Here’s an excerpt from my book, based on when our son Kendall was in NICU. (The first part of the story is here in a previous blog post.) Such a hard time and I’m sure many moms can relate. The best part was this though…
They admitted the baby for seven days. They released Lainey in one.
“I’m not leaving this hospital without him,” she told anyone who would listen.
“We have to,” Nick said.
“Do we?” Lainey asked and did not gather her things. She climbed into the bed and waited for the nurse.
The nurse saw it on her face when she walked in. “You can go now,” she told Lainey, bustling with activity yet waiting.
“I’m staying,” Lainey said. “Until my baby can leave too.”
Her son was down the hall in NICU, an IV needle taped to the side of his soft head, living under an incubator. Eight glorious pounds in a sea of miniature babies. When Lainey went down to nurse him or hold him, she saw babies that were no bigger than a pop bottle, wires and tubes lacing each body. Her heart stopped and began again the first time she saw him like this, a patient.
But she soon learned to unhook him from his alarms and, even sooner, how to divert the nurses when she did it wrong and set off the beeping. She swaddled him to her breast and tried to feed him without pulling the IV from his head. Mostly she rocked him and fed him a bottle because he didn’t want to work for his food.
There was a pale white rocker next to his incubator, next to the divider swinging between her and the next baby. She tucked into the rocker, her elbow touching the curtain and watched the efficiency of the nurses and tried to stay out of their way. But she did not give up a second with her son, not even when they looked sidelong at her for spending the entire day underfoot. Why, she marveled, would I leave him in the plastic of an incubator when I was here to hold him, keep him warm?
She felt sorrow for the mothers and fathers that came in before 8 or after 5. She was one of the few who could stay and did. She bundled her baby in blankets and cried into them often, pressing her cheek against his soft downy head, praying the medicine was working, her bruiser baby made just as small with IVs and monitors.
“I suppose we don’t need this room just yet,” the nurse told Lainey, closing her chart for the last time and walking away.
This is how Lainey became a vagrant at the hospital. The room hers, a bed constantly unmade, her clothes strewn about. She feared that if she left the room neat, they would think she’d left. Lainey paced the halls each day checking capacity. Nick’s cot stayed next to her bed, both of them waiting, sleeping, worrying, waiting, Lainey rising every two hours at night to feed the baby. They worried they’d be sent home, they worried they’d never get there.
On the fifth day, the doctor delivered the news: Her son was in recovery, his lungs clear. He could go home at the end of the seven-day antibiotic treatment. But for now they should see it through.
Lainey waited until the midnight nurses came on in NICU. She went tired, happy and scrubbed to the elbows as usual.
“We want him,” Lainey told the nurse, “in our room.” Laney looked at the baby, her baby, and back at the NICU nurse.
“Not a good idea,” the nurse said.
“The doctor gave him the all clear.” Lainey started unhooking his alarms. She was five days into motherhood and a fierce love was rolling in, replacing the meek fearful one she’d harbored all week. She removed each sensor with ease. She covered him with blankets and turned to leave NICU.
A nurse touched her arm to stop her.
“Don’t go,” she said.
“Please move,” Lainey said. She stared down the nurse, the same nurse she worshiped. For the first time, she felt like his mother, her child at last in her possession. The woman looked down at the pink-faced football player in Lainey’s arms and said nothing. She went back to the patients who needed her more.
When Lainey returned to their room, Nick sat up in his cot.
“Look who I have,” she whispered. She leaned over and revealed their wee child in her arms, his little hand clutching at the striped blanket.
“Kendall,” he whispered and cupped his baby boy’s head, his hand covering it from ear to ear. “But how?”
“He’s ours,” she said. Lainey and Nick looked at each other. They were alone at last with their baby, their precious treasure.
They put him in the center of the narrow bed and Lainey climbed in on one side, Nick on the other. There was barely room for the baby, but it was enough and they unwrapped him. They looked at his toes, his fingers, his belly. They patted and caressed each part. The parts they’d only seen with a nurse hovering or during a complicated diaper change around cords and tubes. Now they took their time and looked at every wrinkle and crook. He fussed only a little and even that they marveled over, the sounds he made.
“Let’s keep him,” Nick whispered.
“Yes,” Lainey said.
She left the bed to peek into the hall for nurses coming to arrest them while Nick climbed into his own cot. He held out his hands, “Here, let him sleep with me.”
Lainey, in theory, had slept 9 months with Kendall tucked up against her. Tonight would be Nick’s first. She swaddled their baby and put him down, IV facing out, the collar of his blue jammies fuzzy against Nick’s smooth bicep. Lainey watched as long as she could, waiting until the baby fell asleep, before letting her eyelids fall shut.
When she awoke an hour later, she looked down to find her boys, both of them, in the same position. One arm up high and crooked by his ear. The other across his chest. She saw the resemblance of father and son and bowed her head with the emotion that came with it. Tonight she was a mother, Nick a father. Their son, a boy in jammies gone AWOL. I’m good at this already, she thought.