Generally speaking, my life since my son came into this world has been absolutely perfect; he’s such a dream. I do realize though, that after being hospitalized twice for his breathing problems, it’s started to weigh heavy on my soul. I’ve had a harder time with the whole ordeal than I’ve wanted to admit to myself. I feel stupid and selfish for getting so down about it when there are mothers out there who never bring their babies home from the hospital. I try to always remember that we’re blessed, and this too shall pass, but of course that’s always easier said than done.
When Marshall was five weeks old, he started getting a cold while we were out of town, visiting my family for the holidays. I was worried, but I never expected it to turn into a problem that would be plaguing us still, 3 months later. We did what any other parents would do: put Vicks on his feet, suctioned his nose out and kept an eye on him. That was all we could do, being that he’s too young for most medicine and we were 4 hours away from his pediatrician. I called a few different nurses, and they all advised us to just keep watching for fever or a worsening of symptoms. He never got a fever, and he still acted like his normal, happy self! The only difference really, was that he was sleeping even more than usual.
We came home a couple of days after we first started noticing his symptoms, and by our second day home, he was refusing to eat. I was a complete mess! I didn’t know what to do, but I knew how important it was to keep him hydrated. I was able to get him to drink a couple of ounces at a time, and I fed him a lot through an oral syringe. His doctor’s office is closed on the weekends, so my husband and I toyed around with the idea of taking him to the hospital. His demeanor was still normal, so we weren’t sure if we were overreacting and should ride it out at home. By one in the morning on New Years Eve night, we noticed he was having breathing retractions and we knew we would have to go.
We hadn’t even unpacked from our trip, and we didn’t bring anything with us to the hospital. We had no idea we would be admitted for a few days. After a nasal swab and a chest x-ray, the hospital diagnosed him with RSV (Bronchiolitis), and we were told an ambulance was on its way to take us to a Children’s Hospital a town over, where they would be better equipped to take care of him. When the paramedics arrived, they gave him his first IV, something I’ll never forget. It was probably the most traumatic part of the entire stay. I cried, as I always do, and sat at the edge of the room, just breathing and trying my best to keep my composure. Jeff held him while the paramedics did what they had to do, and I’m so thankful he did. The few glimpses I caught were bloody and filled me with more emotions than I thought someone could feel at once. Hearing your baby cry and knowing that you can’t do anything about it is by far, one of the most heart wrenching experiences. I wanted so badly to push the paramedics away and just grab him and comfort him, to make him feel safe again, but I knew he needed the IV.
The ride to the Children’s Hospital was a very long, very quiet 25 minutes, and once we arrived, the nurses wasted no time in getting us situated in a room. The doctors agreed that he was in great spirits, but they definitely needed to keep an eye on him being that he’s so young. Newborns with RSV can quickly take a turn for the worse.
This hospital stay wasn’t so bad. We were there for three nights, and Jeff was still on vacation from school, so we were able to lift one another up and keep each other company. Marshall never seemed like he was in a lot pain, and I never feared for his life, but he definitely was working extra hard to breathe. Our stay was so long because every time the nurses attempted to wean him off of the oxygen, his o2 sats would immediately drop.
On the third day, he was completely off of the oxygen, and had been eating consistently, so we were discharged. He was still having retractions, but they told us it was normal and to expect them to take a while to go away. I wasn’t worried until 3 weeks had gone by and he not only still had them, they were getting worse. The rise and fall of his chest moved his entire body while he slept and I was terrified his lungs would get tired of working so hard and just give up.
This time we packed. He seemed worse than ever, so we prepared for a longer stay. He looked pale and the birthmarks on his face were bright red. We didn’t even bother going to the closest ER, we drove all the way to the Children’s Hospital where we previously stayed.
He got more tests, and another chest x-ray and all they found was the RSV. We never found out if he caught it again, or if it was still working itself out from weeks before. The theory is that he was still trying to fight the RSV, and he caught another little bug on top of it.
This was the worst week of my life. It seemed to drag on for eternity, and I felt like I lost my connection with my son.. With everyone, really.
Jeff was back in school by this point, and the hospital was far, so I spent about 9 hours a day by myself, and when Jeff was with me, he was busy with homework or sleeping. Marshall was doing poorly and this time I did fear for his life. He had to be put on the high flow oxygen, through a bigger cannula. They were giving him the max amount of oxygen allowed on that floor, and it still wasn’t helping. The doctors said that if they had to go up any higher on it, we’d have to be moved to ICU. They gave us the spiel that they give everyone in our situation… “It doesn’t mean anything, it’s just protocol… It just means he’ll have more nurses assigned to him, and more attention.” None of that soothed me, and I wasn’t buying it. If we had to move to the ICU, he obviously wasn’t doing well, and that’s all I knew. One of the main things I remember is being terrified by the fact that several people were coming in every single time he was being checked out. It was never just one nurse, checking his vitals. It was a whole team of doctors, respiratory therapists and nurses, in case things started to go south. We were preparing to move and I cried in my Mother-in-Laws arms for the first time.
