Chances are good, no mother is prepared to leave her newborn at the NICU and return home empty-handed. I certainly wasn't, but in fact, we got through our NICU time pretty smoothly. It wasn't until a few days before we were going to spring Charlie free that he started having episodes of Bradycardia during feedings or even just while awake.
When he began having bradys more regularly, my nerves unraveled like a ball of yarn dropped from 15,000 feet. I became obsessed with his heart monitor, watching the numbers creep and dip, creep and dip... When they reached a certain zone, I found myself reacting to the numbers, rather than watching Charlie and reacting to him.
My tipping point
While the nurses were compassionate, I could tell one really thought I'd lost it. For a new mother going through post-partum depression — which wreaks havoc on emotions, confidence and any sense of reason — realizing a nurse thought I wasn't stable was a tipping point. If I wasn't a mess before, I was then.
The neonatologists monitoring Charlie decided he could come home if he wore a heart monitor 24 hours a day. If an incidence of Bradycardia occurred, the monitor would alert us.
Um, yeah. No kidding.
Living room arrest
What happened next was a month-long house arrest for Charlie and me. Actually, it was more of a living room arrest. The heart monitor looked a little like a cable box, except bigger and bulkier. It sat in a soft pack, intended to protect it during falls (more on that theory shortly).
One cord connected the monitor to the electrical outlet of our choosing and another cord connected to a smaller power-cord-esque box that connected to smaller wires that connected to... my baby.
Two tiny leads were held in place near Charlie's armpits by a strip of Velcro that wrapped around his chest. That meant he couldn't wear anything with zippers — just snaps. This is a form of torture for someone with fresh C-section scars and a lack of experience to know not to try changing a wriggly infant from within his bassinette.
Medaling in diaper relays
I am neither exaggerating nor embarrassed to tell you that changing Charlie's diapers while he was tethered to the heart monitor became an Olympic relay between The Husband and me. One would begin the process, then shout, "Help!" in agony as we clutched our searing lower backs and staggered out of the way so the other could complete the mission.
It was pathetic, but since we couldn't have visitors for those first few weeks, we couldn't have a rational, well-rested friend witness this scene and say, "Um, have you considered moving the changing table downstairs or changing him on your bed? Or on the floor? Or anywhere that doesn't turn you into the Hunchback of Notre Dame?"
Ah, the fresh, naive, clueless wonder of being a first-time parent.
For weeks, I faithfully sat by Charlie's side as he slept or ate or cuddled or pooped audibly. (Sorry, kid. By the time you read this, I might be recovered.)
For weeks, I moved Charlie, his bassinette and his corded cable box from our bedroom to the living room in the morning, then back again at night. For weeks, I hovered over him within a 30-foot by 15-foot range.
Then it happened. I got clumsy. Freud might say I did it on purpose. (Wait, didn't Freud say everything one does is on purpose?)
In my haste to make the daily transition from bedroom to living room, I dropped it.
No, not Charlie. That's a separate blog post. Stay with me here.
I dropped the heart monitor.
The soft pack did nothing to protect our ears from the shrill, shrieking alarm that Charlie's cable box screamed. And screamed.
Nothing I did — no button I pushed — could stop the piercing, constant blare.
Charlie never batted an eyelash. In retrospect, now that I know his personality even better, he likely enjoyed the whole chaotic scene.
Now, I'm sure you're thinking, unplug the thing, dummy! Listen, hotshot. I tried everything. I unplugged it. I tried to force it to power down. I flipped it over and sideways and upside down, trying to access its battery power.
Yes, battery power. The blessed device had battery power so that, in the event of a blackout, our child's heart would continue to be monitored. Except, no one stopped to consider the effects of a blare-out, and its impacts on my heart!
'Try unplugging it!'
Finally, I called the company for some of that 24-hour, 365-days-a-year support its stickers touted. And waited on hold, I think. I couldn't hear anything above the high-pitched nuclear weapons alarm going off in my bedroom, so I really wasn't sure at first.
When I reached a human some 8 minutes later, she didn't quite seem to grasp my situation.
Heart Monitor Lady No. 1 asked if I'd tried pressing the power button.
