Operation Bring Babygirl Home was a resounding success. As I type this she is asleep in her crib in our—now her—bedroom, after a busy weekend including outings with Mum and Dad and Mr. Bipap, exploring the neighbourhood and learning the meaning of words like banking and grocery shopping. The three of us have spent a solid 48 hours now as a family, living in our home and by our rules, and I don’t think any of the three of us could be happier.
We’ve known for about three weeks that she was coming home; for a while the official date on the discharge paperwork was May 3, 2011. But after a few sound arguments—Nurse Awesome will be on shift on Friday; Nyana needs to learn her democratic duty on May 2; we really don’t want to buy a bus pass for May—we were able to successfully convince the staff that April 29 was just as reasonable a date as a Tuesday after the weekend. I’ve been told that it’s unheard of for a baby to be discharged on a Friday, that the NICU likes to discharge early in the week, for the “just in case” factor. But as we all know, Don and I and What We Made are anything but typical, and the discharge nurse told me that our care-by-parent weekend was one of the smoothest she’s seen in her many years in the nursery. Of course we would be allowed to fly the coop on a Friday.
The week after our care-by-parent, the days leading up to her homecoming, flew by, which surprised me. I thought the final leg of this adventure would be overwhelming and emotionally exhausting and that every hour would crawl by and feel like a day of its own. Instead, I blinked and it was the eve of home day. Don and I spent much of Thursday morning tearing our apartment apart and trying frantically to put it all back together before heading out to the hospital to attend a going away party in our honour, hosted by the Red Cross. We decked Nyana out in her best Canucks onesie and track pants—it was game day, after all—and rolled her and her stroller and her oxygen tank into one of the NICU conference rooms where all of our favourite nurses and RTs and doctors were waiting. Despite an absence of both Nurse Awesome and Nurse Peachy, there was also a distinct lack of fuss from Nyana, and a great time was had by all. I may venture to say that Nyana’s size 1 Adidas kicks were the star of the party.
We spent an hour after her party tucking her into bed and packing up her room and saying goodbye to the staff, and I had a strange moment of calm as I closed the door to her room that night, knowing that it would be the last time I ever had to walk out on her. Knowing that Nurse Sweetie was on the night shift, and that Nurse Awesome would be on set in the morning for our very last day in BC Women’s NICU, we made one last trek across the city and went back to our frantic cleaning and organizing and tidying. The Royal Wedding was just beginning on the TV by the time we finally went to bed but we didn’t care what time it was. Babygirl was coming home, and she deserved a palace of her own.
As soon as I opened my eyes on Friday morning the reality hit me that it was the day. The day we’ve waited for, the day I wondered for so long would ever come. I knew it would be a whole bunch of hurry-up-and-wait once we got to the hospital, so I tried to slow my movements while I got ready, tried not to be so outwardly excited while in transit to pick her up. It didn’t work, though; I was like a 6-year old child on Christmas morning who just found out that Santa is taking us all to Disneyland, and I sort of bounced in my seat the whole way across the city while Don and I kept exchanging ridiculous grins.
Sure enough, it was a whole bunch of hurry-up-and-wait once we got there, combined with a ton of smiles and congrats and photo ops, and a few close calls with tears. Finally the paperwork was signed, the room was empty, and we were ready to go… with one small exception: the urgent request for stroller modifications that had been put in on Tuesday had been “overlooked”, and the 25-pound bipap battery still resided on the front footrest, which we learned on our care-by-parent weekend was a hindrance to the steering as well as a tipping hazard. The maintenance department had been tasked with constructing a wooden basket to replace the cheap vinyl, and now we had to choose between sitting around Nyana’s empty room for the rest of the afternoon, or bringing the stroller back for retrofitting on Monday. Desperate to finally escape, we opted to make do for the weekend and bring the stroller back on Monday. A few more photos were snapped, hugs and email addresses were exchanged, and then it was time to go.
We gave Nurse Awesome the reins and let her push Nyana past the front desk of the NICU, past the “I Was A Preemie, Too!” wall, and down that long yellow hallway, towards the front lobby of BC Children’s, towards freedom. A cab pulled up at the same time we exited the building, and before we knew it, Nyana was strapped into her car seat securely, her stroller and belongings tucked into the trunk of the cab. We pulled away and I didn’t even look behind me as we left the parking lot. I remember when I was finally discharged after she was born, after spending a month on hospitalized bedrest, thinking that the drive across the city to our cozy apartment in the West End took forever. This time, with Nyana in the back seat with me, somehow the cab had the same time warp as the week leading up to this moment, and in a blink of an eye the cabbie was pulling up our back alley and parking by our back door. Our family was home.
We wasted no time dumping our belongings and grabbing the camera tripod to snap the first family photo in front of Nyana’s first home. Then, back on Nyana’s time, we spent the afternoon priming feed pumps and changing diapers and learning how to live in a 700 foot apartment with a 7 month old child. At any moment in the past two days, either Don or I have found ourselves stupefied at the notion that she’s right there. In her crib in our—her—room. Right there on her playmat on our bed. Right there in her stroller on Denman street with us. Right here.
Don is off work for the week as the three of us learn how to be a family without the hospital looking over our shoulder. We have appointments almost every day this week and our house is still a partial mess, but we’re together and right now that’s all that matters. We’re maximizing our days with strolls through the neighbourhoods and lazy hockey games and meals finally once again cooked with love, and while I can’t speak for Don, I’m oozing happiness in a way I haven’t felt in… well, I can’t say I’ve ever been as happy as I’ve been these past three days.
I know that we’re living the honeymoon right now and that it won’t all be sunshine and rainbows, but for now I am going to let myself bask in the surreal knowledge that it’s over, and we survived. Don remarked on Friday evening, once we’d put Nyana down for the night, that he wasn’t sure if he wanted to jump up and down in a fit of elation, or curl up and cry out of sheer exhaustion. We poured a glass of champagne—a bottle in our fridge we’d been saving since Christmas for just this occasion—and we toasted each other and marvelled at how we both felt like we had just run a marathon; our muscles seemed to be releasing the tension of seven months, and the fatigue of letting it all go was almost as exhausting as living through it had been. Of course the end of one chapter is simply the beginning of another, but everything from here on out is us, as a family united.
Two hundred and twenty-two days. Three primary nurses. Six different forms of respiratory support and more chest x-rays than I can count. The moment finally arrived: Nyana graduated from the NICU. And now it’s our turn to shine brightly on the “I Was A Preemie, Too!” board.
Love and thanks to every one of you who have cheered us on from the beginning, and those who jumped on board somewhere along the way and have come along for the ride. I’ve had many questions and have no fear, Princess Smileypants of the Sunshine Brigade has a mountain of adventures waiting to be had, and this blog will be here for all of them.