Ramblings of a former NICU mom

It’s amazing how some experiences just seem to stick with you forever. I was thinking about my new niece who will be born later this year, and that got me to thinking about Coral, who was born ten weeks prematurely. It’s like this emotional force you never truly escape; some days you don’t feel it at all anymore, and other days it feels like you’re privately obsessing about it.

After Coral was born, I went through some mild post traumatic stress. I kept flashing back to sitting in the OB’s office, and his last words were, “You need to go to the hospital, right now.” I was 29 weeks, 5 days pregnant. Then we had the six week NICU stay, which was absolutely agonizing with two young children at home. Finally she came home, on prescription caffeine and wearing an apnea monitor 24/7, just a hair over 4 pounds. Her second night sleeping safe and sound in her crib just inches from me, she aspirated reflux and stopped breathing. I still remember that night like it just happened; groggy, confused, apnea alarm screaming, taking her into the kitchen thinking the stupid machine must be broken. Seeing her pale, limp body, and screaming over and over, “She’s not breathing!” Laying her on the coffee table and ripping open her sleeper, the CPR video looping through my head, my heart racing under my pajamas. She wasn’t making a sound, her eyes were closed, she was lifeless. I gave her breaths and began CPR. Finally, finally, she let out a tiny little sound and took a breath. I held her in my arms for hours as the junk in her lungs worked its way out bit by tiny bit, scared to ever let her go.

The post traumatic stress escalated from mild to barely held together. I would have flashbacks constantly of her lifeless body. I would wake in the night, Coral in my arms, thinking she wasn’t breathing. We’d go through a toll booth and the beep of our Sunpass would make me jump. It took well over two years for the nightmares to die down, but every once in awhile I still wake up thinking she’s not breathing.

At some point shortly after she turned two, we decided to have another baby. Although it wasn’t the main reason, in the back of my mind I kept thinking, having a “do-over” pregnancy will make everything right again. And it went much, much better this time. I was freaked out pretty much the entire 37 weeks, but in good spirits heading to the hospital knowing I had made it and everything looked good. Six hours later, Hobie was born via emergency c-section, after an extremely painful and frightening placental abruption that could well have taken him away from us. Suddenly I went from feeling scared and stressed to just plain broken.

Coral is four and a half now, and I still find myself waiting for that “do-over.” It’s occurred to me that maybe it’s not a new pregnancy I’m ruminating over, but all the problems with the old one. As if I could change anything about five years ago. Yes, I have a happy, healthy, wonderful child, and I am eternally grateful for that. Yes, I know we were so lucky that she was merely ten weeks early, with only a couple of minor, minor heart issues that are slowly resolving. But it still doesn’t feel right. I want to go back in time and ask, why didn’t this go better? Why wasn’t I more proactive about how badly I was feeling? Why didn’t I do x, y, and z? Why did the doctors not know what was going on? Why, why, why? How do you ever get past the whys?

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