So V had graduated to the NPCU, was respirator and umbilical line free, had kicked jaundice’s butt, and was growing slowly but steadily…we were headed home any day now right?
This type of thinking just went to show that we’d fallen into the giant mental sink-hole experienced by many NICU parents. This tends to happen when your child is out of the immediate danger zone, but not yet a master of the necessary newborn skills. Despite the doctors and nurses repeatedly telling you not to expect your happy homecoming before your calculated due date, it’s hard not to get your hopes up when you see the amazing progress your kiddo has been making.As a NICU parent your perception of time becomes very distorted…as does your appreciation for your preemie’s milestones, especially as a first time parent.
When you are first admitted to the NICU, or even in your pre-delivery tour and consultation, one of the questions I can guarantee every single parent has asked is ‘So when do I get to bring (insert baby’s name here) home?’. I’m surprised the doctors don’t heave a giant sigh, roll their eyes and move to the next topic, but I do appreciate their patience. We were told that V ‘should’ be home by November 7th (my original due date) if we didn’t experience any crazy complications. When we first saw him in the NICU, we were totally okay with this time frame, given how fragile he was, but as time passed, and we saw him getting stronger you start to think; ‘Well, he’s doing so well…maybe we’ll be home by the end of Oct….or even Thanksgiving!’. Oh how naive we were!
As soon as we crossed the NPCU threshold I began grilling the nurses on what we needed to do to get V home with us as soon as possible. I found out that there was no minimum weight requirement for discharge (|Woohoo!), but they did need to maintain a stable body temp, be oxygen/respirator free, and feed themselves without a feeding tube for 48 straight hours. No problem! I thought to myself.
This idea only became more entrenched in my mind when, during his first week in the NPCU, V was moved out of his isolette and into his very own plastic bassinet. This is the best way to tell that your child can now regulate and maintain their own temp. One item off the list! We already know he was off oxygen and his respirator…Two down, one to go! I foolishly thought that the next milestone; feeding himself, was only days away and we’d be a happy family in a matter of a few short weeks. This is when reality gave me a big old ‘shoulda had a V8’ slap upside the head.
At this point, V was only tipping the scales at just under 4 lbs and was nowhere near strong enough to suck a whole feeding from breast or bottle. That type of energy would only come from spending more time in the NPCU sleeping and fattening up. This was a bitter pill to swallow when you’ve spent all this time getting your hopes up, through no fault of the doctors or nurses. As a preemie parent, especially when you’ve mastered the art of sucking it up, you deal and just keep repeating your mantra about how this is all what’s best for your child.
We did get some positive news, however, in the form of a phone call from V’s primary care nurse later one evening. I’ve told you before what seeing ‘Private Number’ on my caller ID did to my heart-rate but some calls just need to be answered. L immediately set our minds at ease and let us know that V was so alert they were wondering if they could try a bottle with him. I couldn’t get the words ‘Yes Ma’am’ out of my throat fast enough and did my own ecstatic happy dance in the privacy of my own living room. We may not be walking out the doors of the NICU but any teeny tiny, itty bitty steps towards a self-feeding infant were a huge deal.
V took about half of a bottle that night and kept it down like a champ. When we were visiting the next day, after A was done work, we received another great surprise. V had done so well again that day, the nurses asked if we wanted to be the ones to give him his next bottle! After a brief discussion it was decided that Daddy would be the one to give it a try and A got himself settled to try and coax as much of a 25 mL bottle into his tiny 3 lbs son as he could. The feeding was less of a success content wise but made a world of difference in the bonding between father and son. From that point on, Mommy got her Kangaroo Care and Daddy took over the bottle feeding and loved every second of it. I admit to this day that Andrew was the better bottle feeder; always getting V to drink more than I could and helping him get those burps out in no time flat. I bow down to his superior baby feeding skills!
So now that V was in his basinette, started to feed on his own, and spent most of his time sleeping and growing, what did we do now? Wait…and wait…and wait…..