Somewhere around 3am, I became aware of a presence at the edge of the bed. It was my wife; “Something’s wrong, I think I’m having contractions.”[sws_pullquote_right]In the end, while the NICU looks like a friendly place, in truth it is a battlefield and our children are fighting for their lives.
Most will make it, some will not. [/sws_pullquote_right] It was early Friday, April 24th, a few days before our anniversary. Just a few hours ago, a stray impulse led me to skip my friends’ regular board game night; instead I spent a few hours alone reading and sipping coffee at Barnes & Noble. Barely an hour passed and while I contemplated getting a quick drink at Bar Louie I instead headed home, grudgingly accepting my lame old man status. I was asleep by 11.
We sat on the couch for an hour; timing these “contractions.” Still sleep-drunk, I considered whether or not I should cancel our reservation for an anniversary dinner. “You never know”, I thought, but I didn’t expect anything to happen tonight. The contractions turned out to be about 5 minutes apart, and finally around 4:00 we called our OBGYN. Her answering service advised us to get to the hospital. We woke up our understandably confused 3 year old and headed to Huntsville Women’s and Children’s.
On arrival we learned the situation was very critical, contractions had lessened to almost 2 minutes. It was too late to stop this delivery; it was too late for any sort of medication. With our 3 year old as a witness, our second son Gabriel Lincoln Chow was born at approximately 5:30 am.
He was over two months premature.
Immediately, he was taken by a team and ushered into the NICU. I was allowed to follow them but in my shock I lost all sense of direction – though we went UP one floor from Labor & Delivery on Level 2 to the NICU on Level 3 I swore we went one floor DOWN.
His vitals were taken: 3 lbs, 15 oz. and 16.5 inches long. This seemed healthy and the nurses and technicians assured me he was quite large for his age. His color, breathing, and vocalizations were all good. I reported this news to my wife, who was healthy and in good spirits. Our son, too, was well behaved considering the circumstances.
Gabriel spent his first few days on the main floor of the Intensive ward. He was on a ventilator for a day, a CPAP for a few more, and graduated to a nasal cannula after about a week. Around that time he moved into a smaller room and into an isolette (initially concerned, I soon learned this was a good thing, as preemies have trouble regulating their temperature on their own).
All in all, he was healthy and progressing well. This is not to say he didn’t have his scares; he had a Brady episode while I was holding him. The experience of having your son turn purple in your arms while you are helpless was the scariest moment of my life. Gabriel was born at 32 weeks, so about 98% of children born at this age survive. Of course there’s still that 2%, in addition to the fears that he could have developmental issues. Time will tell, and so we settled in for what the doctors tell us would be about 6 weeks of NICU time…
Over time Gabriel moved over to the Progressive side (which in comparison seemed packed with visitors and activity). He moved off his cannula and breathed on his own; he left his isolette and regulated his own temperature. He screamed as loud as the day he was born when taking baths. Infant CPR classes were attended in the hopes it would never be needed. His parents became more relaxed and less nervous as alarms beeped and monitors chirped. Gabriel went from exclusively tube feeding to gradually taking more and more milk via bottle (and later mom).
Through it all we juggled our work and personal schedules to make sure, if possible, someone would be able to be there for him at each care time every 4 hours. One parent would sneak off from work or wrangle our oldest; afterwards we would report happily on his progress: “He drank all his milk, all 60 ml’s (two whole ounces)!!”
Most of his neighbors grew and left, until finally it was Gabriel’s turn. He left on June 2nd, roughly six weeks as expected. Since then, he has grown to 11 pounds (almost triple his birth weight) and completely abandoned his four hour feeding schedule. Perhaps it’s due to his time in the NICU, but Gabriel is usually calm and relaxed, a marked contrast to his older brother. There are still sleepless nights and blurry days, but he has been a pleasure to be around and care for.
When we tell the story of Gabriel’s birth it will be full of “I didn’t expect this”, of lingering doubts and unspoken fears, but the tale would not complete without a note of thanks to the doctors, nurses, and staff at the NICU that provided parents like us the excellent care, guidance, and encouragement that we sorely needed. While this experience was new to us, to them it was commonplace. They provided the support and guidance we needed at that critical time.
The NICU can be a lonely place; each child has their own problems, each parent lost in their own thoughts. Though we didn’t interact with many parents, their children were our neighbors and our comrades and we wished them the best. The NICU lounge showed smiling veterans, children who were born under less than normal circumstances who were now thriving. It also housed a memorial for those who didn’t make it, who fought the good fight and earned their rest. Because in the end, while the NICU looks like a friendly place, in truth it is a battlefield and our children are fighting for their lives. Most will make it, some will not. As a parent of a child that did make it, I want to say to the staff of the Huntsville Hospital NICU, “From the bottom of my heart, thank you”.[themify_box style=”rounded lavender” ]Each year, more than 1,000 babies from across the Tennessee Valley receive life-saving care in this NICU. The upcoming Miracle Bash on August 7th and Swim for Melissa fundraising events help to make sure that those babies have access to state of the art equipment and supplies.[/themify_box]
Sam Chow was born and raised in the Mississippi Delta. A 5th grade field trip to Space Camp started his lifelong love of technology and engineering. He juggled working in Huntsville while studying for his engineering degree at Mississippi State and moved here full-time in 2001. He and his lovely wife Connie were married in 2006 and currently have a five year old and a nine year old, a dog, and a cat. In his spare time he enjoys training and watching mixed martial arts, watching old foreign films, reading, and video gaming.