The first few days in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) were so strange. Being an OB/GYN seemed like a lifetime ago. Even though I had visited this place so many times before, checking on babies that I had delivered, I just didn’t know what to do. I felt like an outsider with my nose pressed up against the glass. In addition I was sick from a serious infection, incredibly sore from the surgery, and weak from almost four weeks of strict bed rest, never mind the storm of hormones and emotions. In a fog of pain, sorrow, and hopelessness I traipsed back and forth from my room to the NICU trying not to look at the overjoyed new parents with their healthy babies. I was the only girl at the prom without a date watching from the shadows of the gym.
Before things went wrong I had mapped out scenes from our future. I think every parent does. Whether it is your baby’s first smile, how you will look pushing your baby in a stroller, or taking your child to their first day of school. I suspect the image is different for everyone. I had an image of being wheeled by my beaming husband to the front doors of the hospital clutching three baby boys. Heads would turn and everyone would say, “Triplets!” I have always liked to watch this imagined scene unfold.
As I am an OB/GYN I see it a lot. The father or partner nervously sprints to the car and as the mother passes by cradling her precious bundle, almost everyone smiles and remarks on the baby. It is hard not to get caught up in the excitement of a newborn. The mothers are like beauty pageant winners, clutching a baby instead of roses, their faces beaming with excitement as they glide through the hallways as if they were taking their first turn on the stage before an adoring crowd. I really wanted that wheelchair ride.
No one looks at the mother without a baby. We are the invisible.
I had come to hospital pregnant with three boys and I now had two, who had a tenuous grasp on life at best. Even as a doctor, I do not think that I grasped the gravity of the situation until I actually left the building. The sound of the car door closing was like punctuation for all that pent-up emotion and I began to sob. I have never felt so utterly devastated. I was crying for our son who died, for our boys who might not live, and for all the dreams that had vanished.
A mother should never have to leave the hospital without her baby.