse caught a glimpse of dark meconium and declared herself in love with our baby.  Tootsie artfully dodged a suppository with that brilliant maneuver.  Apparently she's Harvard material in bowel movements, too.

We changed her diaper, and our nurse swaddled her and propped her on her side.  Baby popped her eyes open for a prolonged period of quiet watchfulness, comforted by her warm cocoon, anticipating her next round of breast milk.  It was hard for me to leave, with her eyes locked with mine and responding to my voice.  These are the mystical moments when one believes an infant to be an old soul.  It doesn't matter if she's not; staring into each other's eyes becomes part of her development of emotional intelligence, of understanding what it is to be human.  Of becoming responsive and connected and attached.

Soon, though, her eyelids were drooping, and I was feeling hungry.  The nurse sent me back to my room with a few Tootsie-scent-drenched blankets to snuggle in my sleep tonight.

What a beautiful day.  We acknowledge that this journey is potentially rife with twists and turns, but yesterday was about strength and health and connections--all pluses to carry into today, another bright day, I'm betting.  At 2PM we'll have a "Family Meeting," in which the nurses, doctors, and social worker will meet with us in one big huddle to answer questions and chart a tentative course for the future.

Sleep well, friends!  Breathe.


aitchpea said...

This is all such wonderful news! I admit, I got choked up reading this--sobbing, really; that's a few steps above "choked up." I was right there with you when you got to hold her skin to skin. Thank you for sharing!

Tara said...

Beautiful! So blessed to share in these moments with you through your blog. So glad for the precious steps forward and the increasing time you are getting to have with her in your arms. You brought tears to my eyes when I read that the nurse sent her blanket with you to sleep with. I remember the sweet nurse that took care of Christopher, doing that for me. I even sent one home with Alden when he had to go home without us. It sounds like you have an amazing team taking care of you. Continuing prayers for you all.

Stephanie A said...

I'm so happy you two were reconnected today. There is nothing better then your baby in your arms. Great news about cultures, and tubes, and horseback riding too.