36 & 4 that was what I heard often when the doctors did rounds every morning. My baby was born at 36 weeks and 4 days. 3 1/2 weeks early. He was premature. And he was taken away from me the minute he was born. I didn’t get to hold him, I didn’t get to even see him for 3 hours after. Nurses threw around “special care nursery” said his lungs were struggling and he needed to be on a ventilator. I didn’t know what that really meant in that moment. One nurse even told me he would have to be airlifted to another hospital for better care. That was the scariest moment of my life. When I arrived at the hospital, dramatically and in a panic. I jumped out of the car and they had me on a stretcher in seconds. From the time I entered the hospital I had him in 10 min, with one push. He was almost delivered in the car on the way there. They called it a precipitous birth. No time for an Epidural like I had planned, no time for skin to skin snuggles after an easy delivery. I never got that easy delivery. I suffered. It was one intense contraction with no breaks in between. It’s was panic and agony, loss of control. It was fear and looking to anyone’s eyes for a sense of what was happening. The concern in their eyes, the lack of answers. The panic omg the panic. One push, no one was ready, I had to push. One push. He was here!! But then he was gone. 

I asked every question to any person who walked in my room. How is he? Where is he? How much did he weigh? Is he going to be ok?? Can I see him? Please give me an answer. I had none. What was going on?! Should I be worried? Please tell me! No one would. 

Then finally a sweet nurse came and got me put me in a wheelchair and wheeled me up an elevator and down the longest hallway I’d ever seen in my life, to a locked NICU. Then it hit me, omg there is something really wrong. They wheeled me to his room, and there I finally got to see my little boy. Cannula, wires, leads, feeding tubes everywhere. Beeping omg the beeping. His tiny little body so fragile and I couldn’t keep him safe. I was told how I can touch him, certain ways aggravated his delicate skin and felt more like sand paper and hurt him rather than comfort him. I couldn’t hold him, I couldn’t feed him, I couldn’t breathe. My son was born with very weak and immature lungs. He was going to have to stay and there was no way of telling how long it would be. He had been treated twice with antibiotics as a preventative. CPAP oxygen monitors and a feeding tube were all now a part of my vocabulary. I spent a very short 26 hours as a patient myself on the floor above his. I was released and I would have to go home with out my baby. My broken heart had to care for my other two children and then make my way back to the hospital every minute I could be there. We thankfully had help, to watch the kids so I could spend more time there. But the guilt and the pain of leaving our baby in the NICU was the worst soul breaking heart wrenching thing I’ve ever had to do. A week went by they removed his breathing help and he was breathing room air all by himself. But that wasn’t the end of the care. I thought that was and was so stupid, and disappointed. I still didjt fully trust the doctors or the nurses. I didn’t understand. He was still breathing too fast and needed to gain weight. He was just now allowed to “through a feeding tube” eat my breast milk and man that was another blow. I couldn’t even breast feed him. I didn’t get that beautiful experience. I got to be hooked up to a pump every 3 hours while I cried. Day after day I cried. The next week was full of lows and disappointments then highs anddidn’t being hopeful. I think I went numb at a point. I  know what to feel. Then he started getting stronger and better and gaining weight. I started to feed him normally. Everything was looking up. Until it wasn’t.

The doctor came in and said they found a bacteria infection in his blood. They have to do tests and a spinal tap, more antibiotics. They used words like Center for disease control. All my world stopped. This is bad, this could be weeks of antibiotics and what is the future, could he die from this? My god I was lost. Two days later we were informed that he never had an infection the blood sample was contaminated. He had nothing. 

Days went by no answers just time. A few more days, a little more weight gain. My life outside of this was falling apart. My home, that we bought earlier this year to make room for my third little boy, was not a home. It was a motel for family and friends, who came and went.  Right food, played with the kids, did some laundry. But it was empty and cold and not the house full of life I had so imagined with my 3 sons. 

My job, my work from home, built it myslef company that was thriving just a few short weeks ago was failing. We were on the verge of losing our business and our income. How would we recover from this? How can I rebuild and fix everything I’d been letting fall to pieces along with my mind. 

Most of all my children my poor sweetheart 1 year old who was still a baby himself was sad. Omg he’d never been anything but a happy smiling little boy and now there was hurt in his eyes. Reaching for me when I’d go to leave. That killed me. My 4 year old, asking me “ Mommy the baby came out of your belly why isn’t he home yet?” Then when we brought him to the hospital to meet him, he stood on a step stool looking down at his tiny brother. And he cried. His innocent little heart couldn’t handle seeing his brother like that, and he cried. I never brought him back with me, I just didn’t know how much that would effect him and I didn’t want him to worry or be hurt again. Have to protect them, have to fix this, have to be sane they all needed me their mama, I needed to get back to normal. 

But I couldn’t fix this, I had no control. His life, my life, my world was up in the air. We didn’t know when or if or why or what. We just waited. I couldn’t fix this. I couldn’t fix this.

Another few days of Of we will see how he does through the night, how much weight he gains, if his breathing slows down. Told over and over IF he does this he can go home tomorrow. Tomorrow’s came and went and we waited. 

Torture is the exact word for helplessly watching your baby in the NICU. Night nurses with attitudes making you feel like less of a mother for not being there enough, or being there too much and not getting enough sleep. Day nurses judging you for looking like a zombie and judging you for going home to rest. I never knew what was the right thing, I still don’t even after experiencing it. I just know I was doing the best I could. And I don’t even know what that is. The best I could was not being torn between two lives, my newborn baby and this hospital and my young children at home. No one got the best of me. I was tired and angry and guilty and sad. Best I could was never even in the cards. 

The next Monday morning I walked in already expecting disappointment and I had tears in my eyes 18 days, and I still didn’t have any clear answers. Every health issue they had brought to me, every worse case scenario and they always came back with “no he doesn’t have that, the test came back negative, his lungs are clear, maybe that’s just the way he breathes” all the tests they had done were precautionary, and all the things they said might be wrong were not. So why were we still here? Why a spinal tap, chest x-ray, two rounds of two different antibiotics, all the worry all the fear all the time spent away from my baby. Why? 

I sat there waiting for rounds, my stomach turning, my eyes on fire from crying, my head pounding. The doctor came in with a few nurses, one of which was there when I delivered. This doctor in particular was one of two that I actually became very fond of, something about her she was the only one I had any trust in. I stood up she came and stood next to me shoulder to shoulder, she leaned into me and said “well he gained some weight, his breathing is still the same though, a little fast.” My heart sunk. I just knew it was another day and more time. She leaned into me a little more, “but you can take your baby home today” I collapsed into her sobbing and thanking her. I was in some kind of adrenaline induced flight mode after that. I couldn’t get him dressed and into his car seat and out of that hospital fast enough, yet I was moving In slow motion. 

The nurse handed me his discharge paperwork. There were pictures and thank you’s and good byes. My baby was finally coming home. After we got him into the car I looked at the paper work. His diagnosis was observation of premature baby. 18 days, all my strength, all my heart ache. It was over. I’m fortunate to have taken my baby home, and even write about this. I feel guilt for being as traumatized as I am. But I am sad, I am sad that I will never get back those precious weeks after he was born, that he was born too soon. Nothing prepared me for this and the roller coaster of emotions. The pain I still feel. I don’t think I will ever get over any of it. But to have him and be his mommy I’d go through it all over again. 

Danielle Cohen