The thing is, I coped well with it at the time by pushing all these things aside. After all, my baby was doing well. She was never in any real danger (apart from that third day when they thought she may have had an infection since she wasn't digesting the tiny amount of milk she was receiving through her ng tube). When meeting with other NICU moms in the parent room, or the pumping station, or just in the hallways, when they asked how she was doing, my answer was always the same. She was doing great. Sometimes I dreaded asking that question back. Sometimes I knew their babies were struggling. And yet they held it together. If they could do this, then I had no business falling apart when things were going so well for me. A sort of survivor's guilt? I don't know.
Last week one of the babies from the NICU passed away. He had been born at 24 weeks, just at 500g, and the doctors initially thought he wouldn't make it. But he did, for 23 weeks. He made it through surgeries, blood transfusions, infections. When I was in the NICU, he and his mum had been there the longest. When I left the NICU, he actually weighed more than Bubs, and was holding his temperature better, even though he still needed oxygen. Everyone thought he would be heading home in September, or maybe October.
I really feel for his parents. His mum (who lived a short distance from the hospital) was in every day, doing skin to skin and feeding him and just sitting with him. For 23 weeks. Her heart must be breaking over and over again. How does she fill her day now? I can't even begin to imagine the feeling of emptiness. Empty arms, empty hours.
A full term but very sick baby died while Bubs and I were still in the NICU, and I remember talking with the other mums about this, about how terrible and awkward we all feel, wheeling breast pumps past grieving families, doing skin to skin in the same room with parents who have only a short time in which they can do the same with their babies. Now this mum, who witnessed the passing of two other NICU babies, has become the grieving parent. When we talked about how horrible it was, I am sure neither of us ever expected to be in those shoes. We were out of the woods. Or so it felt.
After hearing about her wee boy passing away, I just cuddled Bubs all day. I am thankful and lucky. Things could have been so different, and I am so glad to have her here and healthy, despite the rather dramatic early entrance. No matter how much I try, or how distant in the past it gets, the NICU will never really leave me. I will always remember. The other mums and the camaraderie. The grief and the joys. The kindness of the nurses. The stress of maintaining such a routine, day in and day out. The sounds, the smells, the noises, the heaviness of it all. It is all so fuzzy and distant until it is not. Something triggers it. And I do feel it. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I try to think of something else. Sometimes I just pick up Bubs and cuddle her. I am so proud of how far she has come.
The first picture of Bubs.
Bubs at 14 weeks.