The OVERNIGHT TEST: kAT’s story
Kat’s daughter Hazel was born too soon. Here, she tells the story of becoming a parent on a neonatal ward.
The Overnight Test and other things you learn when your baby comes far too early.
A year ago today I woke up in hospital next to my baby for the first time.
She had been on this earth for a grand total of 54 days and yet this was the first time I was able to see her the moment I opened my eyes, before either of us had had our coffee – a caramel latte for me, a shot of pure caffeine to the heart for her.
She was perfect. Still – though not in a terrifying way; her tiny chest rising and falling impossibly fast. And only one tube left now, taped to her nose and laid across where there would be a pillow – if pillows weren’t one of the millions of things I had been sworn off, convinced that merely putting my daughter in the same room as one, would lead to instant asphyxiation.
It was a glorious and terrifying day. We had just parented unobserved for 8 hours and it was time to go outside onto the neonatal ward and ask the doctors and nurses whether we had passed The Overnight Test. Whether we were allowed to take her home.
“Whether we could dare to feel like proper parents.“
We had done everything in our power so that at this moment, no one could possibly say no. We had not only done everything by the book*, but in some cases actually rewritten it for future parents’ clarification.
*Side note: There was a ridiculously archaic PowerPoint doc (that’s a slide deck for those under 30) which taught us how to test our baby’s feeding tube for stomach acid before every tube feed, lest we fill her tiny lungs with milk and drown her – something else to add to the daily torrent of anxiety that washed over in those early days.
The multiple choice PowerPoint, being as old as it was, referred to the correct way of carrying a baby as ‘the Madonna pose’. Since most people know Madonna to be the goddess of pop and not the mother of Jesus Christ, holding your child whilst voguing seemed like an odd answer, and so everyone was getting the question wrong. I remarked on this and said that someone ought to rewrite these questions, and the incredibly busy nurse on a 12-hour shift, scoffing down her lunch, whilst simultaneously showing me how to complete said PowerPoint, looked at me and said ‘Yes. Yes they should’. Which is why, out of interest, I can now legitimately add ‘medical copywriter’ to my CV.
So having completed the digital training, been observed shakily measuring out iron droplets into painstakingly pumped milk, completed infant CPR courses, learnt how to bathe her with her tubes in, and now having made it through a whole night on our own, (terrifyingly free of the bleeping machined soundtrack that told me that she was all right) it was time to see if we were deemed fit to take this tiny human home with us.
This was just one small part of our premmie journey. I could have written about the time an almost sociopathically casual doctor told us about our daughter’s brain bleed, as calmly as if he was ordering lunch – tapping his iPhone and zooming into ominously dark patches on our baby’s x-ray.
Or about the days before she was born, when they walked us around the neonatal ward to ‘desensitise us’, and pointed at the tiniest human I could ever have imagined and said – ‘this one’s the same size as yours will be’.
But in case there is a mother reading this who is currently sitting bare chested and pumping in front of an incubator which contains everything she’s ever wanted. Or for the father currently having to make the choice between staying with his wife or following an incubator, containing a child he has never touched, I wanted to offer a slightly more hopeful story.
“Hope being the currency of the neonatal ward.“
So, we stepped out of our little room, the three of us together for the first time, and nervously asked the nurse if we had passed The Overnight Test. She looked at me as if I had gone slightly mad. As it turns out, this wasn’t a test anyone expected you to fail, just a safety net to transition you into going it alone.
And so, rather anticlimactically, we crept from the ward carrying our baby, guiltily like we were stealing her away from her real home. Neither one of us wanting to admit that our hurried footsteps betrayed the thought that someone might catch up with us to tell us there’d been a mistake.
We took her home via the traditional parental right of passage – the white-knuckled 5 MPH drive. And that evening we ordered tacos, which I instantly dropped on her head whilst breast feeding… It hadn’t been one of my main goals in the NICU, to lick guacamole off my infant’s head, but in that slightly salty, avocado-y moment, I finally felt like a mum.
Premature birth is a lot more common than you think, I’m sharing my story with Borne in the hope that it reaches someone going through it right now – you are not alone.