It was not supposed to be like this, I thought to myself as I entered the three story cement underground car park. This pregnancy was supposed to be OK. Emily had been slightly early, but Alexandra had come into this world without a hitch. I had even given away my preemie clothes.
There were no spaces in the dimly lit car park — not unusual at this time in the morning when the staff was changing over. I spotted a heavy set dark haired woman in a blue uniform, probably a nurse just getting off her shift. She pointed to a small red Honda ahead and I raised my hand in thanks, though I didn’t feel thankful.
All I had felt since last Tuesday was a heavy shadow following me that wouldn’t go away no matter how hard I tried, like the time I had impulsively taken a pair of ruby red Barbie shoes from my best friend when I was eight. I knew it was wrong, and when my mother found out, she grabbed my hand and marched me next door and made me apologise in front of my friend and her mother.
I pulled into the spot and started to get out of the car, then remembered the blanket and turned round to get it. Head down, I made my way to the lift on autopilot.
“Sorry,” the words popped out without thinking. In my haste I had nearly ran into a heavily pregnant woman on my mission. “I didn’t see you,” I said trying not to stare at her tummy, which looked as if a basket ball were neatly tucked beneath.
“No worries,” she said, putting a hand on her bump, the annoying way that heavily pregnant woman do. She was wearing a brightly coloured cotton floral “Stage 3” dress from the Gap. I had seen the same one on the web, and had ordered it, thinking it would look nice for Easter. It was still hanging in the closet, tags on.
We both got into the lift and I pressed the button for the 2nd floor, which housed the baby ward. On the left was the wing for mothers who had their babies tucked neatly next to them in a cot or suckling on their breast, I could just see their husbands coming to take the new family home, hands full of flower arrangements and a pink mylar ballon imprinted with “It’s a girl, while the mother eagerly waited with the infant in a cute outfit she had received as a gift from a baby shower. On the right was the NICU.
“Are you visiting a newborn?” the heavily pregnant woman asked brightly. “That’s a cute blanket,” she carried on without wanting an answer making polite conversation, her eyes on the bundle in my hands, “Handmade, is it?”
I stared at her blankly, then I remembered what I was holding. “Yes, my mother made it for my daughter.”
“You’re so lucky,” the pregnant woman droned, her hand still protective on her bump. “My mother can’t knit. I wish she could, those handknit blankets are so expensive…”
Thankfully the lift stopped and I nodded goodbye and walked the 10 steps to the entrance of the Neo Intensive Care Unit. I stopped to read the memo on the door, though I had read it every day the past week.
The Center for Disease Control has informed us that RSV season has officially started. Visitors to the NICU will be limited to immediate family only.
RSV, I have learned, is a particularly brutal virus. It is also very common. Though its symptoms are similar to a common cold, it is more serious for premature infants, starting as a runny nose, but then quickly turning into breathing problems in infants whose lungs are not yet fully developed.
I caught the eye of the receptionist, and she buzzed the door. I paused slightly, took a deep breath and opened the door. I entered a sort of holding room, a small room partitioned off from the ward by a large glass pane. I washed my hands with the surgical soap in a large double chrome sink, and then squirt the antibacterial wash into my hands. As I rubbed the cool liquid between my fingers, it evaporated, as if by magic, reassuring me that any lurking bacteria would be stopped dead in its tracks.
The lights in the NICU are always bright, no matter what time of the day. Proper lighting is needed in case of a procedure. I was not sure how the babies could sleep, the ward sounding more like a video arcade, with simultaneous muted conversations mingled with the constant beeping of monitor alarms.
Looking down the long row of isolettes, I could see a sea of multi-coloured baby blankets draped over the incubators to shield the babies from the harsh lights and the noisy room. Kept at 97F, the babies wear nothing but diapers and a cross-tie T-shirt inside, carefully chosen because the spider web of wires can easily slip through.
A few of the babies bizarrely looked like they were sunbathing, wearing what looked like sunglasses with IVF lights blaring from three sides. These babies had jaundice. Their little livers not working properly, their red blood cells breaking down and the resulting billiribin not leaving their gut, leaving their skin slightly yellow. I know this because yesterday Hannah was under the lamps with a billiribin score of 16.
I squeezed the nobby knit blanket in my hands and my eyes stopped where Hannah was yesterday.
I could feel my stomach in my throat.
The baby there was under a heat lamp but it was not my dark-haired Hannah.
Photo credit: hummmlan