As we loved on our little one we noticed several times that he was becoming bluer by the moment. Several times while we were waiting to be moved to the mom/baby floor we called in the nurses and specialists, each time they gave him a little oxygen until his color was slightly improved and left, assuming all was well. Finally after midnight our nurse had the time to move us the other floor; we kept pressing and telling her that he didn't look right, he shouldn't look so blue, but she (a nurse with only a few weeks on the job) assured us that some babies just look a little "ashy."
We were deposited into a room on the mom/baby floor and immediately expressed our concerns to the new nurse assigned to us. She was calm and sweet said she'd have someone else help her examine him at the nurses station. That should have been my first clue that she knew something was wrong; our first two boys were never taken from my sight during our entire stay at the hospital, but I was exhausted and couldn't read the signs. While the baby was with our nurse, Chris and I said our goodbyes. He had to get home and start dehydrating my placenta (that takes a real man!) and he had to start his first day for his new fire department and 6:00 the next morning.
More time had passed than I could stand when someone entered my room. She was was one of the assistants that had been with us just after Cohen's birth, the one who had nodded her head when Chris asked about Down syndrome. For some reason her face has never left my mind. She was young, probably in her middle 30s, with a dark complexion and features that suggested she was of Indian descent. She was so pretty, she looked exactly like one of the doctors you'd see on some TV medical drama. Her eyes spoke volumes before her mouth uttered the words, "your baby is sick." I can't remember what else she said, only that she sat on my bed as I wept the hysterical tears of a new mama separated from her baby. She was so compassionate, she answered my questions, although I'm not sure how she understood me I was crying so hard. All I really understood at the end of the conversation was that there was something wrong with the baby's oxygen levels and that I could visit him in the NICU in an hour or two.
I called Chris; he came back to the hospital. I cried and pumped breastmilk until I was allowed to go visit my brand new son. His room was dark, lit only by computer screens. We were greeted by the constant beeping and occasional alarm of his monitors. And there he was, tangled in cords and tubes, blood still fresh on the IV lines they had inserted in him. Helpless.
A doctor took us to a conference room and explained that he had a hole in his heart and that the pressure in his lungs was so great that blood couldn't get through to send oxygen to the rest of his tiny body. He explained the best and worst case scenarios. He explained so many things, too many things. Every word he said seemed to knock the breath out of me. He was kind and patient, but I just kept repeating in my head, "No more! There can't be anything else, I can't handle it!" I stopped listening and let Chris absorb it all for us.
The pain felt like more that I could bear. I was allowed to briefly touch his little head before I returned to my prison of a room. The mom/baby rooms seem so happy when you have a baby to hold, to nurse, to love; but when your arms are empty those rooms are a prison. You can hear the cries of other sweet babies nearby. You have to watch happy visitors, arms full of flowers and teddy bears, anxiously ask the nurses where to find the newest addition to their families. And worst of all you have to meet the eyes of the other mothers, the eyes that are exhausted and content, they look at you expecting to share the camaraderie of this great and difficult task of mothering a new one. It was terrible.
Pumping became my mission in life. It was the only thing I could do for Cohen. Every 3 hours 24 hours a day I pumped. I sat in the baby's room in the NICU and I pumped. And I cried. Very little was accomplished that first week without tears involved.