That's how long we were in the hospital. Seven weeks and one day. That's a long, long time. Five of those weeks were in the NICU. The last Two and a day were on the pediatric floor, where I got to learn to be Squish's Mom.
The day after he was born, he went in for surgery. Dr. Fuchs, a pediatric neurosurgeon came to see us and report that it went very well. When we were allowed to go see him, he still had a ventilator tube in.
That was the first of many ways I saw him that just broke my heart. So tiny and helpless, covered in tubes and tape and leads. However, he proved to me that he was much stronger than I was giving him credit for, he was awake and hungry within an hour. My husband's parents were there, my Father got to see him, and his fiancée surprised me by visiting with her mother! It was wonderful to share the joy of my baby's birth.
So much of the first two weeks is a bit blurry thanks to pain medication, but there was a lot of sitting bedside, a lot of pumping breast milk, a lot of smiling and tears. We got to feed him, talk to him, sing to him, endlessly touch and count toes and fingers and stroke his soft baby skin. We also learned how to diaper a baby with a back incision right above his little baby butt. You flip it backwards, fold it down and fasten, and for added fun, we did it while he was on his tummy with a catheter in! I cried many times on the way out to the car because I had to leave him. I felt like I was just playing Mommy and visiting him, that he wasn't really mine and we'd never get to take him home.
On Thanksgiving, we got to hold him for the first time! That was a memory I'll never let dull... I relive it all the time. The sweet weight of his body against me, the sound of his soft breathing, the feeling of his fine hair against my cheek and the tears I cried into it. This little squishy baby, so fragile but so darn tough really was mine.
On December 1st, Squish had to have a shunt placed in his brain. The ventricles of his brain were collecting fluid and a shunt keeps them drained. It's a tube that goes into his brain and connects to a valve that is under the skin behind his right ear connected to another tube that runs under the skin down his neck, under his collar bone and into the cavity of his abdomen. This was harder than the back surgery. I knew that a shunt meant constant vigilance about making sure it was working, watching for signs that it isn't working and many of those signs are the same as a regular illness in a child. Plus, it's never easy to think of having your newborn's brain poked around in... so it did make for a very tense wait.
After three weeks in a motel, my husband had to go back to work and left me with his parents. We moved into an apartment and I began withdrawing. I would have polite conversation with my in laws and use pumping as an excuse to sit alone. Any time I was not at the hospital was time I was waiting to go back. I called the NICU several times a day, before I went and after I got back to that apartment. I was dropped off in the morning and picked up in the evening because my car went back with my husband. When it snowed, I had to wait for them to feel safe to drive. I lost my self reliance, I couldn't even go to the store without asking for a ride. I was also very lonely but didn't want company. I would sit at Kemper's bedside and cry, feeling sorry for him and myself and my husband. My in laws were very helpful, but I still felt quite alone. After a while, people began visiting, friends and family came and spent a few hours. Sometimes it felt like work to have visitors, like I was supposed to be entertaining, sometimes it was easy and just felt great to have someone I related with to talk to.
Two weeks went by and Kemper had to have a blood transfusion, his back opened up, they wanted to do a skin graft, but when he was in the OR, the surgeon decided more sutures would be sufficient. Kemper wiggled around so much he popped some of those sutures out! He had been on his tummy so long, and he was tired of it! Then the day came they told us he was going out on the pediatric floor. I was terrified. This meant less nurses, a door between the nurses and him and less careful monitoring. It also meant I could stay with him. At first, I was really scared because I didn't think I could do it. Everyone told me I needed to sleep, I couldn't stay at the hospital 24/7 and I bought into that. I spent the first night of his stay at the apartment, I never slept. When I arrived at the hospital, I found Kemper in his crib in a filthy diaper with poop all over his incision, and dried poop all over the blankets. After some very intense conversations with charge nurses, directors and patient visitor relations representatives, I vowed not to leave him again, and I didn't. He was never alone after that. I went to dinner with my friend Audri on New Year's Eve, and the nurse kept him with her the whole time.
During this time, I felt whole again. I was Kemper's Mom! I didn't have to ask to pick him up or feed him, I gave him medicine, bathed him, comforted him when he was upset, and learned how to be a Mother to a tiny baby. It was grueling, but it was heaven to be there with him. Toward the end of our stay, I succumbed to some Postpartum Depression. I was irritable and cranky with everyone but Kemper, I was really hard on myself about making the right decisions for him. I needed space, and when I got it, I felt better.
Then came the time we had all been waiting for... he was going to get to go home! I got three days notice, my husband came and stayed until the day Squish was released! He did a car seat tolerance test, passed beautifully, and was discharged! He still had to sleep side to side and because of that, he was on an apnea monitor at night. But we were going home!!! However... it was snowing. So we got a motel room and waited for the weather to clear. I didn't care, we weren't in the hospital! We were together as a family, just a regular old family and it was wonderful.
I rode in the back with Squish the whole way home and watched him sleep. I was amazed. He's sleeping and he's not in the hospital! He's feeling the sun on his face for the first time. I took picture after picture. When we arrived, I went in and one of my dogs didn't recognize me. I wonder if it was just because I was so tired that I wasn't behaving like myself. She quickly realized she knew me and all was right with her world again. We all got settled in and Brett and I piled up on the couch with Kemper and just sat there, smiling, watching him, playing with him. We had our son, we were home. All was right with my world again, too.