Underneath are boxes to check off, steps that need to be taken and milestones that need to be reached before he can be discharged.
Jon and I have been checking off the parental duties for weeks: “Take infant CPR,” “Give first tub bath,” and “Learn how to administer vitamins and any medications.”
Jax has been doing his part, too: “Go one week with no A’s and B’s (apneas and bradycardias),” “Bottle or breast at every feeding,” and “Reach discharge weight.” (For the record, Superpreemie Jax blew past the requisite 4 pounds, 12 ounces weeks ago.)
What we’ve been most excited to check off, though, is “Rooming in.”
When NICU babies are stable and nearing discharge, parents are invited to “room in” a night or two with their preemie.
York Hospital’s facility has a hospitality room, not much smaller than an economical hotel room, where out-of-town parents can spend the night if their baby is transferred to York’s NICU.
It’s also where many parents spend their first night alone with their baby.
On Sunday, Jon and I finally roomed in with Jax. We arrived at the CCN around 6 p.m., expecting a long orientation about what we should and shouldn’t do. There was none. The nurse on duty unplugged Jax’s monitor, and we walked beside him as she wheeled him to the room.
I definitely thought Jax should be in a bubble, not in open hospital air during a flu epidemic, but that’s just normal, NICU parent germophobia, right?
Anyway, we got to the room, Jax got plugged back in, and we obsessed over his numbers for a bit until we remembered: Watch the baby, not the monitor. I think if all babies, premature or not, came with monitors and parents could see their vital signs at all times, they’d be nervous wrecks.
Breathing rates dip and heart rates jump. They just do. Preemies just need to learn to regulate those things, and Jax is doing a great job of …
And then his alarm went off. And then we freaked out a little.
In hindsight, even the nurse was fairly certain one of Jax’s leads fell off while he was being transferred, which can cause the alarm to go off.
But his heart rate was low, and Jon and I spent a long minute watching the monitor while the alarm sounded, tapping Jax’s feet to remind him to breathe more so his heart rate would rise and waiting for the nurse to rush back (she could see his numbers from the nurse’s station).
As soon as she left, we turned the monitor screen to the wall and clicked on the AFC Championship game instead. We changed into the pajama pants we packed and ate the takeout we’d picked up on our way to the hospital.
It was pretty much like any evening at home.
The rest of the night was amazingly uneventful. I fed Jax when he got hungry. We snapped pictures and took turns holding him while we watched the game, then tucked him in and settled in ourselves.
No more alarms.
It was the first time we were ever alone in a room with our baby, and it was great.
I’m not saying all nights with a newborn will be that easy, or that it wasn’t atypical, albeit comforting, to know that a team of medical professionals were right outside our door.
But as we’ve had to do many times throughout this entire NICU journey, we accepted the non-normalcy and learned a new way to do things.
And now we have something else to check off the list, something that gets us closer to more amazingly uneventful “normal” times.
We can’t wait.