Monday, November 24, 2014

Seeing Your Premature Infant for the First Time

            I don’t know how long I stood there staring blankly through the window before Vera returned to break the grip of sadness. Bearing clean sheets, towels, washcloths and a new hospital gown, she inquired if I was “ready for that shower!” Smiling gratefully, I bundled the towels in my arms.
            But first I wanted to know if she’d found an answer to my question. Who was that nurse? So I rested on the bed and asked Vera if she had learned anything about her.
            “Well, I asked all of the nurses in the emergency department, and they’d never seen her before. They thought it was strange, too. No one I talked to has ever seen her before. She just came…and then disappeared.”
            Our eyes locked as mine widened.
            “Kind of strange, isn’t it?” she added with a smile, eyes twinkling and eyebrow cocked. 
            I simply nodded. Nothing more needed to be said.
            Vera left, and I lay in bed, once again staring at the ceiling. Could it be, God? Could you have sent an angel just for me? An angel in nurse’s scrubs? Or a dedicated nurse moved by the Holy Spirit to deliver comfort to a weak, terrified mother?
            Tears spilled again as I pondered God and the love and attention He doles out, sometimes in heaps and through unexplainable events and miracles. I was humbled that I should be the recipient of one of those events. When I thought He wasn’t paying any attention or didn’t care, He was and He did. How many miracles and “events” had I missed because I wasn’t looking or was hurrying through life at such a ripping pace that I wouldn’t have seen them if they’d been slapped on my nose?
            How self-absorbed was I? I shook my head to dislodge the answer from my brain.
            With my towels bundled in my arms, I sat up and shuffled to the bathroom. Hoping that the hospital’s endless miles of pipes would provide plenty of hot water, I turned on the faucet and waited in anticipation for the steam to engulf the room. Then I stepped gingerly into the large stall, where the warm water buffeted my shoulders and back and cascaded soothingly over my head and arms. It was therapeutic, medicinal. I languished in the physiological stimulation. Leaning against the wall for support, I stood rooted to the spot and relished every water bead making contact with my deprived and craving skin; certain that at any minute the temperature might change, leaving me—and my glorious, dream-come-true daydream—showered in a stiffening cold stream. Slowly, my body returned to life.
            Through a crack in the curtain and open door, I caught a glimpse of the privacy curtain in my room fluttering aside. Assuming it was a nurse, I waited for the person to announce their presence. “Hello?” came the apprehensive greeting from the mysteriously quiet person.
            “Oh, hi!” You finally made it! I’m in the shower.”
            Chris pushed open the bathroom door and peered cautiously around the corner. “You scared me!” he announced in a mixture of frustration and genuine relief. When I walked in and didn’t see anyone in the room, I started to panic. I thought something had happened and they had taken you away!”
            “Nope! I’m just fine! I don’t know how much longer I’ll be in here, so make yourself comfortable. Watch television, or make phone calls to the relatives.”
            His countenance still registered shock, or disbelief, as he retreated to the bedside chair and phone. He’d become a new daddy to another son just two short hours earlier, and had missed the entire event! I think he was still processing all of it.
            “Have you seen him yet?” he called out.
            “No, I was waiting for you to get here. I didn’t want to go without you,” I shouted above the din of raining water.
            Every ten minutes Chris poked his head in the doorway to ask if I were okay—checking to see if I might have fainted in the steam canopy. Finally, some forty minutes after Chris’ arrival, I reluctantly concluded the shower and prepared myself for the inaugural trip to se our new baby. I dried, pampered, lotioned and combed, and then donned a fresh hospital gown and robe. I was ravenously hungry, but since the breakfast hadn’t yet arrived, I greedily drank several servings of juice before we called a nurse about directing us to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
            “So…you haven’t seen him yet?” Chris asked again. His tone of voice told me something troubled him.
            “No. I said I was waiting for you to arrive. Here are the pictures they gave me, though. He looks just like Parker, doesn’t he?” I eagerly searched Chris’ face for a response to the pictures, but the forehead creases remained. “What’s wrong?” Are you afraid to go see him?”
            “Yes,” Chris admitted, looking scared and insecure. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to take all of those tubes and needles and…everything else!”
            “You’ll be fine. You have to go see him. They probably won’t let us hold him anyway. But we need to go see him. Just let me know if you feel like you’re gong to faint,” I smiled sympathetically.
