If you’re observant (and I know you are) you will have noticed that I haven’t gotten to the end of my how-Adlai-came-into-the-world story.
Every time I sit down to write it, I end up doing something else because I just can’t bear to ride the emotional roller coaster I was on the first week of my little boy’s life. But I’m home alone tonight – Simon’s doing a night shift at the homeless project, Adlai’s snoozing upstairs, and my friends are ignoring my calls – and I figure it’s about time I stopped putting it off. So, here I am, sitting on my green leather sofa (it’s cooler than it sounds), wearing my snowflake PJs, with Anchorman on in the background for comic relief.
When we left our heroine (that’s me), she had just endured twenty-seven hours of excruciating labour. Technically, it was only seven hours of what they call “established labour”, but twenty-seven sounds more hardcore and will be more effective when Adlai’s 17 and I’m guilt-tripping him into driving his little sister to the mall.
As soon as the pediatrician had the blood samples he needed from Adlai, one of the midwives brought him to me.
I held him as he bleated like a little lamb and stared up at me – or at least in my general direction – with his big, blue eyes.
His head was misshapen from being helped out with a suction-cup thing called a ventouse, and he was covered in a white film , but he was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. And he was mine.
The midwives and doctors emptied the room and suddenly everything was quiet. It was just me, Simon, and our baby boy. We took turns holding him and calling our parents and friends to tell them he was here, and that his name was Adlai John. Adlai for “God is just”, for “my witness.” John – my dad’s first name and Simon’s dad’s middle name – for “God is gracious.”
We were alone for an hour before Adlai and I were moved upstairs to the maternity ward. Simon followed us up, sat with us for a while, then kissed me goodnight and told me he’d see me the next morning.
The thing about the National Health Service is this: there are some advantages and disadvantages. Advantages: we didn’t have to stress about how we were going to pay to have a baby. Disadvantages: Simon couldn’t stay at the hospital with us.
Alone in the room with our little boy, I pulled him out of his hospital crib and stared at him for hours, unbelieving. The midwives told me I should sleep, but how could I? I was looking at the boy I had prayed for, the boy I already loved. I held him against my skin and sniffed his sweet-smelling head, and wondered how on earth I was supposed to know what to do with him.
Did I need to feed him? Did he even know how to eat?
My questions were soon answered when one of the midwives came in and told me that his blood tests had come back saying his blood sugar was low, and that they needed to get it up quickly, and that meant giving him some special preemie formula.
I want to breastfeed, I thought.
But she sounded serious and matter of fact, so I let her get on with making him a bottle and trusted she knew what she was doing.
I held him as he drank the formula, amazed that a little creature who’d been getting everything he needed through his belly button for nine months could figure out how to suck and drink. The midwife took the bottle and told me she’d be back in a couple of hours to check his blood sugar again.
Everything is a bit of a blur after that.
I fell asleep for a little while, and when I woke up later, she was back, saying something about his blood sugar again and that he needed a tube in his nose to make sure he was taking in enough formula. I blinked at her, trying to understand, and she told me to rest, that she was going to take him to another room where she’d put his tube in and feed him.
Again, I slept, exhausted and unaware of what exactly was happening.
A couple of hours later, I woke again, lifted my sore body out of my hospital bed and dragged myself out to the midwives’ station, where my little boy lay in his crib. There was a tube in his nose, held in place by a teddy bear sticker. A feeble attempt to make something clinical and scary look cute and un-intimidating.
I touched his face. I told him I loved him. I still didn’t understand. Was this normal? Were there other babies with nose tubes? Were they worried about him?
Simon arrived as soon as visiting hours started, at 8am on the dot. He hadn’t slept, he said, he’d been so excited and impatient to get back and see his new son.
Adlai was back in my room now, still with his nose tube in. Every two hours a midwife would come in and attach a plastic syringe to it, and pour formula in, filling up his tiny stomach. At other intervals, another midwife would come in and check his blood sugar.
I told Simon what had been happening while we held our baby and prayed for him, trying to ignore the plastic tube taped to his cheek.
Two of our friends, both midwives themselves, dropped in to visit and meet our little son. I told them what was going on, and they both assured me this was common. “If they were really concerned,” said our friend Katy, “they’d move him to the neo-natal unit. It’s a good sign that he’s still here with you.”
Sometime in the late morning, two pediatricians visited our room. They picked up our baby, handling him like a sack of sugar, poking and prodding him.
“He looks a bit jittery,” one said. “Does he normally look like that?”
I looked at Simon. Normally? Normally for the twelve hours of his life? We didn’t know.
Without saying much more, they handed him back to us and left the room.
Several minutes later, a midwife came in and sat down on the bed. Her face was soft but serious. We went quiet, and held our breath while she spoke.
“I’ve spoken to the pediatricians,” she said. “We’re having a hard time stabilizing your baby’s blood sugar. He has an infection, and his body is having trouble fighting it. They want us to feed him every hour, but we just don’t have the staff on this ward to do that…”
I knew what was coming. I felt my throat close up and the tears begin to rise.
“…so we’re recommending he moves to the neo-natal unit.”
My original plan was to write this story in three parts, but I’m realizing it’s taking much longer than I expected. Also, I just had a good ol’ cry (so much for Anchorman). Reliving the ringer that was the first few days of Adlai’s life is just a bit tough, so I’m going to take a breather here and come back soon with the next bit.
See you soon.