(Like many Americans, I am thinking about health care and health insurance lately. I’ve really only ever had one major run-in with health issues and the health system, and it was intensive, both literally and figuratively. I had a baby that was born at 25.5 weeks in 2008. He’s a blooming, Minecraft-and-Star-Wars-loving almost-nine-year-old now, but this experience was harrowing and involved. Since my pre-existing conditions are pregnancy and premature labor, and I am guessing I have handed the latter condition down to my boy, I thought I would retell the story. I wrote about it as it happened, and it has been shared on an old blog. Part one. Part Two. Part Three.)
Happy Birthday, Part IV: First Visit
According to the books, at week 26, the fetus’ eyes are still closed, but it has eyelashes and eyebrows as well as hair. At 25 weeks and four days, our fetus became a baby, and at least one eye was open when they took him to the NICU.
I was scared to go and see him. I certainly was not going without Pete, and I preferred to go only with Pete, so he asked the nurse if he could wheel me over by himself.
Abbot is connected to Children’s by a tunnel, which is convenient although not very cheery. The NICU is on the second floor, and it’s quite large. The website says that between the St. Paul and Minneapolis campus, there are 154 beds. And, at least in Minneapolis, they all seem to be full. Now that I think about it, it sure seems that premature births are more common than I could have believed. I guess it’s nice that we are not alone, but I wonder if the rates are going up, and if so, why?
One of the things I have learned from this so far is how adaptable humans are. Or, how adaptable they can be. I grew accustomed to being in labor for the whole 11 hours it lasted, and it did not take me long to grow accustomed to the NICU. When I first came in to see Finn, it was 6:00 a.m., and I had been up for 24 hours and had not eaten or drank anything for 23. We had just been through a surprising day, and I was most likely in a bit of a haze. When Pete wheeled me up to the isolette, and I saw him in there, so small and hooked up to monitors, it was the first time I cried. Pete and I were helpless; there was nothing we could do for him. Was that my baby? I was used to my firm, moving stomach. I was used to him being in there. I was not enjoying the flaccid tummy that I now had.
I learned the ropes: wash hands, dry hands, use alcohol foam on hands. Then we could touch him, without gloves. I held his little hand. The nurse asked if we wanted to take some pictures, and we said that we did not have a camera. I did not have my purse, where the little camera lives. I have that stupid camera with me all the time, usually, just not for one of the most important moments of my life so far. The nurse got a camera and took a few photos for us.
We were now those people you hear about: the couple in crisis. We were a story I would hear and wonder “How do people get through that sort of thing?”
I guess you just do. You have to because you can’t change it, you can only accept that this is the path you are on and make the journey, picking up experience, wisdom, and, apparently, cliches along the way.