Saturday you were one month old. You nestled against me, one arm thrown companionably over my right breast, your feet pressing into my hand. When I spoke, your irises rolled toward the top of your head, looking for the source of my voice. Though I wish you were still safe inside me instead of running with the NICU’s fast crowd—digesting milk and developing a fondness for benzodiazepenes while your contemporaries bob lazily in their amniotic cocktail—part of me feels lucky to have these extra months with you. I would willingly give them up to ensure your health, but as that has not been presented to me as an option, I might as well enjoy this stolen time with my daughter of the softly furred shoulders.
On Thursday, my little gosling, the honking of your air leak had grown impossible to ignore, and your too-small breathing tube was removed. It was determined that as long as it was out, you ought to be given a chance to breathe without the ventilator, via CPAP. A hat was pulled onto your head and the attached straps used to secure a piece of tubing, a pair of prongs pressed into your nostrils, like so:
You were horrified. First we take a TUBE out of your THROAT, and then we strap some contraption into your NOSE? No. NO. Absolutely, a thousand times, NO.
You raised your hands and used them to push desperately at the tubing, all the while screwing your face into an expression of fury. More importantly, you clamped down with your chest, refusing to breathe and fighting every artificial breath the machine attempted to give you. Your oxygen saturation dropped, and then dropped lower still. Your nurse called for the practitioner and there was much sighing and headshaking by the respiratory therapist. You weren’t doing well, she said—snottily, I thought, fighting both my tears and an urge to force plastic tubes up her nostrils to see how she liked it. “Not doing well” was a phrase I had heard applied to you before, but this time it meant not that you were ill, but that you were failing, and I took exception.
It has been a long month for the both of us. I am nearly thirty years old, and there are nights when the unfairness of it all makes me want to lie on the floor and scream; at only thirty weeks, I thought you could be forgiven a fit of pique. While the nurses prepared for reintubation, I moved to the other side of the isolette and put my hands through the portholes to cup your head and feet. You were calming down, now, and taking a few breaths. I told you what a good job you were doing, in the same soothing voice I plan to use someday when helping you through things more complicated than breathing, things like bicycle riding and unrequited love. You began to breathe, breathe, breathe, and stop….and then breathe, breathe, breathe, and stop.
“You have to keep doing it,” I said, rubbing your feet to remind you.
Breathe, breathe, breathe, and stop…I massaged your toes, and could feel you thinking What, the lungs-in-and-out thing? I just DID that.
How exhausting it must seem: in and out, in and out, FOREVER. By now you were keeping your oxygen saturation in the low 80s, but it wasn’t enough, and the nurse practitioner disconnected the CPAP and pulled you from the isolette. She tipped your head back and swiftly slid a tube down your throat, larger this time to correct the air leak.
Back on the ventilator and doped up on Ativan and paralytics, your eyes drifted open. My good, sweet baby.
I promise you, it will get easier. All of this will get easier. It seems impossible, but someday your breath will be effortless, unnoticed. Someday we’ll both take it for granted. Until then, though, I will be right here, applauding your efforts and wishing I could do this for you. I suspect this is only the first in a long line of similar wishes.