The Honeymoon Ends
The doctors had informed us—warned us, really—that many preemies have a “honeymoon period” shortly after they are born. They take off like gangbusters; everything looks great and then it looks like everything just tanks. Their weight drops; problems arise. The honeymoon is over. At frequent intervals our doctor, Dr. Sandhu, reminds us that the trajectory of progress is never an upward slope, but more like a saw tooth figure: rapid progress and plateau followed by rapid decline and stabilization. Rinse and repeat.
Turns out parents experience the same conceptual metaphor as they hope ‘n’ cope.
The first day the twins were great—better than expected. So was I. The morning after the C-section I was up and about and able to walk down the hall on my own for frequent visits to the NICU. We got a lot of information but none of it particularly scared me. Yeah, yeah, a blood transfusion consent, the high-fi ventilator for one twin, a respirator for the other, blue light for the blue baby (for bilirubin), little goggles for eye protection from the blue light, tubes in the belly button, extubation, intubation, suctioning, blood gas measurements, RDS, PDA, x-rays, ultrasounds, and of course, the incessant beeping of the monitors. And none of it bothered me. I mean, it’s not like I’m the one giving the blood transfusion. Then I’d be worried, I kept telling the nurses. It got a big laugh. Every time. Oh, you’re doing so well, they all said.
Then on the day three, I’m “holding” Michael. He looks basically the same as he has the last few days, but whereas before his movements seemed to me to be active and spunky; today the same motions look jittery and frenetic. The mesmerizing effect of those teeny fingers and toes are just, well, so yesterday. He doesn’t look like a miracle of nature and science; he looks like E.T.
I hold him and he feels . . . scared. I can feel it. It’s the same body language that Chiara has when she’s scared: slightly rigid, wanting me to hold her and pulling into herself at the same time. That’s what Michael’s doing. Rigid, pulling into himself and yet still giving signals that he wants me to be there.
[Preemies, like anyone, have a body language. They can tell you when they are over stimulated and want you to go away. (It’s with a big “talk to the hand gesture,” ala the Supremes from “Stop!” Sometimes outstretched, sometimes in front of their face with their face turned away from the offender.) Body language to indicate that they like what you’re doing varies from “cuddling” close to where you touch them (Wagner does this a lot) to just feeling heavy in your hands. The big telltale sign of comfort, however, is the oxygen–saturation rate, a number from 1 – 100. Right now twins’ rate should sit solidly in the 85 – 93 range. When the twins are happy, the rate goes up. (The nurses tell me that Wagner’s oxygen–saturation rate goes up when he hears my voice.) In the scene I’m describing with Michael, his oxy–saturation rate was rising as I “held” him, but instead of feeling heavy or holding on to my finger (which he does a lot), he was tense.]
With Chiara, I mean it when I say, “It’s OK. I promise you, you’re going to be just fine. I’m going to make sure that nothing bad will happen to you.” But I can’t tell Michael that. I can’t promise him that everything will be OK. And I can’t do anything to make sure that “nothing bad will happen.” All I can do is cry on the isolette. Big, sloppy tears that drop on his little plastic doors. It occurs to me that my three–day old son is going through more than what I’ve been through in forty years. It occurs to me that I don’t know if he will be all right. It occurs to me that I’m scared, too.
“Well, we’ll just have to be scared together,” I tell him. It’s the most sincere reassurance I can offer.
I stay there, one hand on his head, one hand on the soles of his feet. I want to try to “think positive” but those feelings just aren’t there today. Finally, I give up and just feel his head and feet, not trying to do anything. We’re just going to have to embrace this moment, too, I figure.
It’s going to be a long haul.
© 2010 Janine Kovac