At 3am starting day two, I woke up and heard a baby crying in the next room. I would do anything in the world to have had my son crying in my room with me. I walked down to the NICU to see Carter, tears running down my face… tears of worry, sadness, and pain. Another mom was walking out of the NICU, tears down her face. I'll never forget locking eyes with her. We didn't need to say anything to each other at that moment. We knew how each other was feeling, and you could see the pain in her eyes. I'm sure she did in mine. It was a moment of understanding and the moment I realized I wasn't alone.
I sat next to Carter staring at him and just sobbed. I didn't know if I'd ever stop crying that night. Dan brought a couple of baby books from the house the day before. I read him his first book, "Said the Kitty to the Cat". I sang to him, the same song I sang when he was in my belly, You are My Sunshine, My Only Sunshine. The nurse touched my back and said, "I hope you realize he knows your voice". He responded with movements when he heard me. That was the first time I had smiled in days.
I couldn't stop thinking about the millions of questions running through my head that night. No one had really told us about the "NICU journey". How often do I come see him? Am I a bad mom if I am not by his side? How will I manage work, grad school, personal life, and coming to see our son? Do I take maternity leave now or do I wait until he comes home? The questions didn't stop. I began Googling all of my questions. No one prepared me for the NICU journey we were embarking on; we were lost from the moment we walked in the door. The NICU nurse that night was one of his nurses the night before. She was amazing. She loved to educate and only did so when I asked. That night she sat next to me and told me everything she could about the equipment I was seeing, the noises I was hearing, and what she was doing to take care of Carter. We were in an incredible NICU so I was surprised we didn't receive any resources going into the NICU the day before. The nurses and doctors always answered any and all questions, but I didn't know where to turn when I wasn't physically there.
Dan and I went back to see him mid-morning. Carter was getting his first blood transfusion. Overall the doctors and nurses had been impressed with Carter's state and the fight he was putting up. He definitely let them know when he was done dealing with something, and I expected nothing less. Dan and I each put a hand in the incubator. He held Dan's finger while I gave him breast milk. Carter perked up immediately. He loved being showered with love, and I loved showing him how much he's loved. When our hands weren't in there with him, he was constantly trying to move the wires and tubes and remove the eye covering with his hands. Since he had more strength than they expected for his size, it kept the nurses on their toes all the time, and they'd have to make special adjustments to try and secure everything a bit more. I enjoyed watching him move the eye coverings off and try to push things off of him. It showed his strength and made me smile - he was a feisty one.
We stopped by the labor and delivery floor to see all of the nurses who had cared for us before and during Carter's birth. They had been visiting Carter in the NICU and me in the postpartum room. They loved him so much, and we felt their love for us too. Our doctor then showed up to check in on us. She's not only an amazing doctor, but an incredible person. Every time I saw her I cried and she did the same when she saw us. The nurses and doctors had gone through every step of this journey so far with us. It had been the worst moments of our lives, and they were there in it with us. We will never be able to thank them enough.
That afternoon, it was time for me to be discharged. I had been dreading that moment. We had to leave the hospital without Carter. That is not how this should be. I knew he was in the best place possible, but how did we leave the hospital without our son? How do you go home to an empty house after giving birth and not being pregnant any longer? You don't read about this in the baby books. No one prepares you. We walked down the hall. I could hear a crying baby, and there we were with no baby, no cry, no smile, just our stuff and tears. I felt numb and empty.