4 years ago today, Mr Minion and I watched as the wires and stickers that had monitored our baby’s heart rate, oxygen levels, and respirations for the past three months were removed. We could see her whole face clearly, without the tube that had gone up her nose and into her stomach. We could pick her up and walk more than a few feet from her crib, something that would have been impossible due to the wires that monitored her vital signs. I vividly remember holding her carefully in my arms and slowly spinning in a circle near the large window in her room in the NICU that we had called home since May.
As we waited for the discharge paperwork to be signed off on and for our nurses to go over instructions with us, I kept expecting the next person to come into the room to tell that there had been a mistake. That we couldn’t take our daughter home yet. We packed up her tiny preemie outfits, the mobile we had brought her to put on her hospital-issued crib, and her bottles. We also packed the jars of protein powder that we would have to supplement her bottles with for the next several months, and the diapers that were only slightly smaller than my cell phone. We packed her special issue Ultra Preemie bottle nipples, since she was still unable to handle the regular Preemie ones that were available in some stores.
When our nurse finally came in and asked us if we were ready to head out, I could feel my eyes burning with terrified, excited, nervous, and overjoyed tears. We had arranged Little Miss Minion in her car seat and strapped her in, using rolled up towels, blankets, and washcloths to make sure she was secure. I carried her through the door of her room in the NICU and we walked through the unit, with Mr Minion and our nurse helping to carry the rest of her stuff. As we waited for the elevator to arrive, I waited for someone to run through the double doors with the news that we had to stay. The elevator arrived and the doors remained closed. We walked through the lobby of the hospital, seeing other parents leaving with their two day old full term babies as we left with our 3 month old, 5 pound miracle, who had already survived a Group B strep infection, meningitis, sepsis, and one surgery to implant a shunt to control the hydrocephalus she had developed as a result of those illnesses.
When we made it to the front of the lobby, I tilted my head to look away from the Maternity Welcome Center, something I still do each time I visit the hospital for my volunteer work. We turned to walk through the vestibule that led to the parking garage and my daughter felt fresh air on her face for the first time since she had been born. We packed her things in the trunk and snapped her carseat into the back of our car. I rode in the back with her, and we stopped to get McDonald’s on the way home for lunch. The packaging was Minion-themed, and I still have a picture of it somewhere.
While the memories of her birth and the immediate time before and after are fuzzy, thanks to the magnesium I was receiving by IV to prevent seizures or strokes, her Gotcha Day is carved into my memories with a chisel and I will remember every tiny detail of that day for the rest of my life. I will also remember how, when we took her for her first pediatrician visit a few days later, I got a compliment from a woman in the lobby who saw my ridiculously tiny baby and assumed she was a newborn, and said that I looked amazing and she couldn’t believe I had just had a baby. Since Little Miss Minion was three months early, I hadn’t really ever definitely looked pregnant, so after she was born, I looked mostly the same, except less puffy and swollen from the preeclampsia. I had only gained about 15 pounds, and between the stress of the NICU and exclusively pumping, I had lost about half of that. I just said thank you, laughed a little, and darted into the well-baby room to escape from the germ-filled waiting room.
When I look back on where we started, I am amazed all over again at the tenacity of a 1 pound 14 ounce baby, born 3 months too soon, and the marvels of modern medicine that allowed us to bring her home. It solidifies my yearning to return to the NICU as a nurse, and makes me treasure my time spent there as a volunteer, speaking with parents who have found themselves in the NICU.
Happy 4th Gotcha Day, Little Miss Minion. I’m so proud of you and everything you have overcome.