Since writing Ryley’s story the other day, I am once again haunted by those first five days he spent without me by his side. I have pushed those days from my heart for so long, but since putting it to paper and allowing myself to remember what those days felt like, I cannot seem to put them from my mind. It’s not that I forget them, make myself forget them, or never talk about them – they are part of his story as much as the rest of it. But it is a rare moment indeed when I let myself recall how those days felt.
I saw Ryley for maybe ten minutes right before he was transported to the hospital. Those minutes were a blur of status given by the doctor attending, reassurance by the nurse going with him, plans for the next day or so, expectations we could have. I remember letting all their words flow into my brain without really grasping onto them. I was watching my son, and I think I was still lost in the world of “what the heck is happening and how do I stop it” to really hear them. And then, too soon, the incubator holding Ryley was rolled into the ambulance, and he was gone. Gone……..not with me….not near me……not within reach.
Michael took me back to my room. I felt so empty. The baby I had tried so hard to keep inside was away. No more kicks, no more rolls, no more monitoring so no more heartbeat on the monitor…just a quiet room in a hallway full of postpartum women. I could hear their babies crying throughout the night. It broke my heart. Yes, my son was alive and apparently holding his own, but I was not holding him. I could not hear him cry (well, I couldn’t have heard him cry even if I were with him as he was intubated and babies can’t cry with tubes down their throat). I had two polaroids of Ryley, and I had the hospital-grade breast pump – neither of which were very friendly companions.
The day after Ryley’s birth, Michael bought a video camera on his way back to the hospitals from taking care of our dogs. He went and saw Ryley first. He got to hold him. And he took video and brought it to me. I remember staring at that 2 x 2 inch screen, watching Ryley, watching Michael hold Ryley. The tears poured down my face. I am honest enough now to admit I was jealous of Michael – he got to see Ryley. He got to hold him first. He knew what the NICU was like. He got to talk firsthand to Ryley’s nurses and doctor. I was stuck in my hospital room a ten-minute drive away. I was so caught up in what was happening with him and pumping for him, and in the all-encompassing need to be with him that I completely negated what was happening with me. I had a staph infection. I had the kind of staph infection that can kill you if not caught and treated properly and in time. I felt fine. I no longer had a fever. I no longer had pain. But it was there. And it took them two more days to figure out how they were going to treat it long term, and another two days after that to figure out how they were going to treat me. I had a long-term IV put in my right arm so I could administer the antibiotics to myself three times a day, every day, for four weeks. For awhile, they thought I was going to have to stay in that hospital for the entire four weeks of treatment. Then they thought maybe they could move me to Ryley’s hospital where I would be treated and would be able to go see him. Then they finally decided that I could go home, give myself the medication, and have a home health nurse come out once a week to check on me and the line/site.
Those days dragged. I was practically twitching I wanted out of there so much. I NEEDED to be with my son. I needed to see him in person. I needed to know firsthand what was happening with him. I was ready every day from Monday (Ryley was born on a Saturday) on to get released. Every day was a disappointment. Finally, late Thursday morning, they said I could go home that day. I called Michael and told him to get there asap before they changed their minds. We packed everything up (after being there for three full weeks, I had accumulated quite of a bit of stuff) and we bolted. He took me straight to the NICU and I saw Ryley, held Ryley.
I can never get those five days back. I agonize over them. Does he somehow subconsciously know I wasn’t with him? His own mother was not the first person to hold him. His mother was not even with him for five of the worst days of his life. The voice he had heard in utero for six months was missing. I wasn’t there to comfort him, or ease his pain in any way. I hate the thought of him being there alone. While the entire time he was in the NICU was a struggle and difficult and tortuous, I hate those five days more than anything. I cannot change it, cannot get them back, and will forever be haunted by the memory of them.