October 11, 2012, was our fiftieth day in the NICU. We had been there all day, every day, since August 21st. I was there on August 31st, the day I was supposed to be in New York with my family for my baby shower. I was there on Labor Day weekend, and all through September. Every day, the routine was the same. Wake up, grab a quick breakfast, and rush to the hospital. Fill out our form for the day (attesting to the fact that we are not sick with anything communicable), scrub, and walk through the secured doors into our baby’s world. Every day, we sat by the isolette, talking to Peanut, singing songs, reading stories, giving her baths, changing her diapers, taking her temperature, talking to her doctor and her nurses about her progress. We were fixtures in our little corner of the room. And although she was in a room with about nineteen other babies, we had eyes only for her.
By October 11th, we were tired. The routine was exhausting and we wanted to go home – which is to say, we wanted everybody to go home. I’d made no secret of the fact that I did not want to come to the NICU on my birthday: that I wanted to spend the entire day on my couch, in my house, with my baby. Some of the doctors and nurses had shaken their heads dubiously and told me not to get my hopes up, which is a phrase I hate. (I’m in the NICU. I leave my baby here every night. All I have is hope. Do you really mean to take that away from me?)
Still, we had seen a light at the end of the tunnel, and we knew that Homecoming Day was not far off. Peanut had been in an open crib since October 4th, and a few days ago, she had ripped out her feeding tube. (She’d been trying to do this for months; according to one of the nurses, almost all of the babies rip their feeding tubes out at some point.) The nurse on duty decided to leave the tube out: since Peanut had evidently decided she was a big girl who could take all of her feedings by mouth, the NICU decided to see if she would put her money where her mouth was. And she did. She was almost four and a half pounds and she’d passed the car seat challenge, proving she could sit in her car seat for ninety minutes without any problems. One of the neonatologists had told us that Peanut may be ready to go home as early as Thursday (October 11th), but she wasn’t Peanut’s regular doctor and we didn’t know if he’d agree.
What happened, I believe, is this: Peanut was tired of the NICU too. She wanted to go home too. So she decided it was time.
That morning, we went through our routine as usual. We arrived in the NICU, performed Peanut’s morning “hands on” – diaper change and temperature – and relaxed with her for a short time. I headed off to the mothers’ lounge (not going to get more specific than that; ladies, you know what I mean), and when I returned, hubby was beaming. “We got the discharge!” he announced. Peanut’s doctor had stopped by for his rounds and told hubby he was thinking of sending us home. Peanut was only eating 40-45 ml at each feeding, and he’d like her to eat 50 ml, but he believed she could. So the only question was, did we want her to prove him right here, or at home? Hubby promptly responded that we’d like to prove him right at home. He left to visit his other babies and returned shortly with our discharge papers. We signed what we needed to sign. I dressed Peanut in a sweet pink and grey outfit, a gift from her Aunt J, which seems impossibly tiny to me now but which was still a bit baggy at the time. We hugged the nurses goodbye, and we walked out the door.
And now, a year later, here we are.
One year later, I can almost forget that we spent fifty harrowing days in the NICU. Peanut has gone from frighteningly tiny to the twenty-eighth percentile, holding her own among her full-term buddies. She approaches everything with riotous joy (especially dogs, and the playground). She says mom, dada, fish, kitty, and book (although she doesn’t pronounce the latter three quite right). She enjoys eating paper and batting at lighting fixtures. She’s herself.
What a year.