11 Lessons Learned About Combating Stress While Our Baby Was in Neonatal Care
It was 3.50 am. I woke up and heard Swati calling me from the bathroom. Perturbed, I rushed to her aid.
Her amniotic fluid was leaking. But our baby was not due for another 7–8 weeks. Our gynecologist was out on a vacation.
Nevertheless, I called him and he advised me to get her to the ER. I tried to focus on the route — and not dwell on the turmoil in my mind — as I drove to the hospital. I reached the hospital, admitted Swati, and saw the gurney pull her away inside.
A few minutes later, the emergency doctor called me inside-outside Swati’s hearing range.
“We need to do a C-section” she said.
“Today?” I asked, “Can’t you do something to arrest this?”
I desperately wanted our baby to have some more time. I wanted some more time for myself. I was not ready to be a parent yet.
“Not today,” the doctor said “Tomorrow. We have to administer 2 steroid doses, 12 hours apart, for the baby’s lungs to develop fully. Your wife will be under observation for this duration. Let’s hope the contractions don’t appear within this 24-hour window.”
I was angry at the doctor for bludgeoning me with these hard facts. I was grateful to her for sparing Swati from this onslaught.
I was numb, overwhelmed. I felt small and powerless.
I went to see my wife and gave her the gist. “I tried,” she sobbed “but I couldn’t make it till the end”.
Yes, she tried, as if it was ever under her control. The doctors detected “cervical funneling” at the end of her first trimester. Our gynecologist performed a “cervical suture” so that the baby could survive. She was confined to bed, then homebound for 4 months. She braved, endured, and kept smiling through it all.
We knew it was a miracle to make it this far. We desperately needed another one.
Alone in the waiting room, I agonized over the hours and the days to come. I struggled to fight the fear and anxiety that threatened to engulf me.
Am I strong enough to handle all of this? What do I do next? The future seemed bleak and uncertain.
But the miracle outlet had some in store for us after all. We clawed up from that trough and learned some valuable lessons to combat stress in that process.
1. Take just one step at a time
The doctor warned me not to keep my hopes high. “The road ahead will be very long “, she said, “even if everything goes well now”.
It was unbearable. I felt like drowning in a sea of bad news and obstacles. But I decided to concentrate on actions that were still under my control, and attend them one by one.
I called up immediate family members I informed our insurers and took care of the paperwork. It kept me busy and it kept my mind away from worries.
I silently bargained with the universe — “I will keep my end, you make sure to keep yours”. In hindsight, it really did.
2. Show up with a shave
The 24-hours crept on. Swati was all-heart, and she fought hard.
She remained unfed throughout the duration, as the doctors wanted to perform C-section at a short notice in case of a contraction. She kept her eyes glued to the baby heart monitor throughout the night.
At home, I mentally prepared for the next day and prayed for the two lives that matter to me the most.
Unpredictable parameters threatened to unravel my life. I decided to hope for the best and control at least one aspect of this ordeal.
If the baby arrives, he/she will not see me in my 3-day old stubble. I decided to show up with a shave.
3. Have faith on the competency of others
Our parents and I showed up early at the hospital the next morning. Our gynecologist was to return on the morning that day. His absence so far bothered me.
He showed up on time, crisply dressed, had a few words with me, and went it to don the scrubs. I learned later that he conferred with senior doctors on his way back, and instructed them on my wife’s care. I felt relieved and grateful.
The procedure went well. Soon, I was the father of minuscule, but an otherwise healthy boy of 1.1 Kgs. Swati was awake and well. I had a brief chat with the pediatrician. I was content — my boy was in safe and capable hands.
When things spiral out, we are tempted to blame others for our woes. Instead, have faith in others and trust them to do their job.
4. You are wiser than you think
The first critical phase was over. But the long journey to nurture a premie baby had just begun — just as the ER doctor had warned.
Our baby was barely a functioning human at this point. His nascent lungs were supported by C-PAP. IVs ran through his tiny arms and legs, exuded saline and medication, as the alimentary system was not yet functional.
The sight of him wrapped and straddled broke our hearts.
But we knew he was in capable hands, and getting the best possible care needed to develop his delicate structure. He blossomed in fits and starts.
We utilized this time. We gathered knowledge, updated our know-how. Swati learned about kangaroo-care, feeding, and fostering a premature baby. I loaded up on information as well.
That was the best use of our time. The knowledge and training would serve us fabulously.
5. Ask and support arrives from unexpected places
But some things were out of our control. I worked at a remote facility of a tech giant, which has several offices in the city. I drove Swati to the hospital, at the heart of the city, and doubled back to my work in the outskirts, in the exact opposite direction.
I requested my bosses, not without trepidation, to assign me temporarily at the central office, which was located much nearer to the hospital.
