Daddy Diary: The most difficult three days of our lives

(Note: Other than the delivery time/date, some of the dates/times may be messed up. I think you’ll excuse me after reading what was going on.)

Shannon gave birth to our beautiful girls – Alexandra Faye Rose and Norah Vivienne – at 11:34 p.m. on Thursday, 4/16/09.

They were born at 34 weeks and change, and like all preemies, went immediately to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

Thursday morning, everything seemed OK at first. The girls needed nasal cannulas (those tubes that go under the nose) for additional oxygen, but appeared fine.

Preemies need to be successfully breathing on their own before trying to feed, so they had IVs giving them their nutrients.

As Thursday went on, both girls were struggling with their breathing and were intubated (put on ventilators which did their breathing for them). Although this sounds – and is – pretty scary, we were told that this was pretty standard for preemies with respiratory distress (a common problem with preemies).

So we tried to get to sleep Thursday night with the knowledge that our girls had machines doing their breathing for them, in the hopes that they would be able to relax and heal and grow while the machines did their work.

The girls did OK, seemingly, on Friday.

At 4:30 a.m. on Saturday, we were awakened by a kindly, soft-spoken doctor telling us that Norah was not doing well at all and needed to be transported to another local hospital. At this other, more established NICU, they would administer nitric oxide gas treatment (along with the oxygen) to open up the stuff in the lungs that hadn’t unclenched because of her premature birth.

[Sidebar: Watching an episode of “House” as I type this. Interestingly, it involves a father trying to decide if his son should have surgery that could improve his life dramatically – but the surgery is removal of half his brain. As a new parent with two kids dealing with major health issues, this sure hits me where I’m living.)

So Norah was brought to us by the transport team before going on to the other NICU. We got to see her for a few minutes, then she was off. Needless to say, sleep was impossible after that.

There we were – Shannon recovering from her C-section with a painful incision, one daughter on a ventilator a few hallways away, the other 10 miles away on a ventilator with special gases being pumped into her. Not exactly the rosy picture of post-partum life we hoped for.

Saturday morning, I went with my mother-in-law to see Norah at NICU 2. We had to scrub up (wash your hands up to the elbows, then use sanitizer up to the elbows, then put on a gown and gloves. (And we weren’t even going to touch Norah.)

The NICU nurses were amazing. Constantly doing stuff to Norah – checking blood, running tests, it was a non-stop job.

After our visit to see Norah, we went back to be with Shannon and to see Alexandra. Shannon was – all we all were – incredibly upset, scared and living on pins and needles. But as the new mommy, Shannon got the worst of it. She (wrongly) felt guilty and thought she had done something wrong – even though every single person (medical personnel and family) told her she hadn’t. She completely quit caffeine and artifical sweeteners, never drank or smoked, ate the best she could, took her prenatal vitamins and saw the best doctors.

My mom flew in mid-day Saturday, and my sister-in-law and mom-in-law went to pick her up at the airport. When they got to the hospital, we all went to see Alexandra at NICU 1. Later that afternoon, we met up with my dad-in-law and bro-in-law, and we all headed over to see Norah at NICU 2.

The reports on the girls were “stable” – which has become our favorite word. Stable pretty much means “not bad and no worse,” and that’s all we were looking for at that point.

The gang went to dinner while I had the “celebratory dinner” with Shannon that they give to new moms before they’re discharged. Steak, lobster and “the best chocolate cake you’ve ever had.” Not to offend, but only the steak was halfway decent. The cake? Not even in the top 10.

Obviously, it wasn’t much of a celebration for us, although we did start to get slightly positive reports on each baby.

Saturday night, we got a little bit more sleep…until 6:30 a.m. Sunday, when my cell phone rang loudly. As the primary contact person, NICU 2 was to call me with any less than good news – so I picked up the phone with my own heart racing as fast as it could.

Luckily, it was just the night-shift doctor, wanting to update me on Norah’s condition – which was stable. Again, hard to fall asleep after a scare like that.

Shannon and I visited Alexandra after a lousy breakfast (great care, lousy food) and got another slightly positive report. The moms and sis-in-law showed up, then after a mediocre lunch we saw Alexandra again and Shannon got her discharge from the hospital.

We immediately took her to the NICU 2 hospital, where we went to see Norah. Shannon felt so good to see her (first time since Friday at 4:30 a.m.), and was thrilled to see the progress she was making. We each felt a huge weight lifting off our shoulders, as every few hours we seemed to be getting little bits of good news.

Each girl was slowly slowly slowly being weaned off the various medications and equipment, and as of midnight Sunday (going into Monday) each of our daughters was showing continuous slight improvements.

As happy as we are that the girls are doing better, this experience has been the most gut-wrenching time of our lives. Shannon still hasn’t had the chance to hold either of our daughters in her arms, and that breaks my heart. (I got to hold each of them briefly after delivery.)

All we can hope for is continued slow improvements, and that some day soon, we’ll have both of our girls healthy and at home with us.

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