The worst week of my life

Cee was born on a Friday morning and spent the first weekend of her life in the NICU under the lights, being treated for a mild case of jaundice—she’s A+ like Carter while I’m O+, and was sluggish during her first night with us. As we were trying to sleep the pediatricians came in, looked at her, then took her to the nursery for some time in a bili blanket. Her levels didn’t go down; in the morning they said that out of caution they were putting her under the heavy-duty NICU lights, and supplementing her with formula since my milk hadn’t come in yet.

It was good in a way; I was able to rest and sleep and go up to the nursery to attempt breastfeeding every four hours or so. Three of my closest friends came to visit on Saturday and I escorted them up to meet her. My best friend burst into tears—good ones—at the sight of her. We stood in front of the incubator with our arms around each other and looked—just looked at her.

Carter went home to sleep on Saturday night, and I spent the night going up and down to and from the NICU. He came and brought food—sandwiches and smoothies from Whole Foods, Chinese takeout. Sunday they released her, and we put her in the carseat and drove home with Carter’s mother in tow. I had a feeling of mild unease when we went home; I knew that the real hard times were about to begin. Over the next few days my breasts became painfully engorged, my legs and ankles and feet swelled with fluids. I couldn’t fit in any of my shoes. The nights were murderously difficult as I tried to feed Cee with my minimal milk and then supplemented her with formula. I think I burst into tears on Tuesday night after Cee burst out of her ineffectual swaddle for the third time.

The engorgement slowly began to fade; by the weekend it seemed things were better. Sunday, however, Cee stopped eating. Her latch was terrible and then she began to refuse formula, which was a first. As she faded we panicked and went back to the ER; they admitted her to the NICU again. We hoped it was jaundice; it was not. The nurses and doctors had no idea what it was. They did every test they could think of over the next week: upper GI, head ultrasound, jaundice, electrolytes, blood cultures, spinal taps, everything. All was normal.

I became gradually more and more unhinged. I would go to the NICU and sit there with my floppy baby on my lap, sobbing over her. My milk production was low, and I spent hours tethered to the pump. I’ve never fallen apart like that before. I spent time furtively running searches on the internet about obscure medical conditions. I tried to bargain with God.

Carter’s mother came to help us, buying me flowers and cooking meals and staying up to keep me company. I tried to pump to bring in milk to the NICU—I didn’t manage to get much. Less than an ounce most of the time. Stress? I don’t know.

On Thursday the 7th, my mother-in-law and I got up to go to the NICU in the morning. When we arrived, the nurse told us that Cee had eaten 70 milliliters, and had been fussy. I high-fived her and promptly burst into tears. Now you’ve got me going, said my mother-in-law, and then she started to cry.

I leaned over her bed and kissed Cee on her forehead and promised her that I’d never complain about being woken up in the middle of the night again. All the while wiping my nose to avoid dripping tears and snot all over her.

I texted Carter that she’d eaten 70 milliliters!

I took her onto my lap and breastfed her, while my mother-in-law took a call from Carter. She handed the phone to me and I said yes, she’s eating, I’m nursing her right now. He told me he loved me.

That moment was like the laws of entropy had been reversed in the universe.

They kept her for a few more days to make sure she gained weight. I went home and pumped milk with a renewed determination. She came home the following Sunday morning. We were together again.