early days – part three

It took me 21 hours to come off of the anesthesia and morphine drip and get myself into a wheelchair before meeting our newborn baby boy.

Each time prior to entering the NICU we washed our hands and forearms and donned masks. Calvin’s isolette was a small, clear plastic incubator where he lay hooked up to heart rate, respiratory and oxygen saturation monitors with an IV splint on his hand. He was sleeping through a racket of buzzing alarms. As I peered in I could hardly believe my eyes—I recognized Calvin’s face—it was like mine. I softly said, “hi Calvin” and, for the first time in his life, he opened his eyes as mine filled with tears.

I spent hours studying his tiny body. His nipples were no bigger than grains of sand and his soft translucent skin revealed exquisite, branching veins. Membrane thin fingernails smaller than sesame seeds tipped his slender fingers.

Calvin's first week was spent in the NICU. Surfactant had facilitated his breathing but he remained intubated and on a respirator for several hours. Later, he struggled to bat away continuous positive airway pressure hoses that were stuck uncomfortably up his nostrils. Unable to maintain his body temperature and with an extremely elevated heart rate Calvin was still vulnerable. When I held him his wee body felt limp in my arms and so delicate I feared he might break. With each passing day, though, he improved until he was able to move to the continuing care nursery.

For three and a half weeks Calvin stayed under the care of the neonatologists and nurses in the Portland hospital. Michael and I slept nights at the nearby Ronald McDonald house and, from nearly dawn and into the night, we kept vigil beside Calvin. Countless, painful, tiresome hours I spent pumping breast milk. Without having developed the suckling instinct nursing proved a great effort for Calvin. Further obstacles—low muscle tone and the fact that he was tongue-tied—made latching on difficult.

When Calvin stabilized we were transferred to the maternity ward of our local hospital where we boarded for another three and a half weeks. Here we enlisted in nursing boot camp and we continued the drill; weigh Calvin naked on a sensitive gram scale; nurse him until he fatigued; weigh him again and calculate grams ingested, which was usually only a fraction of the total goal; administer the balance, employing my pumped milk cache, via nasogastric tube; repeat every three or four hours. We were desperate to be released from our incarceration so nights Michael attempted feeding Calvin the bottle. Thankfully, and against great odds, Calvin mastered the art of nursing. I was so proud. After nearly two exhausting, stressful months we were finally free to take our newborn home. It was a day I'll never forget.

photo by Michael Kolster

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