It hasn’t been that long since our daughter has come home, but a few thoughts penetrate my mind from time to time. The fact that my daughter was a preemie and I wasn’t even prepared, I can’t even put it into words.
I dreamed of having my daughter put on my chest after being born, reveling in her beauty and the fact we made this perfect human being. I dreamed of someone snapping a photo of her on my chest in that moment and forever cherishing it. Somehow its the photo all new moms are ‘supposed’ to have.
I envy the mothers who held their children after they were born. I envy the mothers who have the photo I’ll never ever have in my possession. I envy mothers who had their children next to them during their hospital stay, because they’ll never have to know what it is like to stare at an empty crib. Not that I am not happy for them and their families that they have healthy children, but they are devoid of that feeling and sense of loss.
My first image of my daughter was the doctor raising her up and telling me in Chinese, “It’s a girl.” We had no idea what we were having and that was okay. They whisked her to the corner washed her, measured her and wrapped her up. They showed me her one more time and she was taken to the NICU with my husband in tow so he could do paperwork, while I was getting stitched up.
I cried silently in that room which I laid in alone for two hours after giving birth, while my husband did paperwork for the two of us. Fleeting seconds of seeing my daughter and never having a chance to touch her. I tried my hardest to etch her face into my mind and prayed it would only be a day or two with her absence. That moment in time I felt extremely numb emotionally.
The nurses kept asking if my milk came in and I replied, ‘No.’ I have no baby, of course it will be slower, why are you asking me? Was my only thought. Eventually my milk came in and a kind stranger in a wechat group dropped off her breastpump at the hospital. I gave the staff what I pumped and later learned they never brought it to the NICU. Only the breastmilk I pumped at home ended up going to our daughter.
I had to beg nurses for a picture until they relented and took one. I had two different roommates during my 3 night stay, both of their families asked where the baby was. Obviously not here. The second roommate was the worst, having to listen to her newborn screech all night while the crib next to me lay empty.
We were on a schedule to see our daughter, mondays and thursdays. We went monday to see her because they said we could and we went to the tiny room and she wasn’t there. Just a tablet on a table. ‘Is that her?’ I couldn’t contain my tears and broke down, watching the tablet for a minute or two before I sat in the chair and balled my eyes out. My husband pushed the tablet out of the way and yelled that isn’t seeing our daughter. He went to lunge to grab the doctor by the throat when the doctor said we couldn’t see her, but his mom and my mom restrained him before anything could happen. Honestly, I don’t blame him. We were told we could see her wnd she wasn’t there.
No nurse or doctor told us the first visit would be a video. I thought perhaps I could hold her hand, or just look at her face. My sister, Jess, said she knows I “felt that in my soul” when I was showed the livestream video. She was right that hit hard and I haven’t shaken it, and I’m not sure that feeling will ever leave me.
On thursday, we were told to come see her and this time they showed her to us for a few minutes, but we couldn’t hold her. I took a photo of her, but longed to hold her even though I couldn’t. We asked to take her home, but they still wanted to keep her for observation. On friday, my husband was talking to my mom and we pushed for release on Saturday. It took two hours to discharge her and they were trying to dissuade us.
I’m blessed because my daughter is healthy and her stay was only 9 days. It could have been 3 days, but the doctors just kept saying something was wrong with her stomach and they wanted to observe her, so I relented. I partially blame myself and wish I had just gone with my husband’s idea of taking her home that day and not listening to the doctor. Even when we took her from the NICU 5 days later, we told the doctor we were taking her. They still said she had stomach problems, because she was spitting up after every feed. They said we should bring her to a larger hospital to get her checked out. My daughter rarely spit up after coming home. My assumpition is that they were over feeding her or she didn’t like what she was being fed. There is a lot of guilt associated with that knowledge. She spits up now from time to time, but not much and most babies do, so I can’t help but ponder was she there for no reason after the 3rd day?
I think I’ll always be sensitive to mothers with pictures of their child on their chest. I’ll always wonder what I missed during those nine days. How much did she grow? Did she sleep okay? Were her cries answered right away? Was she loved and comforted often enough? Did she know she was alone? Did the IVs hurt? Did it hurt passing gas? Did the tubes hurt the first few days? Was she warm enough? Will it have any impact on her mentally? Did she recognize me when she finally came into my arms?
I have so many questions and I’ll never have answers to them. I’m full of regret that I couldn’t be by her side during the first 9 days of her life, and that pain stings. I’ll never be able to make those nine days up to her. The thought alone kills me, but I have to move forward and I am doing that everyday.
There are times when I am sad and I know it is probably from my birth and NICU experience. It may never pass and I may always be extra sensitive around her birthday, just as my sister is. My hope is that no one I know has to experience the same thing as me, and that they only have a healthy baby and a good birthing experience. But if I am sad or bothered it has nothing to do with you or your child, but it has everything to do with the birth experience of me and my child.
My NICU experience in China isn’t really unique based on what I’ve read in baby wechat groups here for foreigners. Some ask, why didn’t I go home to give birth? I had planned on a normal birth and thought it would be fine. Why would I spend time inquiring about NICU experiences when I didn’t expect to have a preemie? Life has never gone as planned for me and sometimes I feel like whatever is ”considered semi-normal’ just isn’t meant for me. It’s always got to be different or difficult as if its a test of my character and strength. I’m tired of being told I’m mentally and physically strong, I struggle too. I’m not that strong, I just know what needs to be done and what can’t be changed while addressing my emotions.
In the end, I’m not sure why I am sharing this, it isn’t to help anyone. It isn’t even for anyone to pity me. I guess I wrote it to relieve some of the pressure I feel inside my heart.