My hands are about to be hella clean. And, yes, I’ve been waiting a long time – a hella long time – to drop a hella bomb.
Why? Because I’ve got offspring in the local NICU again. It was surreal to say the least, walking through those secured doors again Sunday night, putting on my purple parent lanyard, washing up to my elbows at the scrub-in sink, being bombarded by beeping monitors.
We spent 133 days there the last time around, our 24-week twin girls – micropreemies by definition – experiencing the two most extreme outcomes: life and death. It became home – not a second home, either. Sure, our kids were there, but the nurses and doctors became like family, understanding the details and the generalities of what we were going through in a way that no one else could. That’s the thing about the NICU – it’s like a secret club. You’re not allowed inside unless you have business there, and you’re not allowed to return upon graduating. Even when we bring Kailey there now to visit, she’s not allowed inside the doors – it’s too risky for the inhabitants to be exposed to everyday germs.
The only way to get back in is to have more premature babies, which we succeeded in doing Sunday morning. Ty and Taylor – a boy and a girl, respectively – were born via c-section at 33 weeks gestation. They were in utero for nine weeks longer than predecessors Kailey and Breley, and the difference is remarkable. They’re 4 lbs, 3 oz each instead of 1 lb, 6 oz. and 16 inches rather than 12. Their eyes are not fused shut, their skin is not translucent. They did not need to be put on ventilators or fitted with umbilical catheters. No blood transfusions yet, either.
Things are off to a relatively good start. That is and isn’t easy to accept. On one hand, we know how dicey things can be, having lived through it two years ago. I read one of the provided books – Preemies for Dummies, if you will – during the first couple nights there. It might as well have been written in Russian – I had never heard of a PDA ligation or NEC or G-tubes. The information was overwhelming, but we soaked up most of it and emerged practically fluent.
Things seem much less dire this time – seem being the optimal word. There’s a reason the NICU experience is often compared to riding a roller coaster. Things can turn to crap in a hurry, like when Kailey went in for G-tube instillation surgery only to suffer a bronchiospasm that nearly killed her. She swelled up like a puffer fish, lost most of her hair and needed extreme breathing assistance. To this day, she won’t really swallow food, an averse we attribute to that incident.
We’re trying not to be paranoid or flippant. It helps that we know the routine AND the people. So many familiar faces. Even people we didn’t directly deal with before seem aware of our history. (We have the NICU version of street cred, I guess.) It’s comforting to the point of almost being fun. Initially, we struggled having to leave them, going cold turkey when Kailey got to go home. Making matters worse, the hospital instituted a sort of no-fraternizing rule shortly thereafter, essentially discouraging nurses and doctors from seeking casual updates in person or online. But now we’re back, free to get caught up on the nurses and their kids and spouses and lives, free to seek moments of levity between times of stress. (I like to think that the night-shifters enjoyed my sense of humor.) Inevitably, we’ll get to know some of the other parents and kids – the long-term patients, the kids who seldom get visitors and everyone in between.
It all feels so … lighthearted this time, like a victory lap. We sure hope it stays that way for the sake of our kids, for the sake of our sanity – I’m stress eating like a madman – and for the good of the nurses and doctors. I’m not sure how they bear the considerable weight of their work. They are a special breed, and we’d like nothing more than for our second tour to end with two graduations, successes to help fuel their caring souls.
Yes, the NICU is a fascinating and terrifying and inspiring place. I wish you could visit yet I hope you never have to.