By: Heather Somaini
I have to say that our overall experience at Cedars Sinai was excellent. But it wasn’t without its odd situations. Remember the anesthesiologist who thought every gay man in our room was the father?
Well in the NICU, they were generally confused by me. They would ask who I was since I was clearly not the mother who had just given birth to twins. I would say “Oh, I’m the other mother,” which always threw them off. But I was never sure what else to say. How do you succinctly and clearly explain that your newborn babies have two moms when that’s the last thing on your mind? That was the problem. I was always thinking about what needed to be done or what was happening with the twins or Tere and never really thinking about how confusing our family structure was to people who usually only deal with moms and dads. So I would say the easiest, shortest thing that came to mind, which didn’t always clear up the situation.
The woman at the front desk got used to me very quickly so that was no big deal. But the nurses in the NICU rotate every twelve hours, so depending on what time I was in there, a new nurse could be waiting for me. All I wanted was to sit with Free and hold him; I didn’t want to have to explain who I was every time I met someone new. But that’s what I did.
I really think how we handle these situations is so telling about who we are and where we want to be. Our family structure just wasn’t something I was thinking about that much right then. I felt as normal as normal could be. Maybe if our pregnancy had been routine and the birth very average and the babies were totally healthy, I could have been worried about how people perceived us. But I just couldn’t with everything else going on. I’m happy that my brain was otherwise occupied for more pressing matters.
One day in the NICU, I was sitting and holding Free in the rocking chair next to his station. I couldn’t move him far because all the monitors kept him attached to that area. The attending doctor that day was an older gentleman who clearly knew his stuff. He went from baby to baby knocking out all the things that needed to be done and was clearly insightful about how to handle each situation. When he got to Free, he read through the chart and asked the nurse why they were running some blood test on Free when his mother’s blood type was not O+ (Tere is A+). Since I overheard the conversation and wanted to be helpful, I simply said “Because I’m O+”. He looked at me and said “And who are you?” in a short, curt voice. The nurse stepped in between me and the doctor and turned her back to me. I smirked, realizing what she was about to do. There was a good bit of discussion in hushed voices with the doctor moving his head sideways to take a look at me once or twice. When it was all over and the nurse had clearly explained that Free had two moms and that we had used my eggs with an anonymous sperm donor but Tere had carried, the doctor sort of shook his head just a tiny bit almost like he was trying to get all the marbles to settle in but then went about his work, business as usual. Just the way it should be.
By this time, Free was also struggling to eat. He would take a bottle on one feeding but worked so hard to get it all in that he was exhausted and refused to wake and eat for his next feeding. They inserted a feeding tube through his nose and down into his stomach. They were trying to get as many calories in that little boy as possible. Holding him was challenging but once I sat down in the rocking chair with him, I never wanted to leave. I think I took a number of naps with him there in my arms.
March 11th, 9:00am
We were rolling with the punches, realizing that Free was going to be fine with a little help from the NICU doctors even though no one knew when he would be ready to go home. I arrived to the hospital again with coffee in hand, ready to take on the day’s challenges. When I walked into the room Tere said “They’ve got Izzy for an x-ray. She’s stopped eating. You have to go be with her.”
My head nearly exploded…not Izzy too.
By: Heather Somaini
March 9th – 10:00a
“They took Free to the NICU at midnight.”
I stood there staring at Tere. My “second day parent” high crashed to the ground. I must have misunderstood her, right? Why would they take Free to the NICU? That was for super small and sick babies. Free was just under 6 lbs. and had been fine when I left the night before.
“What? Why?” I asked. My heart was racing. My head was spinning. I was running through every scenario, every possibility in my head desperately trying to figure out what needed to happen next. Tere told me that Free’s breathing had gotten steadily worse in the night and they admitted him into the NICU so they could give him oxygen.
It made sense but I was in shock. How could I have slept so soundly while all this was going on? Why wasn’t I there when my family needed me? Why didn’t Tere call me??? In the five seconds all of that ran through my mind, Tere said I should go to the NICU and check in on Free. Of course!
“Where is it?” I was sort of overwhelmed and completely freaked out that they had taken our son some place and neither of us even knew where it was! I took the elevator upstairs and saw the woman at the desk. I signed in, got a badge, and she escorted me into the NICU. “Escorted me into the NICU” – it sounds so orderly and normal but to be truthful, it was the longest, hardest, most heart-wrenching walk I’ve ever taken. The walls are lined with photos and stories of babies that came to the NICU in devastatingly bad condition – some as small as one pound. They are ultimately success stories which are incredibly powerful and uplifting.
But the other side of it is what fills your head during that long walk. No parent wants to think that their brand new baby is now in this category of sick. No parent wants to think that their brand new baby needs this much help just to survive. No parent wants to think that their brand new baby isn’t like everyone else and able to go home.
I had to wash my hands for what felt like an extraordinary amount of time, an eternity. The whole place felt foreign to me. Scary in fact. I knew when we went through the doors I would see things that I wasn’t sure I wanted to see. We entered Bay 1 – almost every baby admitted to the NICU is placed in Bay 1. It’s where the babies most in need go. As they get progressively stronger and healthier, they advance to Bay 2, then Bay 3, all the way to Bay 6 and then they’re out – sent home to be like everyone else.
But Bay 1 is sort of intense. It’s deathly quiet with monitors beeping and nurses and doctors going about their work with an efficiency that is hard to explain. I was a stranger in this new world, not sure of my surroundings and wobbly on my feet. I walked past baby after baby on my way to Free. Some of them were very ill but all sick and fighting for their lives. I tried not to look but I couldn’t help myself. It all seemed so sad.
I finally got to Free, sleeping soundly with a few tubes sticking out of him. He was on oxygen alright. He was bundled up tight. My precious little boy asleep in this new place. Everything was taking a little getting used to in my new world and I had only been a parent for a day and a half. I was terrified of what tomorrow would bring.