Reflections on coming home from the NICU

I never used to like fall. Coming from Winnipeg, Manitoba autumn meant one thing: 2 weeks of brown leaves. A dull, wet, and brief interlude before winter. As winter in Winnipeg is -40 degrees for 3-4 months the announcement that it is right around the corner is not exactly welcome.

Then Oliver came home in October. It is 7 years ago this week. It was frightening to say the least. He was born at 26 weeks, weighed 1 lb 11 oz at birth, had his pulmonary valve opened when he weighed 3 lbs, and yet was only in the hospital for 9 1/2 weeks. Truthfully, he could have come home almost a week earlier but everyone in the NICU had a hard  time saying he could go at 34 1/2 weeks adjusted age. It took him a total of 3 days to go from feeding tube to eating everything from a bottle, probably a record for a 26 weeker. I guess the fact that my husband and I can eat like pigs has some genetic basis. Who knew it would come in so handy?

I actually remember being angry the nurse had done his oxygen challenge at 35 weeks adjusted age. I mean really, how dare she stress him like that? But he passed, with flying colors. He would need to come home on oxygen, but otherwise he was ready. In hind sight of course she did the right thing, but accepting your 26 weeker is ready to come home is one of those horribly conflicting ideas. One one hand you are desperate to get them home, but on the other you panic at the thought that every breath, heart beat, and pee will not be recorded and commented upon.

It was devastating to take Oliver home while Victor was still in the hospital (talk about guilt). But for the brief drive home, on a warm fall afternoon with a confetti of reds, golds, and browns, all I could think about was how we were embarking on the next phase. That change is scary, but necessary. I also felt hope, because if one was coming home, the other one must be close behind. It was hard looking after Oliver all day and then bolting to the hospital to see Victor the second my husband walked through the front door, but 11 days later we were driving home again, this time with both car seats filled.

And so as fall announces winter, I don’t think so much about the seasons, but rather the promise of change.

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