It’s a Secret Place
that our souls alone are safe.
A place where we can stay,
and watch the world go by,
and we’ll stand alone in time
Owen had to go back to the hospital after he’d been home for only two days after being born. I remember looking at his orange face together with my midwife in the living room beforehand, deliberating. Adam had jaundice as a newborn too, but had only required twenty four hours of phototherapy in the absolute dead of winter. I was envisioning the beautiful June days, outside with Owen sleeping in the dappled sunlight as the jaundice took care of itself. Must we really jab his little heel to test his bilirubin level? My midwife opted that we should, just in case. Good thing, because she called back later in the day to report his dangerously high result and to instruct us to bring him to the hospital immediately. We expected him to need the same length of treatment as Adam, so it was a shock when the doctor told us “five days at least”. Tom and I slept in chairs in the hospital that first night, Matt went to our place and took care of Adam.
Once we accepted that he wouldn’t be coming home as soon as we thought, Tom went home in the morning but I lingered until after lunchtime. Leaving your baby in a hospital on the same day as the dreaded day three postpartum hormone bottom-out is a tearful experience, but somehow, the building being close to home did help. Quickly, we resolved that it was sad that Owen had to be there, but moping about it wouldn’t get him home sooner and we just had to make the best of it. So, the capable nurses took care of my baby until I returned after supper time. I was so eager to see him and hold him and feed him. But holding him had to be kept to a minimum since they wanted him to be under the lights as much as possible. After a few hours, I went home and slept all night even though I had a four day old baby.
In all, Owen was in the hospital for five days and even now, a year later, the memory of those five days is of a time set apart, a strangely sacred, surreal time. I can’t completely pinpoint or describe why, but in those five days I experienced peace and rest in a way I never have before. Still, every time I see the Grey Nuns, which is often, my heart skips a beat.
It was a predictable schedule for those days— I would wake up, spend some time with Adam and then head to the hospital to feed Owen and then just sit with him in the room for a couple hours. Then, home around lunch, a bit of family time. I’d catch up on cleaning and laundry during Adam’s nap, have a quick dinner, put Adam to bed and then go back to the hospital for a few more hours.
Maybe part of it was that I had expected to feel physically ruined and steamrolled after childbirth, like last time, but didn’t. Because I expected that, I had scheduled nothing. No to do list. No tasks. I thought I would be bedridden and crying. In fact, no, I felt not bad at all. In some ways I felt better than I had in months since I was no longer pregnant.
For hours I would sit in that room with Owen, dark with the incubator blazing indigo. He was lethargic from his condition, and quiet. But he was improving, and the quiet felt peaceful. Peaceful. I felt at peace. For those five days I was a human being, not a human doing. No one talked to me besides nurses on rounds. My introvert battery filled all the way up.
I should say, it is not my intent to glamourize the experience of having a baby in the NICU. I was lucky that ours was a short stay, and that I knew going in that it would be a short stay. It would not have remained as a time of restoration if it had dragged on for weeks and months, as is reality for many.
When Owen was inside the incubator, he slept and didn’t know if I was there or not. But it felt so right to be there for long stretches of time. Standing this vigil was all I had to do, and it gave me the opportunity to be still and heal in a way that would have been impossible at home. I realized that I have a hard time resting at home, really resting, not just because of the demands of motherhood, but because my critical eye will always find something to do. But the hospital room was a unique oasis separate from time. I could sit there for as long as I wanted, no one would tell me to leave. But I could leave. Or I could stay all night.
Owen’s IV had a plastic casing sort of thing, and the edge of it was chafing his foot enough that it was bleeding a little. At one point a nurse spotted it and clucked her tongue and put a piece of cotton between the plastic and his foot. I was grateful. I thought, no kindness is really too small.
On day four when I arrived, the big phototherapy incubator was gone and Owen was in a regular cot, swaddled in a terrycloth robe-looking sleeper and a blanket. He looked so warm and comfortable and it made me feel happy.
And there was evening, and there was morning, a fifth day, Wednesday. I tried to hold the hope that we would be discharged before 11am in an open hand, but it did burn inside me— I wanted to bring Owen to Time for Ladies to see Megan and all the girls. I got my wish, we were discharged at nine. We were both still wearing hospital bands when I walked in and saw my friends, what a beautiful day.
I had re-entered the mom of a newborn life, and that has its own blessings and trials. But I will always be grateful for the surreal first days of Owen that gave me a glimpse of peace and rest.