Journeys

The family is lounging in the living room, getting pretty used to hanging out in close quarters. Isaac has been home for a week and we appreciate the proximity as expected. Even Luca has calmed down about the new roommate, and besides for sneaking in licks and pawing at the crib when she’s not supposed to, she seems totally cool with Isaac’s presence. Well, she’s also getting at least two walks a day since her parents are home, so that keeps the pup happy.

In the past week Isaac hit his one-month-old mark, had his first pediatrician visit (good review all around), had his first at-home bath, dipped into his own newborn clothes, and even started wearing cloth diapers. It’s been a relatively smooth time, which I know not all parents can say about their first week at home with their baby. But we are comparing this experience to the back-and-forth of home and hospital, which was a whirlwind first month.

Looking back it was a distinct chunk of time with very definitive start and end points. We gave birth and proceeded to spend many waking hours at The Mother Baby Center in midtown Minneapolis. This is a new facility which opened this February, attached to Abbott Northwestern Hospital and Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minneapolis.

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We got to know its winding halls quite well, starting with the routes to Laura’s various rooms. It was in these spacious accommodations that we spent the crazy first week leading up to delivery. It’s where we first got to know the hospitality of the attentive nurses, and where Laura found out that an IV on the back of the hand can be the most painful part of the stay. It’s where news regarding our progress changed daily, where we bought a couple days to give Isaac essential medicines, where we followed royal baby gossip, where contractions went into overdrive on a late Thursday night and an Andrew Bird-looking anesthesiologist delivered Laura the ultimate relief. Only 36 hours after Isaac was born in the operating room, Laura was set to be discharged. Here she is on that Saturday as we packed up, soon a former patient.

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After Isaac was hooked up, scrubbed, measured, and resting, he made his first home in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. My initial visit was while still in the disposable scrubs, and Laura came down in a wheelchair not long after. It was a cozy little room with plenty of machinery and just enough space for a foldout couch. Here we held Isaac for the first time and learned to administer tiny amounts of breast milk on the end of a cotton swab. We crashed here one time after we no longer had a room of Laura’s to stay in, and that’s when Laura was told by a nurse that no, she could not stay up all night, and yes, she needed to attempt sleep.

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The NICU was also where we got our lessons in handwashing/sanitizing, a habit that continues today while Isaac grows. In the hall leading to the NICU are pictures and stories of premature babies then and now, showing how they grew to be healthy kids or young adults. We also noticed this nifty list of famous preemies, including one notable Isaac!

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After the single restless night in Isaac’s actual room, we were lucky to get a spot at The Ronald McDonald House. You know those pop tabs you were taught to put into the little paper houses? They go to fund these excellently furnished spaces for overwhelmed parents of babies that need special attention. The rooms themselves are as comfortable as a modest hotel, with very large bathrooms. There is a huge common area with couches and a fireplace, multiple tables and desks, an outdoor patio, and a massive kitchen where you can take and use anything you need. Snacks and meals are provided by volunteer individuals and organizations. When we found out months ago that the only restaurant in the entire complex was a 24-hour McDonald’s, we scoffed. But now I’m a bit more conflicted about ol’ Ronald and his ways. We spent two nights in the House, which was just a couple hallways away from Isaac. It was generous indeed.

We didn’t have a chance to partake of the volunteer meals, but we certainly got acquainted with the hospital cafeteria. While rooming in, Laura had her choice of a vast menu and was rather pleased with the quality. I would go eat alone in the cafeteria or bring my own food back up to her room. After the birth, I ate there at least once a day, and Laura often multiple times. I think I put a dent in their veggie burger supply, so I hope those stay on the menu.

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Isaac only needed about 5 days in the NICU before moving on. He was hitting all his marks like a healthy boy, so when a room became available he was moved to the Special Care Nursery, down one floor and through fewer elevators and passages. The setup was similar, but simply more spacious and ready for more confident parents. Access to both these wings requires photo ID badges, which we were technically supposed to renew each day. I had found it odd that when Laura was a patient, I never stopped at a single desk to check in and nobody ever stopped to ask who I was or where I was headed. It was a bit concerning that a confident walk and a smile could probably get you unauthorized access, but on one occasion I was finally stopped at the SCN desk even though I had a badge, and the lady asked for my name to check it against a list. She was a bit embarrassed when she realized I was the father, but I was fine with it. Eventually they got used to our faces anyway.

In both the NICU and SCN, we grew accustomed to the beeps and bloops of Isaac’s machine. The three main statistics were around heart rate, respiration, and oxygen saturation of the blood. Laura became a master at knowing the acceptable ranges for each of these, and could predict when an alert was serious and when it was mild. In the Special Care Nursery we received more visitors and Isaac eventually needed fewer and fewer cords. Most importantly, we became proficient at performing his “cares.” The shift nurse did her thing, and our part was to check his temperature and change his diaper. He was fed every three hours at 3-6-9-12 around the clock, and we watched the transition from an enteral feeding tube to a bottle. Laura took to learning how much he could handle, and for a while it was half by bottle, then the other half in the tube.

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Of course, when Isaac could take full bottles consistently he was very close to being ready for home. He had one evening of stomach sickness that was thankfully short-lived and the blood tests and X-ray showed nothing alarming. He passed his hearing and heart tests with no problem, but failed his car seat tests, which required him to sit in the seat for an hour without “desaturating” his O2 levels. It was after the second time that we pushed for the car bed instead, and the doctors gave us the okay. He will have to return in a few weeks to try again, and we are not to travel anywhere by car except to his pediatrician appointments. He also came home with a portable apnea monitor which gives off smoke detector-caliber shrieks and is mostly full of false alarms and “loose lead” notifications. He does fine when we take him off it.

Overall, our experience at The Mother Baby Center was expectedly emotional but generally fantastic. The staff who count, that is the nurses and doctors, were extremely attentive and helpful and really shaped our stay there. Besides for a couple duds, there were several top quality nurses who excel at gently guiding parents through this turbulent process. We cannot say enough about all the help and the value of the myriad resources we were pointed toward. Did I mention there is a complimentary Best Buy Geek Squad office right in the hospital? They helped us order the parts we needed for Laura’s dead laptop, and then they got it revived free of charge.

All this is to say that you should get in touch with your many wealthy philanthropist friends and make sure they earmark some donations to The Mother Baby Center/Children’s Hospital. We were lucky we gave birth here and would recommend it to anyone. However, we are also so relieved to be home. I could get used to this stay-at-home parent stuff. The days are already flying by, but they seem much more normal than our previous five weeks. Cue the next chapter.

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