It is hard to believe that July 21st will mark the two year anniversary of our daughters' release from the NICU. She came into this world on April 9th that year at a whopping 1 pound 11 ounces and changed our lives forever.
I was reading through some old notes/letters that I wrote during our daughter's (Hazel's) 107 day stay in the NICU and stumbled across one that I think captures my growth as a NICU dad.
July 2, 2011
Today marks day 84 in the NICU and although we have a ways to go yet, there is starting to be some early talks about what we can expect when we get to take you home.
Yesterday was Canada Day (July 1st) and mom and I were just blown away that the time has flown by so quickly. Don't get me wrong, it has been in many ways the longest three months of our lives BUT, they have been totally worth it.
This last week has been amazing for you. You got off your CPAP machine for good. You got out of your isolette and were put in a basinet and you were transferred from level three to level two. Level three is for the sickest of the sick babies, level two is a place for babies to grow bigger and stronger.
You are learning to feed on your own and you have made us proud. Apparently, preemies quite often have difficulties with feeding because they have had tubes and other things in their mouths for so long. You have been a rockstar, by your third try you have figured it out. Last night you took 23 mls of milk on your own, that is like half of a feed! Big girl? Yup!
I am sure that if you are reading this as an adult you are rolling your eyes or thinking, 'Dad, why did you think I would want to know all of this?' My answer to that? Too bad! I am doing the typing, I get to set the topic. Actually, I just wanted you to know how far you have come in so short a time.
One month ago you were on a ventilator and today you are at 40cc's of lowflow air breathing on your own. (That is like 27% oxygen). Almost there! Keep fighting!
I look back at that piece of writing and it shows an amazing amount of growth as a parent. I read the words ventilator, three month hospital stay, you drank 23mL of milk, almost off your oxygen and think, wow. How would I have responded if someone had told me this would be what the first three months of parenthood would be like. To be honest I think I would have puked out of fear.
It amazes me what people can do when they are really up against it. I believe there are two choices in such situations, sit back and be passive and let the chips fall as they may, or learn, fight, grow and hang on with all your might. Those doe-eyed parents who walked into the NICU hours after their daughter was born were quickly replaced by people who asked plenty of questions and learned everything they could about extreme prematurity.
We became hardened. Like many level three parents, we witnessed things that our child and others sadly should never have to go through. Some of these experiences left deep scars on our hearts and minds. Prior to our trip to the NICU I had no clue such places exist.
Through the ups and downs we learned so much about life and the power of love and prayer. Hazel's NICU journey changed us forever.
When you are in the thick of it you sometimes think it will never end and you will be on that ward for EVER. The walls, they close in. Then talk of home filters into morning rounds and you get excited yet scared. Excited because you know that you will soon leave the intensity that is the NICU. Scared because you know, this is it, it will all be up to you. Factor in home oxygen or other treatments for you child and wow.
Our daughter is now 2 and has grown so much. She was sick with Roseola this week and when her fever was still really high on day three we took her to the paediatrician to make sure she wasn't suffering from an ear infection or something like that. It was more a precautionary trip than anything. The paediatrician is an amazing man and he has walked us through life after the NICU. He was proud we waited three days and was impressed with how we had really thought things through trying to pinpoint the source of Hazel's illness prior to coming in.
After the visit and diagnosis of Roseola, we loaded Hazel in the car and prepared to take her home for a nap. My wife made a statement at this point that sums everything up. She said to me, 'so that's what a normal trip to the paediatrician is like'. Normal. It is such a loaded word but a word that at times neither of us felt we'd ever hear. It sounded so sweet.
Being the parent of a micro-preemie has shown me that nothing is impossible. At times it has pushed my wife and I to our physical and emotional limit. We will always be grateful for the gift that is our daughter. We both remain forever grateful to the NICU and what it has provided for our family. I think it's important now to live our lives and look forward. The NICU, as important as it was in our lives is now clearly in the rear view mirror.