            My mind was excited to do what my body was unwilling to perform: a triumphant walk through the hospital corridors to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit—where I would finally touch my baby. Instead, I had to settle for a triumphant wheelchair ride, with Chris and an aide as my attendants. I was too sore to sit down and too exhausted and weakened to stand any longer and walk. Chris padded the wheelchair seat with a pillow, then handed me another one to hold in my lap for security. The aide positioned my feet and the three of us navigated the hallways, the elevator on the other side of the hospital, and another hallway before finally arriving at the special room in the pediatric ward.
            I hadn’t thought seeing all of the wires and machines would bother me, but I was suddenly stricken with nervousness and anxiety about crossing the threshold when we arrived at the unit and open door. Slowly, the aide wheeled me into the room and asked where “Baby Boy Owan” was located.
            “Oh, right here!” a nurse pointed next to her side. “We were wondering when you were going to come down and see him. He’s doing great!”
            The aide told us we could stay as long as we wished, and that we should call for help if we needed assistance on our return trip to my room. Then she happily waved goodbye. Hesitantly steering me over to our new baby, Chris helped me to stand and look at the tiny form sleeping on the special warmer. In unison, we leaned over to saturate ourselves with the view of the beautiful baby lying before us, eyes closed in sleep, arms and legs outstretched in skydiving position. No longer a sickening shade of blue, his tiny body boasted a healthy pink color.
            The obstetrics nurse who had delivered the pictures said he was breathing so well on his own that he didn’t need to have an oxygen hood covering his face any longer. But now a hood was in place, emitting pure oxygen into the space around his head. “He was struggling a little bit, so we put it back on him,” the NICU nurse informed us when our faces register concern. “He’s doing fine now. We’ll see if we can take it off later in the day.” Although the hood was unnerving, he looked absolutely perfect and marvelous to us.
            Dr. Burns, his neonatologist and pediatric pulmonary specialist, arrived by our sides to fill us in on the specifics of his care, what to expect and what not to expect. He was extremely cautious with his expectations and words, making sure we understood everything he explained. Cory’s Apgar score had been atrocious—registering around one at his birth. Even after five minutes he had only managed to gain a couple of points. “He had a rough delivery,” Dr. Burns reiterated. “Things aren’t supposed to happen that fast; he was unusually stressed.”
            “But he’s doing okay now, isn’t he?” Chris questioned.
            “Yes, but we take it every day at a time. Don’t expect too many gains right away.”
            The nurse briefly removed the hood for us to take pictures of him—a disposable camera had been provided by the hospital in a diaper bag—and to touch his bar legs, feet and hands, and gently rube his head. We stood and stared, at him, and at the dedicated staff bustling around us. Staff dedicated to weak, premature infants and sick, full-term babies. The nurses and doctors seemed determined to make miracles out of all of them.
            They patiently explained the procedures being used, the treatment course they intended to follow, the food he would be fed, and the means why which they would accomplish his feeding. They explained the tests to be performed and the projected amount of time he was likely to spend in the hospital. “When he’s eating on his own and gaining weight, he’ll go home. Don’t count on that until his original due date.” I knew the original due date was a standard marker, so I psychologically prepared myself for daily trips to the hospital for the next six weeks. It didn’t matter how long it took, as long as he came home.
            Eventually, we tore ourselves away from our tiny, four-pound, twelve-ounce, nineteen-inch long angel, and Chris pushed me back to the room to make more phone calls. Both of us delivered giddy new mom and dad smiles to everyone we encountered. Chris also talked about picking up Parker from pre-school and bringing him back to the hospital so he could see his new baby brother.
            I was weak and sore, but gushing with relief and joy. Jesus could not have been more accurate when he said: “When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world” (John 16:21 NRSV).
            Our brand new little human being had arrived, and I was dying to let the world know.
            Oh, the immeasurable joy God had given me again!  


            Whenever I remember that day, I wonder anew. And I’m awed and humbled all over again. I know that God sent that messenger to meet my need.
            And I ask myself again, “Could it really be that God sent an angel, a ministering spirit to me?”

            I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe God orchestrates every one of those “unusual” events. I’m just more apt to notice them now.
            I know that He always pays attention and cares.

            How about you? Any unusual events or miracles you’d like to share with us? If you do, I know many would be encouraged by your story! And thanks for sharing.

NEXT WEEK: The next thirty hours…

Until next week,

Thanks for joining me!

And if you live in America, have a blessed Thanksgiving with your family! Check out my November 25, 2013 blog post on giving thanks, even in the thorns of life.



photo credit: <a href="">Nisha A</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>