Somehow, by the grace of God, Marshall started to improve just enough to be able to stay on the regular floor. I don’t know what changed, but suddenly the max amount of oxygen allowed down there, was just enough. He didn’t seem to really improve until a day or two before we were discharged, and I was an emotional wreck. My side of the family lives 4 hours away, and Jeff’s side was busy with work, so I was extremely lonely during the day while he was at school. I started feeling resentful for being left alone, then guilty for feeling that way when I knew he was doing what he had to do. I tried my best to stay positive and strong for Marshall, and I had to dig deep down for some strength that I didn’t know I had.
It was extremely difficult to watch him as he discovered his hands for the first time, but was unable to feel around with them like he should have. The IV was anchored down with all kinds of intense bandages. It physically hurt to watch him trying to learn and grow and being stifled by things I can’t change.
He had been smiling at me a little bit here and there, but one night while we were there, it seemed like he really saw me for the first time. Like it finally clicked in that I was his Mom and I was there for him. I was practically delirious from exhaustion. I kept asking the nurses the same questions over and over because I couldn’t remember our conversations. Jeff was asleep and there were no nurses in the room, and I went over to make sure he was comfortable before I tried to get some rest. He gave me the sweetest smile when my face appeared over the bars of the crib. I thought my heart was going to explode! His smile faded, but still he kept his gaze on my face, just soaking in all of my features and holding onto my hand. I was so tired I could have dropped to the floor, but there was no way I was going to lay down when he was looking at me that way. I felt like he needed me, like he was looking to me for comfort and strength, and I was determined to stand there as long as he needed me to.
That momentary connection I felt with him wasn’t enough to keep the postpartum depression away. I hadn’t experienced it up until this point, so it hit me hard, and all I could do was be open and honest about it with my friends and family. Talking about it really helped in my opinion, because it didn’t last long, and it hasn’t returned since. It was about a 5 day long problem, and it cleared up after I was able to settle in at home. I just stopped feeling that connection with him. There were nights when he would just scream and scream and there wasn’t much I could do because he was so wrapped up in wires and just angry at life, and I didn’t even want to look at him. Although I would never actually go through with it, I had thoughts of just walking out of the hospital and never coming back. I cried. I cried because Marshall seemed like he was in pain and there was nothing I could do, I cried because I felt helpless, I cried because I wasn’t allowed to breastfeed him. I cried because I had to pump milk every 2 hours with an unfamiliar hospital pump while my husband slept. I cried because I didn’t know I could feel such resentment towards an innocent baby that did nothing wrong. I hated my husband for being “able” to leave to go to school, while I had to sit in a dark room and watch our son suffer. I hated my family for being unable to come visit. And I hated myself for feeling all of these things that were so obviously unfair.
Things got better. We were allowed to leave after a week, but we were sent home with a nebulizer and some albuterol, which is not common for babies, at all. I tried to not let it bother me, but that, in itself, is upsetting. No one wants their baby to be an exception when it comes to this sort of thing. Jeff was in an accident on his way to school that day, and our car was totaled (Jeff was okay, not even a scratch), which shook me up even more. But my Sister-in-Law was my saving grace, and came to pick Marshall and I up from the hospital. Talking to her that evening was exactly what I needed and I feel so much closer to her for it. She has 3 kids under the age of 5, so she understood completely and assured me that it’s all normal stuff. I knew women go through this, but talking to someone about it is so healing. It’s always nice to know you’re not alone.
It took about two days of being home to get back to feeling like myself. My relationship with Marshall is amazing now. I feel lucky that he’s so healthy, and that we get to be home with him, but I do get down sometimes about having to give him breathing treatments every day, and not being able to take him anywhere out of fear of him getting sick. He’s still having retractions, 3 months later and if he even gets a little cold, it can be enough to send us back to the hospital. I hope his breathing clears up soon and we’re able to really get out and enjoy some time outside of our house, but until then, I don’t want to take any chances.
Spending so much time in the hospital when he was so young was really difficult, and I’m not even sure exactly how I made it through it all. I think I kept myself somewhat numb through parts of it, and a lack of sleep made things pretty hazy. This was the dark side of parenting. The ugly, hard parts that makes you want to rip your hair out and cry. But all those cheesy things you hear about being a parent is true. All it takes is one smile from your child, and it makes everything worth it. All the sleepless nights and breakdowns melt away and all you feel is a warmth that takes over your body and an unbelievable love you can’t begin to describe. Our family is definitely stronger from it, and my son is safe, so I couldn’t ask for much more.
Postpartum depression can come at any time, it won’t necessarily show itself right after your baby is born. If you suspect you may have it, talk to your doctor, or your family and friends at least. It can make all the difference.