Holding my baby boy for the first time felt surreal and the most natural thing in the world all at once. He was in an open cot on the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) ward. It is a clear sided rectangle with a soft gel mattress that was covered with a soft cotton sheet. On top of the sheet is a rolled-up blanket that looped round him in a ‘u’ shape to form a ‘nest.’ It makes them feel snug and supported in this strange world they have found themselves in. He was wearing his hat and a nappy and nothing else. He was covered in blankets but the room itself was warm as well. He had the three stickers on his chest and stomach that measure his heart. ECG (electrocardiogram) dots that track the beats and rhythm. He also had a cannular in his arm. This was connected to a line that connected to a pump. Inside the pump was a giant syringe that slowly presses and pushes through the drugs. In this case the Prostaglandin E1, Prostin. (Prostin is a hormone that was keeping open the ‘duct’ in his heart to allow oxygenated blood to flow through and avoid the narrowing in the Aorta.) He had another cannula in his foot that was giving him fluids and glucose. He had a red light glowing through a band on his hand and another on his foot. This was to measure his oxygen saturation levels pre and post. Pre – meaning before the blood went via the ‘duct’ into the heart and post meaning after. A significant difference between these two would mean that the duct may have started to close and more Prostin would be needed to keep it open until his operation.
All of this information is new and overwhelming when all you want to do is cuddle your new baby. I had to take in what I was being told and what I was seeing whilst desperately wanting to just stroke his cheeks and rock him in my arms. The machines above his head were all keeping track of everything. We could see the green line creating the rhythmical heartbeat pattern. Another blue one beneath it that showed his oxygen saturation levels. It was like being inside a space ship. We had landed on an alien planet and had no idea what this new language was. Despite having looked around beforehand we still were not prepared for the depth of machinery and wires that would be involved. These were here to keep him alive. That thought does not sit easily on a new mother and father’s minds. What if they stop. What if someone doesn’t notice a change on one of these lines. “What if?” became a huge part of everything. Nothing was certain anymore. All we had was each moment. For me that was difficult. I like to plan things and organize them. Not knowing was horrible.
But back to the room and the cot and looking past all the machines and wires, laying calmly was my baby boy. His dad stood over him, looking proudly into his face. We asked a nurse to help us with the wires so that I could hold him. I had a pillow on my lap to cover my stitches and to help me support him. He was lifted from his cot and placed gently in my arms. I cradled his head in my elbow crease. His tiny body curved against mine. He was warm. He was soft. He nuzzled his head backwards and relaxed into me. He was home. He recognized me. We were one again. I would have stayed there for eternity if they would have let me. But I only had half an hour with him before I started feeling dizzy and needed to go back to my own recovery bed for my blood pressure checks. In those thirty or so minutes we became a family. He relied on us and we fell in love with him. Emmanuel stood next to me, hand on my back. We were all connected. My baby had that soft puffy newborn look to his face. His eyebrows were defiantly Emmanuel’s. His chin was from me. The lips could be either of us and the nose was one thousand per cent my Emmanuel’s side of the gene pool. I loved every tiny section. I stared at him and drank it all in. I cried over his body for the first of many times. The lines and wires attached to him were heavy. We had to hold them to keep them from pulling on his skin. Or worse coming off. It was always a two-person operation. I wouldn’t for a long time be able to hold my son by myself. I would always need someone or something helping me. That stung. I wasn’t going home with my baby to snuggle him in bed and lay him on my chest. I had to look at him lying in his plastic cot being kept here by things that I had no control over. It was going to be the start of a long journey and battle between my instinct to want to take him and hide him and to let the doctors and nurses care for him.
I looked at my Emmanuel and he looked back at me. We were a unit. Our son wrapped in his white dumbo the elephant blanket. His tiny mouth sucking on his dummy. We had a long road ahead of us. The fight harder than we thought and we were only just starting it.
Emmanuel lifted him from my arms and lay him back in his cot. The nurse came and helped him to place the lines and wires back correctly. He settled back down and quickly fell asleep. I left a square of fabric that I had kept with me and had worn in my bra. The fabric was placed next to our son’s head so he knew I was there even when I wasn’t. I cried so hard when I placed that little square next to his head. I felt like all the other mothers in the world have their babies next to them in a bassinet. I had to leave my baby with strangers in a sci-fi world of beeping machines. I could not take in what was happening. All I could see was his beautiful face. By now the Morphine had fully kicked in and I was floating on a drug high. I am glad that during the first week I had the painkillers to numb out reality. I don’t think I would have managed quite so well without them. Mentally and physically.