Meet my friend Meghan. Meghan went into labor 8 weeks early and delivered George, my husband’s Godson, four hours after her contractions started. George weighed in at a little over 3 and a half pounds. I’ll never forget the call that George was here. We were shocked and scared and went to see them as soon as we could. I remember walking back into the same hospital I had delivered Bowie in less than a year before but walking into a different wing. A wing that made us scrub up to our elbows and under our fingernails. It was quiet and before we made it to George’s bassinet, we passed quads that would eventually become TLC stars. Everything was tiny. When I saw Jeff and Meghan, the parents, our dearest friends who married us, I lost it. They looked tired and scared and I could tell were trying to put on a brave for us. I think that’s the NICU way, the parents trying to stay strong for everyone else when really, we should be supporting them, telling them it’s going to be okay, being hopeful and helpful, doing what we can because it’s unimaginable to be in this position but yet, here are our best friends living it. George was tiny but so beautiful. That’s the magic that Meghan talks about in her story. Finding the beauty and magic in an otherwise heart wrenching situation. George is now a healthy and happy one year old but not without loving parents, extended family and friends, and the countless nurses and doctors who supported them along the way. September marks the start of NICU Awareness Month and we’re honored to share stories like Meghan’s and resources throughout the month. xx Cristina
By Meghan Bevill
How old is your son?
I never knew that could be such a complicated and heart wrenching question. But every time someone asks that question, I sort of tense up and hesitantly mumble out his age. When I see their eyebrows raise – not sure if this is real or imagined, but I see it nonetheless – I feel the need to go into an extended explanation of why he is so small for his age and not doing the typical things a baby of his age would be doing.
George was born eight weeks early. He was 3 pounds 7 ounces and spent seven weeks in the NICU. This is where he learned to eat and where he learned to breathe. It’s also where every ounce he gained was celebrated as if it was a major milestone. To us, it was. George is our first baby. We didn’t know exactly what to expect but we definitely didn’t expect him to shoot into the world 2 months early. And shoot he did. In the span of 4 hours, my contractions started, my water broke,and after three pushes he was here. Then they immediately whisked him off to do their tests and rush him to the NICU.
It’s hard to describe the ups and downs of his hospital stay. From day one, they tell you to expect to be in the hospital until baby’s original due date. For George, that would be eight weeks. Two whole months of being away from our baby every night. Of watching other people care for him and make decisions on our behalf. Of working through the inevitable guilt that comes with delivering a baby early. I was prepared to ride out the long stay. What I wasn’t prepared for was the daily roller coaster of highs and lows.
The worst day was when we walked into the NICU and saw his tiny, frail body laying naked and exposed in his incubator bin. He was surrounded by foil covered boxes. A mask set loosely over his little eyes, protecting him from the jaundice lamp beating down on him. His lips were chapped, and he looked so alone. I just lost it. It was the first time I cried in front of the nurses. They all assured us it would be okay, and deep down I knew it would. But in that moment, I was just so upset that my baby was suffering, and there was nothing I could do about it.
Watching him be fed through a feeding tube was just as devastating. I tried to breastfeed him, but he was just too small. We tried bottle feeding him, but he would get too tired. So the only option was to use a machine that slowly pressed my milk through a syringe into a tube that ran through his nose into his stomach. That is not the way I pictured feeding our baby.
That was the hardest thing about coming to terms with having a premature baby. You start to think about the way things should have been or could have been or would have been if this was a “normal” birth. You grieve for the experiences you lost out on – holding him right after birth, bringing him home from the hospital in his newborn outfit, having friends and family come visit in your hospital room. I even found myself grieving that I didn’t get bigger in my pregnancy. I would see pregnant women with really big bellies, and I would start crying. I never got to experience those last two months of pregnancy and the sensations and discomforts that come with sharing a body with your child. I didn’t make it that far. I failed because I couldn’t carry my baby to term. Then the guilt swells up and the roller coaster starts another run. I wasted a lot of time and energy on regret and grief.
But then there were also magical moments. Like when he smiled with contentment while lying on my chest. Finished a full bottle for the first time. Bath time in the tiny tubs meant for washing bottles. When he finally started eating well enough that he got his feeding tube out. And when he went the first full night without any breathing episodes. (One big complication for preemies is that they forget to breathe. They will just stop until someone stimulates them by rubbing their chest to remind them to start again.)
Time moved differently in the NICU. There were no distractions. It was 100% one-on-one baby time. We would sit with him and rock for hours. We would read to him and talk to him and sing to him. I can honestly say I don’t think we would have had that kind of quality time with him if we had brought him directly home from the hospital. In the NICU, there was nowhere to be but right there, in the moment.
That’s the most perplexing thing about our time in the NICU – it was heart wrenching but unbelievably special at the same time. I have only been able to realize and appreciate that now that six months have passed since our stay. It was not conventional. It was not what we expected. It was not easy. But it was ours. We got to see our tiny baby show immense strength and overcome challenges that no baby should have to endure. We got to see him grow and develop and turn into a little person before our eyes. And that was magical.