She’s here. Our beautiful daughter arrived, and my wife and I couldn’t be happier. Sure, it was hell getting to this point. And while sleepless nights with an infant are challenging, there isn’t much that compares with the heartbreak of leaving your baby in the NICU.
My wife, Katie, started getting sick less than a week after we found out she was pregnant, which timed perfectly with our vacation to Hawaii. Nothing jacks up the intensity of morning sickness quite like a 10-hour flight. That sickness would stick around throughout the pregnancy. With a preeclampsia diagnosis toward the end, Katie was more than ready to get the pregnancy over with and meet our new daughter, Adley. However, she was enjoying her mom’s womb and had no interest in making things easy.
Adley Makes Her Appearance
Katie was induced at 7 a.m. on a Wednesday. Fifty-six hours later, Adley finally joined us. It was a long and challenging process. For Katie, it was pure hell to reach that point. But seeing Adley for the first time made everything worth it.
After she was born, the doctors treated Katie and left us with Adley for the first time. We were officially parents, and our world was changing rapidly. We couldn’t wait to get her home!
Problematic Blood Work
But fate pushed us down a different path. Adley’s blood work was problematic. Her glucose levels2 were too high, and she was jaundiced.3
We were forced to temporarily say goodbye three hours after we met our beautiful baby. The hospital transferred Adley to the NICU for further evaluation. Physically and emotionally, Katie was a wreck. I tried to be the voice of reason and keep a brave face, but I was just as concerned. Was all this necessary? Was our daughter in trouble?
More and More Tests
I went to check on Adley several times that first night, held her tiny hand, and looked into her eyes for the brief moments they were open. I kept reminding myself that this was temporary and that she would be home with us within a day or two. But the following day, the doctors wanted to run more tests.
On Sunday, the hospital discharged us and we were hopeful Adley would come home with us. I got up early that morning to check on her, a routine I had developed after four nights of sleeping on a hospital bench. I went down to the NICU to find Adley in an incubator, and I instinctively lunged into the room, ready to pull her out to safety but caught myself when I saw the nurse standing nearby.
She explained how Adley’s bilirubin levels1 remained too low and she needed to be in the incubator under constant light. I was devastated because I knew this meant leaving our baby in the NICU for the foreseeable future.
Hard to Leave the Hospital
After watching Adley for a few more minutes, I went upstairs to check on Katie and tell her the unfortunate news. She took it even harder than I did, creating a solemn atmosphere as we packed our belongings and prepared to check out.
We dropped our stuff in the car before returning to the NICU, where we stayed most of the day. Katie and I both knew leaving that night would be the hardest. We only lived about 10 minutes from the hospital, but the drive home felt like it took an hour. It seemed wrong to leave our baby in the NICU, even if she received the best care. I felt like we were failing her.
Looking for Distractions
When we got home, Katie and I tried to distract ourselves as best as possible. We ordered dinner from our favorite restaurant and tried to watch a movie but found it difficult to concentrate. We were exhausted from the previous five days and longed for a good night’s sleep in our bed.
But that first night was restless. So were the second and the third nights. Every morning we woke up hopeful that we would get to bring our daughter to her new home. Leaving the hospital every night was disappointing; Adley’s bilirubin level was still too low to be removed from the incubator, let alone be discharged from the NICU.
We made the best of those days, but they were some of the most challenging because we had no control. All we could do was hope and wait.
Starting to See Improvement
Four days into her NICU stay, we began to see improvement. They were reducing Adley’s time under the ominous incubator light, and we could hold her for more than 15 minutes at a time. We could also dress her in the countless onesies my wife had bought for much of the previous year. Adley had no way of knowing it, but she was quite the stylish newborn!
It was the first time we started to feel like actual parents. It was exhilarating and frightening. But most of all, it was a relief. Our daughter’s health improved, and we could see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Adley Comes Home
Six days after Adley was born, the hospital finally gave us the green light to bring her home. It was the moment we had been waiting for since we found out Katie was pregnant. It didn’t happen as planned, but we finally made it.
The doctors and nurses did a fantastic job caring for our baby in the NICU. But those first few nights away from Adley were some of the hardest we have ever experienced. Ultimately, her health is all that matters.
She’s now a thriving two-year-old who loves nothing more than running around the house and playing hide and seek. Those first few nights of her life have become a distant memory, tucked away in the back corner of my mind. But it also serves as a reminder of how fortunate we were that she came through it all to flourish now.