I was his mother.
That’s all I could think as my postpartum journey continued in the hospital. I had been escorted from the labour ward with John and the baby to go to the patient ward until my discharge. At the door, the nurse notified us that this is where John would be saying his good bye. We glanced at each other; my eyes probably hopeless as a feeling of loneliness overcame me once again. But I had Liam to focus on now so I kissed John good bye and faced a brave face towards what would be my hotel room for the next two days.
The ward was gloomy. Or maybe I thought so because it was anywhere but home. I settled into my area and greeted my neighbours, before I decided I’d take a little nap. As I lay in bed, I noticed every mother was nursing their baby. I glanced over at Liam sleeping in his little cot. I wondered if he had fed and if I should try nursing for the first time. But I didn’t want to wake him. I stared at him, willing him to move so that I could have an excuse to nurse him. Almost as if in response, his little body started wriggling under his sheet. I was anxious, nervous but eager to start my bonding process and have my baby suckling from my breast.
After watching him wiggle for a few minutes more, I leaned over the cot to observe his actions. That’s when I noticed there was something wrong. I froze momentarily, not sure what to do, before I reached gingerly into the cot and lifted him out. He was gasping for air as green bile ran down the side of his face from his mouth. As he swallowed desperately in an attempt to catch his breath, I tried to remain calm and patted him on his back trying to help him.
I wasn’t helping.
Inside, I was freaking out and expected I’d have to be catching my breath too, as my hear rate began to increase. However, trying not to raise alarm, I calmly made my way to the nurse’s station. “Something’s wrong with him.” My voice sounded calm and collected as I voiced the words, but my face must have given away my true feelings because one of the nurses sprang in to action, whisking him away from me and turning him, elevated on a side and firmly knocked on his back. His eyes were open and alert now as he still struggled to slow down his breathing. Clearly my attempt at a poker face was failing miserably because she looks at me and says, “Don’t worry, he’s going to be alright.” They call a doctor and then all there is to do is wait. I go back to my bed as the nurse tends to Liam, and it takes everything out of me to fight back the tears. Not tears of fright, but tears of helplessness. I felt like my baby had only been in the world for five hours and I had already experienced what it felt for a mother to not be able to help her child in a time of need. If there was ever a such a thing as a disastrous bonding experience, this was it. The fact that I hadn’t been able to nurse him, while the mother opposite me nursed her little bundle for the fourth time since I had arrived, simply added to my despair.
Eventually the doctor came and did a mini examination which ran into visiting hours where my mother and two best friends showed up. She deduced that he may have fluid in his lungs from his delivery but she’d have to take him down to NICU to run more tests. Although I didn’t know to what degree the doctor was concerned, my heart sank. However, I felt confident that he would be on constant monitoring and was glad I had noticed his difficulties sooner rather than later.
Over the course of the next day or so, I spent most of my time in the NICU. Liam only spent one day in an incubator, thankfully. When I first saw him small and fragile in this little plastic cage, the flood gates flew open. He looked so helpless with the tubes and machines hooked up around him and I wanted nothing more than to snatch him up and hold him close to me and run away. But I knew he would be safer here; my only consolation. When I wasn’t in the NICU, I was crying myself to sleep at night. Not for Liam, but for the other babies. Hearing them cry throughout the night broke my heart. I was mourning the fact that I didn’t have my crying baby next to me and the wails of the babies around me throughout the night was more than I could bear. As time went on, Liam improved. An xray of his chest showed that he had some air which may have been causing some discomfort, but he was no longer in his plastic cage. I still hadn’t been able to nurse him because his jaws were too weak to latch, due to him being preterm so I had been feeding him (formula, much to my disapproval) from the rim of a feeding bottle. It was good to see, however, that he seemed to have a good appetite. Well, when he wasn’t sleeping that is.
Which was 95% of the time.
Eventually, I received my discharge and with Liam doing better, I had hoped he would receive his too. I had been brave through everything, besides the odd sobfest here and there but I couldn’t imagine going home and leaving Liam there. I would soon learn that I wouldn’t have to imagine it because it would become a reality. They weren’t ready for Liam to leave because they were waiting on test results so I left the hospital that day empty-handed and heavy-hearted. Once home, I didn’t really know what to do with myself. This wasn’t exactly how I’d picture I would spend my first day back home. I spent a lot of time trying to get some rest, to no avail as I was constantly anxious. Liam, gratefully, received his discharge the following day which I learnt during my visit to feed him. I was overjoyed. No, estatic. No, euphoric. Yes, euphoria is how I would describe the emotion I felt when the doctor told me he had been discharged. I was taking home my baby. I was still somewhat concerned about his health, having seen and heard one too many horror stories about babies leaving the hospital with a clean bill of health and then going home only to combat a plethora of issues. But I had faith that Liam would not become a statistic.
Because I was his mother.