Thursday, December 29, 2011

Stranger In A Strange World

Ella's nurse, Dora, trying to get a Christmas picture for us.
That's her thumb in the lower left corner!

A better look at her Christmas outfit, with Dora
holding and me behind the camera.

Ella today, with bright eyes and pretty jammies.

My daughter, who is now at a gestational age of 34 weeks and 3 days, or 10 days old, is handling things much better than I. In fact, Ella hasn't met a challenge she couldn't overcome. She is now 3lbs 9.6oz, which is almost 5oz past her birth weight. In just over a week, that's a lot. I am thrilled by her progress. Every day it seems that she has developed more; her eyelashes came in, her cheeks are filling out, her forehead wrinkles, her thighs are no longer stick thin. She is literally growing before our eyes! Because she would be sleeping and fattening up if she were still in utero, it is important to stick as closely to that environment as possible. In order to do this, she spends roughly 22 hours of her day in a heated, clear, plastic box, sleeping on what looks a bit like a nest. It's a pad with the head slightly elevated and this nice little bumper around her, holding her snugly in place, somewhat like when she was in my belly. She has a tiny little tube, called a nasogastric or NG tube, inserted in her nose that goes into her stomach. This is how she is fed every three hours, except for once a day when we give her a bottle. When she is able to finish a bottle without any difficulty, we will go to two, then three bottle feedings per day. Once she masters the three bottles, we will attempt nursing. Everything is very carefully planned out by the pediatrician and nurses in the NICU. I learn something new every day. I get to go to the hospital each day at 11am and 5pm to hold her for about an hour during her meal time. These are the few moments for which I live, just to breathe her in and touch her tiny hands.
It's the rest of my 22 hours that are a struggle. I'm about to be brutally honest, because I'm hoping that to get it on record might be therapeutic, but also in case anyone has a similar experience. Ella was taken by c-section. The correct terminology is "delivered" but it truly feels like she was taken. In my head, I know it was medically necessary and the best thing for both of us. My heart isn't completely on board. In the short time since she was born, I have lost my baby bump, almost completely. This may sound like a good thing, because what is the big goal for most moms with new babies? Losing the baby weight! Under normal circumstances, you would not hear me complain. Somehow it feels wrong, though, to not even look like I had a baby, to bear almost no physical evidence of her. On the under side of my wrist, where the I.V. was secured with tape, there is still a dark smudge of adhesive. I started to scrub it off, but it again feels like erasing signs of my experience. I am planning to nurse, and thankfully, I am having no problem in that area. I have to pump several times a day, then take the milk to the NICU for Ella's feedings. It's not normal to get up late at night to feed a pump. I do it for her. I'm thankful to do it. It's just that none of this feels normal.
I don't feel normal. I'm missing something. I have this really large hole in my heart, that can only begin to heal when I get my girl home. I'm not saying I cry all the time, although on days 7 and 8, I cried several times, without any real prompting. My husband was very understanding, stopped asking if I was OK and just hugged me. I awoke yesterday and felt much better. Then half way through the day, I felt guilty for feeling better. It doesn't make sense, but it was how I felt. My mother, my husband, my pastor's wife, even my doctor, have all told me that to cry is normal. That in our current situation, having gone through what we have, it would be more concerning if I was unaffected. That gives me momentary comfort. My crying is apparently the only normal thing about this situation. It isn't normal for a baby to breathe air at 33 weeks. It isn't normal for her to be in a little box instead of safely inside me. It isn't normal for her to be safer in that box than she was inside me. I am so very thankful that she's doing well, that we live in a place with such a wonderful hospital, that they were fully equipped to care for both of us. I don't want to sound depressed or ungrateful. I just feel so strange. I think that it's good, though, to feel strange. I think that when one's missing a child, strange is normal. And I think that the world will seem strange to me until I can hold her for more than an hour, and kiss her face, and hug her to my breast, and sing her to sleep.
I have stood on my faith in God and His unfailing love from the first day of this adventure. Though now, more than ever, I am falling on His grace and finding peace in His arms, until I feel less strange.