The Decision that Changes Your Life
Making the decision to have a child was the most life altering decision I have ever made. Choosing to have a second was the second most life altering decision. After that initial decision of, “Yes, let’s have sex in order to try to get pregnant instead of doing everything in our power to prevent it,” we honestly don’t get much more say concerning the issue of having a child.
Sure we may get to decide how often we try, or the diet we take on, the appointments and self-care we schedule, but we don’t get to decide when we will get pregnant or IF we will. We don’t get to decide if we will experience miscarriages and loss, or what the gender or health or intelligence level of our future child will be; we simply make the decision that we want one.
With my son Finn, I got pregnant easily but would go on to have a very challenging pregnancy. It would include all kinds of sickness, leg aches and varicose veins, a miscarriage scare, and placenta previa, which would consequently move me from midwife care to doctor care. However, I would be told it was a healthy girl, due in August.
Well, life is funny sometimes. I would end up having a boy, in June, via emergency C-section due to preeclampsia and H.E.L.L.P. Syndrome—aka my entire body was shutting down and killing my baby in the process. I thought it was indigestion and four hours later I was naked and strapped down to a steal table and the last words I would hear before going out were, “we’ll have to hurry, she’s going to lose a lot of blood.”
I would wake up to learn the baby I thought was a girl was actually a boy and that he was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in an incubator and I couldn’t hold him. In fact, I could barely press my finger to his tiny hand so as not to cause any nerve pain to his translucent skin.
I would stay in the hospital for the next five days receiving transfusions and magnesium drips trying to stabilize my body, while my son was fighting for his life down the hall. On the fifth day I would go home, but my son would stay another 52.
No mother is prepared to go home without her baby. Even if she knows preterm labor is a possibility and has gotten the tour of the NICU, it is so unnatural to leave your baby behind. It feels as if you have left your soul.
The next couple months my husband and I would go back and forth from home to the hospital. I would heal from surgery and spend every moment I could holding my son skin to skin. We would have sweet moments of bonding and successes in his progress.
We would also watch him come off of oxygen only later to have to be put back on it. We would come in one morning to find him lifeless and the doctor would say she suspected an infection and wanted to start antibiotics. We would learn the phrase, “Cry don’t die,” when nurses would have to slap him on the feet to startle him into breathing again.
We would trade off in our highs and lows, one crying while the other comforted, then one full of anger while the other tried to stay calm. We would butt heads with different nurses and doctors who didn’t think the same way we did when it came to the care of our son, and we would even come to have a reputation of being “difficult.”
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after having a baby in the hospital is a real thing, and it is not easily overcome. Like many challenges around parenting, this isn’t often talked about. No one stopped to ask us how we were doing until my lactation consultant simply asked me, “How are you doing with all of this?” and I broke down in tears in her office.
It is the job of the doctors and nurses to keep these tiny, fragile humans alive, but there is so much more to the healing of not only the baby, but its family as whole as well. Although many parents do not have medical degrees, they still have incredible healing powers for their babies.
The smell, sound, and touch of mom and dad are healing to their baby. Their energy of fear or anxiety can be picked up on by these little ones and lack of rest and nourishment can stop a mother’s milk—one of the greatest medicines for a baby.
We thankfully had amazing family and friends around us who fed us, nourished our bodies and souls, encouraged us and prayed for us, and yet it was still so challenging. I can only imagine what it must be like for those families who do not have that kind of support around them.
It was after Finn’s second stay in the hospital that I laid in bed, weary from the 10 days in the hospital that the idea of Finn the Panda was given to me. I wanted to design something for babies and families in the hospital that brought comfort and bonding, and a conversation around the importance of the parents to their child.
I hoped our hospital stays were over for good, but I knew of all those families that were still in the hospital and those that were to come. I knew the guilt, fear, and anxiety they were feeling. I knew the helplessness, but also the sheer determination to fight for one’s child no matter what and I wanted to help, even if only a little.
Mothers are in a special community together, and mothers of NICU babies are a special sub-group that know the dings of monitors, the sterile smell of the hospital, and the feel of their baby in their arms still connected to wires. Being in the hospital turns one of the hardest jobs in the world into something almost imaginable, but as mothers tend to do, they persevere. I hope that Finn the Panda can help babies and their mamas everywhere in that fight and that it can bring comfort and bonding to families when they need it most.