The Worst Night

During my last month of pregnancy, my midwives estimated that the baby I carried was about 7 pounds. But when she was born, she was almost nine pounds – and that was a week before my due date! She was also born with the cord around her neck, and although I’d wanted to have skin-to-skin contact with her immediately after her birth, she was taken away in the next room to be looked over by the nurses. She screamed like a banshee, surprising even the nurses, and calmed only when she heard Marcus’ voice.

Eve was not given to me to nurse until she was at least fifteen minutes old, after I had been stitched up by my midwife. She latched on easily and nursed like a champ. I was instructed to nurse her every two hours for 30 minutes on each breast. She was very jaundiced, which was likely exacerbated by the fact that our blood types do not match, so we were told to supplement with formula as well, and that the formula would help her get rid of the bilirubin much more quickly than my own colostrum would. We were concerned with nipple confusion, so rather than giving her a bottle, we fed her the formula with a syringe.

The day that we thought we were going to be discharged from the hospital, we were told that they weren’t satisfied with Eve’s bilirubin levels and that she would have to be admitted to pediatrics. They said phototherapy would help get it out of her system and that we would possibly get to go home the next day. We were also told that only one parent could stay with her overnight in pediatrics – not both of us.

I started to cry when they told us that we couldn’t go home, and when they wheeled in the cart with the UV lights and made us put her in it, alone and screaming and naked except for her diaper, my heart was broken. They put a mask over her eyes to protect them from the lights, and to my dismay it kept slipping over her mouth and nose. I did not know how to console her; I could barely even touch her. She had only ever known closeness and in that box she was all alone. Even though we had never intended to give her a pacifier – again, due to concerns about nipple confusion – we relented because it was the only thing that seemed to calm her.

[Description: Eve as a newborn, wearing nothing but a diaper, lying beneath ultraviolet lights with a small foam mask covering her eyes.]

What followed was the most hellish night that I have ever had as a parent. Eve was admitted to pediatrics and Marcus went home. I spent the next twelve hours nursing her on one breast for half an hour, nursing her on the other breast for half an hour, topping her off with formula, pumping for twenty minutes to relieve my engorgement, changing her diaper. Then I’d try to sleep for a few minutes. And all the while I kept fixing that damned mask that I was sure would suffocate her. And that was every two hours starting from the beginning of the first nursing session.

This was how that night went:

10:00pm to 10:30pm: Nurse the baby on the right breast.

10:30pm to 11:00pm: Nurse the baby on the left breast.

11:00pm: Give formula.

11:10pm: Pump.

11:30pm: Clean pumping equipment, bottle and label milk for storage.

11:45pm – 12:00am: Get some sleep.

12:00am – 12:30am: Nurse baby on right breast.

12:30am – 1:00am: Nurse baby on left breast.

And so on, for twelve hours. This is not even counting the times that I had to fix her mask which was literally about every five minutes. This was at only 3 days postpartum. By the time Marcus returned the next morning I was dehydrated and ravenous (both detrimental to my milk supply!). The only thing that got me through the night and kept me moving was fear: fear of Eve suffocating beneath that horrible mask, fear of not reducing her bilirubin levels enough, fear of not going home and having to do it all over again.

It was one of the single most horrible nights of my life, a living nightmare, and certainly the worst since she was born. This is the first time that I’ve even been able to look at that picture of her since last August, and it still makes my stomach turn just to think about how powerless and alone I felt and how vulnerable that she was.

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3 Responses to “The Worst Night”

  1. Marcus Says:

    Ugh…

    Y’know the thing that killed me about that night? The fact that I wasn’t ALLOWED to do anything about it. I would have done just snout anything to have sneaked back into the hospital.

    I was REALLY emotional that night (and the morning after, as you know) and thinking back on it, I’m still pissed at all the people who said not to cry, and the people who’d been thru similar experiences with jaundiced babies and tried to reassure me. I know they meant well, but they REALLY used the wrong words (intent! It’s fucking MAGIC!). All that, plus I couldn’t talk to you or anything. I was a mess. If I wasn’t cleaning the apartment the entire time, I would have been crying the entire time (instead of splitting the time between crying and cleaning).

    I just hope we never have to do that EVER again.

  2. Ivy Clinger Says:

    I can totally commiserate with you on this one, I share a very similar story with my twins, only I wasn’t allowed to stay with the one they had to keep. It has been nearly eight years since my experience, I hope you can come to peace with your experience quicker than me.

  3. Shelley Mayfield Says:

    I recently went through a very similar situation. I have a 3 week old and we spent 2 nights at home before we were admitted to med surg for 27 bili level, we spent 3 nights in a hosp. room under those lights. I was a wreck, when he cried and wanted to be held there was nothing I could do, it was heart breaking. People would say, that it would be okay, although all we wanted was to hold him and comfort him, I will never forget how hard it was. I feel for every parent who must put their newborns under lights for many hours or days, it was so tough and there is nothing easy about it! I feel your pain!

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