The nurses were able to bring Nithi up to see the kids "on the way" to the NICU, which was a blessing because they wouldn't be able to see her in the hospital after that since hospital rules only allowed entrance to parents of the babies in NICU.The kids hugged and kissed and ogled over their new little sister for all of maybe 10 minutes before they whisked her away. They did bend the rules a bit to allow Jack & his dad to go into the NICU together to give her a blessing, which I was grateful for. Then Jack walked everyone out and we began what eventually became our routine of going down to visit Nithi in the NICU every third hour for a temperature check, diaper changing, and nursing session.
A chest x-ray showed there was fluid in her lungs. The night nurse told us that it could be indicative of an infection like pneumonia, so they drew her blood and wanted to see how the blood culture results fared over the course of 48 hours. In the mean time, they wanted to start her on a course of antibiotics in case the culture results revealed infection. The other cause, which usually was common in infants who were either premature (which she was not) and/or c-section (which she also was not) was something called "transient tachypnea." Basically, during a normal vaginal delivery, the fluid in her lungs should have been expelled through the process of birth. For some unknown reason, that had not happened, possibly resulting in this condition.
Initially, they gave Nithi oxygen through a breathing tube taped to her face. Every time we went down to the NICU our eyes would be glued to the monitor which revealed her O2 levels and her heart rate. Our hope was that her O2 levels would be in the high 90s. "Anything over 95" was what the first night nurse told us we should look for. Interestingly enough, we found that when she was cold, her O2 levels would be lower. We also found that when she nursed skin-to-skin, her O2 levels would often rise to the desired levels. After the first day, the medical staff decided to remove the breathing tube to see how she fared, and the results were promising. While her oxygen levels were still a little below normal, she demonstrated she could maintain decent O2 levels.
We thought that was our golden ticket home, but we were frustrated to find out each time we visited the NICU that her stay (and ours) would be extended. In the end, we only stayed an extra 24 hours past when we might otherwise have gone home, but it felt like we had been trapped there forever. The routine of setting our phone alarms every third hour to wake up, use the bathroom (which in and of itself was no small task for me), and walk down to the first floor (for the first 24 hours Jack had to wheel me & my IV infusion machine down in a wheelchair each time) to get buzzed in with a special code to wash our hands in the washing room, before getting to see our little girl who was wrapped up in all kinds of wires attached to various kinds of censors became old... quickly. Every time I would try to nurse her, I had to compete with all kinds of wires. Some were for her IV, some were attached to censors on her chest and foot, some were for her breathing tube, and some were for my IV! She had been poked and prodded everywhere and I just felt so sorry for our poor little girl who was being tortured in the process of saving her life.
On the second day, the neonatologist gave us some hope that since she wasn't exhibiting any signs of infection, she probably had transient tachypnea and that she could probably go home as early as 36 hours after her blood culture, which would be Thursday, September 14 around 11am. We were ecstatic! We became focused on that day & time as our designated release time. She also broke the bad news that she wanted us to start supplementing with formula following each nursing session to provide Nithi with the hydration she needed to flush the antibiotics from her kidneys and her system. I really didn't want to, but felt like I couldn't say no. It almost felt like Nithi was betraying me with the 10-20 cc of formula she would gulp down after nursing, but my milk hadn't come in yet and at least Jack was able to help with the feedings. It was just another reason I wanted to hightail it out of the NICU as soon as possible.
When Thursday rolled around, Jack had to step out to see a patient and I saw the morning nurse alone. She almost made me cry when she told me I shouldn't get my hopes up expecting to leave that day. She told me Nithi's bilirubin levels were a little high and that her CRC was 1.4 (whatever that was), which would prevent her release. In the end, her bilirubin levels and CRC didn't prevent her from being released, and that interaction just proved to be another part of the roller coaster of emotions associated with being in the NICU. The neonatologist on the floor that day echoed what his colleague had told us the day before, which was a relief, but he was much busier with several meetings to attend that day and even after the negative culture results at 36 hours came in, we had to wait several hours for him to become available to officially release us from the hospital.
The blessed moment of release came about 4:30pm on Thursday, September 14. We pulled up to the house & the kids were playing outside in the court with their friends. It was the best moment to hear them yell with excitement, "Nithi's with them! They're home!" They all ran in and we finally had the moment I had been waiting for since she had been born where we all gathered together close as a family and just enjoyed each other and our new little one.
Honestly, the whole experience made us feel like we had been robbed. Literally in a financial sense, but we also felt robbed of the precious time Jack had off from work which was spent in a hospital room away from our baby rather than at home with our kids all together as a family. Maybe because of that experience our homecoming was so much sweeter... and our time together in the past few weeks still echoes with that sweetness. Each day I'm grateful when Jack comes home and the kids are all together and our home just feels...complete. .