Heart Monitor Lady No. 1 asked if I'd unplugged it from the wall.
Heart Monitor Lady No. 1 asked if she could transfer me to technical support.
What? What other kind of support does a caller with a heart monitor need?
Enter, Heart Monitor Lady No. 2
After sitting on hold again for a few minutes, I was beyond eager to hear her voice. Without letting her introduce herself, I shouted, "Don't hang up and don't transfer me to anyone else! Can you hear that sound? Our heart monitor is broken and it won't shut up!"
I may have sounded crazy, but I figured the crazy angle might work. It did. Sort of. Heart Monitor Lady No. 2 began consulting manuals.
First rule of Baby Club
Starting to really get annoyed (not rattled, mind you, but thoroughly peeved), I asked her how I was supposed to feel confident my newborn preemie baby (yes, I used all those words) was OK since the monitor clearly was not monitoring.
"Please keep your eyes on your baby," advised Heart Monitor Lady No. 2.
Really, lady? While I grapple with this hedonistic box of terror, I'm supposed to keep my eyes on the baby?
Nothing was working. I was losing the last .02 ounces of patience remaining in my big toe.
"Well, there is one other thing I can tell you, but I'm really not supposed to advise it," Heart Monitor Lady No. 2 said. I would have tossed the phone through the wall if that comment hadn't been wrapped in hope.
"What?" I bellowed. (Phone etiquette is irrelevant when you're competing with the squeal of technology gone berserk.)
Heart Monitor Lady No. 2 hesitated. "Well, I really am not supposed to tell you this," she repeated.
That was it.
"Lady, do you hear this sound? I am standing here over my baby while this machine makes us both crazy! Whatever you know, tell me!"
"OK, well, you will need to put the machine down and get a screwdriver."
Um, I'm sorry, what?
"But please, do not take your eyes off your baby," Heart Monitor Lady No. 2 implored, suddenly and finally concerned for his welfare. "Please continue to monitor him at all times."
OK, apparently I failed the First Rule of Baby Club: Never store your tools and your baby in separate rooms.
Some guy named Phillip
Technically, I wasn't in charge of the tools, because tools are stored in the garage. The garage is The Husband's domain.
And, might I add, a domain whose topography shifts dramatically and regularly, depending on how many hours The Husband seeks to spend in the garage reorganizing shelves like he's doing inventory for Lowe's.
I glanced wildly from Charlie to the door leading to the garage and back again.
Screw it. This wasn't about life or death. This was about hearing loss and not feeling fashion-forward in a straightjacket.
"OK," I said in my most reassuring voice. "I'll need to put the phone down so I can get a screwdriver and keep my eyes on the baby at all times." I rolled my eyes at that last part.
"OK," Heart Monitor Lady No. 2 said in a tone chipper enough to convey that she no longer had the phone to her ear and was being spared the apocalyptic shrew tied to my baby.
You did not just ask me that
In a flash, I was standing in the garage, surrounded by shelves and boxes and no aisle signage to offer clues. I spent half a second pondering the utility of trying to locate a screwdriver on my own before deciding this was why God invented cell phones.
I interrupted The Husband in a meeting at work — in hindsight, the first of many, many times over the course of our early parenting years (i.e., up to and including yesterday).
I remember vividly only one portion of our exchange. After asking me if I'd tried unplugging the demon machine holding my sanity captive, he shared that, in fact, he knew exactly where the star-pointed screwdriver was and apparently some guy named Philip had put it there.
From there, it took mere moments for Heart Monitor Lady No. 2 to walk me through the process of extracting the battery from the heart monitor, finally silencing the voice of Satan.
Basking in the freedom of fresh, silent air, I hung up the phone and turned back to the baby, the same baby I was never supposed to take my eyes from during this afternoon soap opera.
In typical Charlie form, he was fast asleep. Unfazed. Probably entertained.
By the time the heart monitor company representative arrived the next day to replace the errant box, I was completely over the whole thing. Charlie was pink and healthy and just fine. We thanked the representative for the new monitor and never used one again.
Do I recommend that? No. I don't recommend a lot of the things I did after becoming a parent for the first time.
But as with all those other mistakes I made, we survived.