Within two days, a vacant seat was found, and I moved to the central office. I worked from there throughout the duration while my son was in NICU. I couldn’t be more grateful.
When we face a hard time, approaching for help is often painful or awkward. But most of the people, I’ve learned, want to help others. Shove down the reservations, reach out and ask for that help, and it usually arrives.
6. Be Grateful for the things taken for granted
The days crawled by. In spite of a ton of stress and uncertainty, we still felt grateful for certain things.
We felt grateful, weirdly enough, to not have to care for the frangible infant right away. We felt grateful, to have free time to learn and prepare for the coming days, rest assured that our baby had the best possible care.
We felt grateful for our jobs, the paid and unpaid leaves, the medical plans which compensated the bulk of expenses. We felt grateful for our investments which settled the rest.
We felt grateful for our closest friends and family, who were always supportive of our plight.
Forgetting to be grateful for the little things is easy during harsh and stressful times. But those things do matter. Nurture gratitude towards these little things to make the days endurable.
7. Don’t forget to pamper yourself
Even with the grueling daily schedule, the commutes, managing the visiting hours, we tried to take out time for ourselves. We read books, watched movies together, exercised, to keep our minds from the constant nagging worry. Sometimes, the self-care induced guilt triggers but kept us sane and in shape.
We reminded ourselves to live in the moment. We assured ourselves that taking care of ourselves was the best use of our free time to keep the stress and worries at bay.
8. Don’t compare with your neighbor’s lawn
Still, the distress crept in every once in a while. It was easy to compare with others and give in to despair.
Everyone seemed to have normal, uncomplicated childbirth. Their little ones touted perfect birth weights and ran around the neighborhood.
We often wondered why the misfortune chose to befall on us. But we figured that this is wishful thinking and it’s a kind of self-torture. We tried not to indulge in it.
Our daily trips to the neonatal ward helped to give us a perspective. Our heart went out for other babies, who struggled with complex maladies, rare conditions, and sometimes, with deformities.
Our worries for our boy, who regressed on certain days, as preemies are wont to do, paled in comparison to the worries of the parents of those children.
9. Forgive the imbeciles
We received oodles of support, encouragement, and kind words. But still, there were few judgments, observations, and questions that irritated and sometimes appalled us.
Retorting back is not always fruitful and not a good use of time. We consoled ourselves, that these were done in ignorance, not in malice, and moved on. To forgive and avoid the imbeciles who contribute to stress, is a wise strategy.
10. Have an expectation and life will trip you over it
As the release day neared, we looked forward to the day when we can bring our boy home. But a mini test waited for us yet.
A week before the scheduled discharge date, our cook took a day off, since she was not feeling well. She had some weird rashes and the doctor suspected chickenpox.
We called the NICU to inform. We were instructed not to enter the neonatal ward for 7 days. We might be exposed to the contagion, and the risk to our child and other defenseless babies will be too high.
We agreed with the verdict, but it was a tremendous blow nevertheless. Those 7 grueling days, of not being able to see our child, while he laid on a glorified tray surrounded by strangers, was too much to bear.
After the torturous week, we came to know that the rash was — just a rash. Meanwhile, we had our blood tests — they came out negative — and the discharge date was postponed for another week.
We learned that there’s really many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip. We learned not to set up our expectations high because the plummet hurts proportionally.
We decided to just be complacent and wait till the release day arrives.
11. Every long road eventually ends
And then, our ordeal was finally over.
Keyaan weighed 1.8 Kgs, after spending 42 days away from his home. We got a green light to take him home. We were both jubilant and terrified. The responsibility of the well-being of a little human being was entirely ours now.
We earned our parenting chops in the next 2 years. Keyaan had his struggles, still does. The developmental delays made us anxious, the regular physiotherapy sessions after a hard workday are taxing.
But he is a treat. He takes every challenge head-on, with a dazzling smile and mows them down.
The insurmountable odds that piled upon us on that fateful night, look pretty watered down and manageable now. Our long road has ended.
Powerslam your stress down on the mat
Stressful crossroads in your life will make you overwhelmed, confused, powerless, and pessimistic.
But the world is not ending, even if it seems so. The best thing to do is to acknowledge the struggle ahead and take baby steps.
Use the lessons above and form your personal arsenal. And then use that to confront and decimate your stress.
This battle will not be an easy one. But, don’t let that dishearten you. Resistance against stress is like a muscle. Every incremental progress makes it stronger.
Slowly, you will feel resolute, decisive, efficacious, and optimistic about the future. The world’s end will fade down to a change in season. You will feel at the helm of the course of events.
So get your anti-stress muscles toned. Next time — and there always will be the next time — you will be in much better shape to combat stress.
Bonus: Here’s our son Keyaan, as he explores the lawns of a river-side resort on a recent trip.
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