As I stared at my beautiful perfect son while I held him close I never could have imagined the fear and pain that would rush over me only a few days later. He was healthy. He was strong. I was capable and competent. What could go wrong?
I should have listened to myself. I didn’t want visitors. I wanted a quiet, secluded babymoon. I knew how important that was. I gave that up not wanting to ruffle any feathers. What an awful decision. My son is more important than their feelings. This taught me that I need to listen to my mommy instincts. They are strong and they are right.
Visitors started the day after he was born. He and I should have been cuddling, naked, bonding, nourishing. We should have been getting to know each other. Instead there were these people in his face. There were these people wanting to talk, to hold, to disturb. All I wanted was to be alone with my son.
We went home and they came back. Sitting around making me feel uncomfortable in my own home. I know they didn’t mean to make me feel this way. But they did. I felt like I had to act a certain way, be a certain way. A way I didn’t want to be. I wanted to hold my son to my chest and cuddle in bed and allow him to learn to latch and eat whenever he needed. But instead I was covered up and sitting in a chair while he was passed from person to person until he cried, screaming, upset. Now I had to undress, undercover, trying to stay decent and trying to give my son what he needed at the same time.He screamed and screamed. He would not latch. He would not eat. I cried. I didn’t know what to do. I felt so disconnected. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. People! Get out! I wanted to push them all away and give my son the space he needed. But I didn’t. I am so sorry little man, so so sorry. I should have been stronger. I should have stood up for you. Instead I cowered, weak in the corner. Never again, little man, never again. Your mama bear is here for you now. Never again.
I became very worried as the days started to pass and he ate less and less. Something was very wrong. Why wouldn’t he eat? What did I do wrong? I pump to relieve the pressure of this precious milk flowing from me that he wouldn’t take. Why would he refuse this? It’s for him, just for him. Perfect for him. But he wouldn’t drink. He screamed and screamed. I was at a loss.Monday came and I called the lactation consultant. I fought back tears as I told her I needed to come in. I was having problems breastfeeding. I was so inadequate that I could not do what comes natural to every woman and has for centuries. She must have heard the desperation in my voice. We scheduled an appointment for that day.
I remember vividly taking him out of the car seat when we (my mother and I) arrived at the hospital where Julie, the lactation consultant, has an office. I smiled at him and talked to him about how big his clothes were and how soon they would become too small. I told him where we were and how Julie was going to help us.
When we went inside, Julie took us to the mother’s room. In here the room was quiet and dimly lit with a couch and tons of pillows. I told her how he would not latch and he would scream and not eat. How he hadn’t pooped since day two. I showed her how I tried to latch and he refused to eat, only resting his mouth on my breast. She opened his mouth wider and pressed his face against me. Was I really supposed to be that forceful? It didn’t seem “natural”. Wasn’t he supposed to be able to do this on his own? Why would I push that hard? He needs help doing this? Why? Why didn’t anyone tell me before?
He began to slowly become more tired and more pale as our visit went on. Julie decided to weigh him. He had lost well over a pound. She asked me when his first doctor visit would be. I told her the next morning. She suggested that it be right away. She was calm but showed her concern. I knew now something was not right. But I had no idea how truly not right it was. She called my doctor’s office for me, located also in the same hospital, and got me in right away. She also suggested I use a nipple shield. I told her I’d get one right away.
We took the long walk to the doctor’s office on the other side of the building. She gave me a hug as I cried. She comforted me and told me to contact her if I needed anything at all. I didn’t know I’d be calling her again so soon, within the hour. They took me right away at the doctor’s office. We sat waiting anxiously in the exam room.
The doctor finally came in. He was not my son’s doctor but another in the practice. I was uneasy but I had heard good things about all of them so I was okay with this. He laid him on the table and poked and proded. He said, flatly, that he was dehydrated. He did not ask very many questions. He stood near the door as he said his next unemotional droned out line. “He will need to be admitted to intensive care.” What?!?! The ICU is for deathly ill people. My son doesn’t belong there. It was as if he didn’t want to tell me. He was standing at the door like all he wanted to do was escape from his responsibility of explaining to me what was going on. For how long? “Oh a couple days.” A couple days?!?! I was in shock. I was angry at him for being so cold. But the worst was still to come.
