When your baby is born it is an amazing, indescribable joy to meet her.
When she comes unexpectedly early -- very early -- you are shocked by her arrival and your unplanned surgery. Now your baby is here: she is beautiful, and she is in an incubator. There is intense joy and stress. How is she? Can she hear you? How long will she have to stay in the NICU? Now your schedule is cancelled and your whole focus is on her. This means helping her ingest as many calories as possible. She must gain, gain, gain in order to thrive.
In the hospital, baby is fed by an intravenous tube and by bottle feedings from the NICU providers. As baby gains weight, parents are allowed to hold her and learn to bottle feed her. These are stressful weeks full of worry and time spent at the hospital. When baby at last reaches the requisite weight, you are finally allowed to bring your baby home. What a sweet relief to be just the three of you in the privacy and familiarity of your own home. You’re tired yet you feel lucky; you think of the families you met whose babies are still in the NICU.
As you settle in at home the outlook is good. Yet, along with the joy and love that floods you as you gaze at her adorable countenance, there is also your worry about her weight. You know she needs to continue to gain as much weight as possible for her healthiest opportunities. She has to spend her day nursing, by breast or bottle or both. And she needs to burp, and be changed, and sleep it off and wake up hungry over and over again.
This is your new life; your new normal. You have had less rest for the last couple of months than perhaps ever in your life, and this tiredness rides on the heels of a big stressful event. One of the things that gets you through this time, in addition to your baby herself, is the knowledge somewhere in your blurry brain that this is not forever. You won’t be sleep deprived and mostly home bound for too much longer, but you don’t even have the energy to think that far. It’s really one feeding at a time, one hour of sleep at a time, one moment of stress, one moment of joy at a time.
Folks who come to visit exclaim how little she is. Yet you see every ounce she gains, and how much bigger she is, actually, since last week. Yes, there she is — already so big — truly a joy.
Oh, you gotta go feed her? Okay see you later!
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