Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Bilirubin Blues

I did not shed a tear during labor (I also only cursed about three times, which is a major feat since I cursed no less than six times today while watching CSPAN). I did, however, bawl my eyes out in the children's hospital ER when my daughter was three days old.

See, I wanted very badly to get out of the hospital, and I told them that I'd like to be released as soon as possible. They decided to let me go about 30 hours after the birth under the condition that I make an appointment with my pediatrician for the next day. Baby had slightly elevated bilirubin levels, which they assured me was normal because I was exclusively breastfeeding and my milk wasn't in yet.

My milk came in Friday night. Though my daughter still didn't have as many dirty diapers as they wanted her to have, I felt sure that things would be fine in no time now that she was getting more than a few drops of colostrum to eat. They had to stick her heel at the pedi appointment and told me the labs would be back in the next morning (Saturday).

Saturday afternoon I get a call saying that I need to go to the children's hospital ER for another blood draw because her levels were going up. I asked how worried I should be, and the doc told me that it was probably fine. When we got there, here levels were even higher, and they told me they'd have to keep her for a day or two on the UV lights to break down the bilirubin and get rid of the jaundice. I recognize now that we're home and safe and healthy that this wasn't that big of a deal. I had a clear view of the helicopter landing pad from our hospital room and thanked my lucky stars and God each time I watched them land. I knew it could be so much worse.

But at the moment, when they took my tiny daughter out of my arms and held her down to jam an IV in her little bitty arm, I lost it. I was trying not to cry in front of the nurses, but I wasn't very successful. As soon as they left the room, I sobbed uncontrollably, managing between heaving sobs to tell my husband that I felt like a complete failure. It was my job, I sobbed, to give her the food she needed, to make sure she was healthy, and I hadn't done it.

She was only on the lights for about ten hours, and her levels were dropping right away. My husband and I slept on a fold-out cot and remembered how we had shared a twin dorm bed for months our first two years of college. I watched my daughter sleep and squirm beneath the eerie blue lights and fed her throughout the night.

Though I know that I overreacted (probably a combination of stress, sleep deprivation, and hormones was largely at play), I also recognized something about how different my life now is. The responsibility I feel for this little girl is insane. The pressure to keep her happy and healthy is tangible. It's mostly a pleasant pressure. As I feed her, I love knowing that I'm helping her grow and thrive. When I hold her and she leans back to look at my face, I love thinking about all of the things we'll talk about. As I curse politicians on CSPAN while nursing, I love thinking about introducing her to the world. But it won't always be positive. Sometimes, things will go wrong. It's not like I didn't know this before we went into that ER, but I didn't know how much it would hurt me to watch them happen. When the power and control was taken away and all I could do was watch and hope that things would get better, I felt completely worthless. She's rearranged the focus of my priorities in only a few short days.

1 comment:

  1. The sheer terror of parenting...its the flipside of that overwhelming wonderful love. I remember the feeling when I was trying to get to my daughter after a call from my husband that she was fitting. I would have moved mountains to get to her. Never before had I felt such responsibility or terror. Threats to my life, my partners, my parents...nothing came close.

    I am glad to hear that all is well and you're home and enjoying the magic of the new born.