Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Ethan Part 6: Aftermath

When my time in recovery was complete, I was moved to my room. This was not a cozy, homey room like the one I was originally brought to - this was the c-section ward. Standard hospital rooms, complete with roommate. Cramped, sterile, and cold. No privacy except for a thin curtain between the two beds that was missing half of the hooks anyway. Clearly the hospital felt us "surgical patients" didn't need the comforts of the laboring mothers.

Luckily, I only had a roommate for about 15 minutes. The girl was packing up while her baby waited in a carseat on the bed. She muttered to herself as she got her things together. The nurse pulled the curtain between our beds closed as far as it would go. I watched the baby playing quietly on the bed. After a few minutes, they were gone.

It was getting later in the day and dinner had already been delivered and removed from my room. I wasn't allowed to eat yet anyway. The nurse came in and showed me how to get out of bed. I couldn't believe I was walking already, but the drugs were keeping me feeling fine. My first trip was to the bathroom to learn how to deal with the fun stuff that comes out of the body after the baby. (Yes, for any of you wondering, c-section mothers have it too. Or maybe I was the only naive one out there.)

As the night wore on, I asked the nurses again when I could see the baby. Soon, they kept telling me. They were getting him stable. I could go down once we were both up to it.

In the meantime, the nurse brought in a breast pump and showed me how to start using it. I had been wavering during my pregnancy about whether to breastfeed, which I knew deep down was best, or formula feed, as most of my friends and family did. But once I knew he was in the NICU, my decision was made. There was no doubt in my mind that this was the best I could do for him. I started pumping every 3 hours. Jete brought the little jars with the dropfuls of colostrum down to the nurses' station refrigerator. We would bring them with us when we went to see him.

Finally around 11 pm, I asked a different nurse about Ethan. This nurse was shocked to hear I had not yet been allowed to see him. She called the NICU to clear it. "You can go see him now."

I was so scared to see him. What might he look like? I had seen pictures of premies, with their downy hair and paper thin skin. But Ethan wasn't a premie. I was almost 39 weeks, practically full term. He shouldn't look like that. Right? But I remembered his weight, under 4 pounds, so I knew he was small. Jete could only describe him as red and scrawny. And beautiful.

Jete grabbed the bottles from the refrigerator and wheeled me down to the NICU. We stopped first at a window where a crotchety woman asked for our names and the patient's name. She called back to the nurses' station to see if we were allowed in. "Ethan's parents are here." It sounded so foreign. Once satisfied, she released the first set of doors.

We moved into the washing station. Lockers lined one wall and sinks stood across from them. Above the sinks were shelves containing dozens of yellow gowns. We were to wash our hands for several minutes with the hospital soap and don a gown over our clothing.

Once we were sterile, Jete wheeled me around to Ethan's station. There were 6 incubators with babies in each one. I wondered which was him. I couldn't tell. The room was dark and muffled, with just the constant humming and beeping of oxygen and monitors. It was late, and most visitors had gone home or back to their rooms to rest. I was glad there weren't too many people around.

Ethan's nurse came over to greet us as we neared his incubator. I had to stand up from the wheelchair to see in. A piece of lamb's wool lay under him to keep him warm. He was sprawled out flat on his back. He had wires and tubes going to his foot, his arm, his chest. He had a tube down his throat to help him breathe. The monitors were measuring his pulse, blood pressure, oxygen level, heartrate.

Somehow, he didn't look as small as I had imagined. He had reddish skin, and, I was surprised to see, reddish hair, too. He had on a little knit cap but slight tufts peeked out from under it.

Here he was. Our son. He had been inside of me only this morning. It was overwhelming.

The nurse explained Ethan's situation, but most of it went unheard as I stared at him. She said the doctors would be by in the morning to explain everything. They had done a head ultrasound earlier and everything looked fine. I didn't understand why they did the test, but I wasn't really paying attention anyway. I heard her mention that they were concerned about his hands. I looked at them, laying on his chest. They were bent, with his fingers folded in. She said a therapist would be in to look at them. She asked me, How early was Ethan? I told her No, he wasn't really early. I was almost 39 weeks. She looked surprised, but said nothing.

We were allowed to touch him, but only lightly. He started to cry, a pathetic squeak came out, but nothing more. The tube was preventing him from making any noise. He looked like a tiny bird, crying with no sound. Jete said, "I could just stay here and stare at him forever." We almost did.

I was getting tired, so we headed back to the room. Jete was going to spend the night with me, which was a relief. I would have to get up every three hours through the night to pump. Ethan wouldn't be eating until the tube was out, but I wanted to have as much stocked up as possible. We wanted to be ready for him, to help him get bigger and stronger, so we could take him home. That was all we talked about. Once we could get him home, everything would be okay.


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