We walked the long walk back to the other end of the building. This time it seemed even heavier and harder. We stopped in the bathroom. I sat on the toilet as I broke down crying. Call Julie, I managed to utter to my mother. Tell her what is happening. Tell her I don’t want them giving him formula. Ask her what I need to do. What do I say to them? How do I convince them that I have the milk he needs? She calls and Julie listens and answers our questions. She is comforting still. She will meet us when we get to the ICU.
I call hubs. I tell him to bring all of my pumped milk. I knew we were going to need it. I finally get myself together enough to keep walking. We stop at the hospital pharmacy to buy a nipple shield. It takes forever. There are four people in front of us. Some with multiple orders. I just want to push them all out of the way. Don’t you see I am heading some where important?! But they don’t. No one knows the hell I am going through. I stand in line crying, holding my son and my nipple shield. We finally get out. We continue our trek to the ICU. Hubs has made it there before us. Stupid pharmacy. Where is my milk? It is already in the fridge. Oh. Okay.
We take little man into one of the ICU rooms. The ward is quiet, maybe even empty. It is an adult room. This hospital has no NICU, no PICU. The pediatrician on call isn’t even there. She/he is at a dinner. She/he never comes. They hook little man up to machines and begin drawing blood. He looks so sad laying there in just his diaper with a thin blanket underneath him. They finally let me hold him again. I wrap him up tight and just squeeze him and cry. Boy do I cry. Tears streaming unending down my face. I am soaked in them by now.
They had hooked up an IV. We asked what was in it. Saline. Julie arrives. She shows me quickly how to use the nipple shield. He still won’t latch very well. She brings with her little cups and syringes for me to feed him my pumped milk with. I pump some and put it in a little cup and he drinks it eagerly. She cannot stay forever and leaves. Again, if I need anything, call her.
The saline bag is empty. The nurse returns with another bag. This one is different. I don’t remember exactly what it was but I associate it with sugar water. I wonder why something different but don’t ask. The family doctor from earlier comes in. He tells me that little man needs formula. Oh here we go. NO! I tell him he will not be getting formula. I have milk. He argues with me. Really? With all the dispassionate utterances he had, now is when he becomes animated? To tell me to give my child something that could harm him when I have the precious golden liquid that will cure his every ails? Shut up and get out! Now I am really angry. But I will become even more angry still. In time.
He walks out and accidentally leaves his paperwork in the room. I read it. Failure to thrive. Allowing the child to go home to his mother will result in death. Who did this asshole think he was? My anger builds. He returns. “Uh… I think I left my paperwork in here.” Yes you did, Dr. Dick. It’s over there. He takes his paperwork and walks out again. He returns a few minutes later to tell me his heart rate and temperature are not regulating and he will need to be transferred to a hospital the next city over with a NICU. He leaves again. This is thankfully the last time I see him.
The nurses assure me that I will be able to ride over with him in the ambulance and they would be here soon. I pack up my things. He lays there still hooked up to the machine, helpless and cold. I want to take him and run away. I want all of this to just go away. The nurse there is comforting and kind. I am thankful. The NICU transfer crew finally arrives. They consist of a neonatologist, Dr. Kim; two nurses; and the driver. They wheel in a huge stretcher full of more machines.
Dr. Kim begins asking me questions. He is thrilled to learn that I have so much pumped milk and is very supportive of me continuing to breastfeed. Take that Dr. Dick! He looks at little man’s chart and talks to the ICU nurse. He asks her, “Is this what you usually do?” referring to the bag of saline. She is evasive. “That is what the doctor ordered.” Dr. Kim continues to ask over and over before she caves. “No.” I wonder what that could be about. I assume it is the speed or the amount at which the saline was given.
They finally get little man into the little incubator like box on the stretcher. This is when I find out I cannot go with him. They would be taking him away. Away from me. This was the worst of times. I followed them out of the room. I followed them down the hall. We reached our elevator. They continued down the hall to a back entrance elevator. If I had not been so determined to meet back up with him at the NICU as quickly as possible I would have crumbled right there on the floor. Watching them wheel him away as I clutched his little blue blanket. This really was the worst of times. A gut wrenching pain encompassed my whole body as determination took over and made my feet move one in front of the other.
My mother drove us down to the hospital where he would be. I felt like I was on autopilot, going through the motions. All I wanted was my son. I wanted to see him, to feel him. It felt like time was suspended.