Today is Henry’s due date. Instead of eagerly awaiting the birth of my first-born, I am on paternity leave with a young man who is about to be one month old. I took a couple of weeks off to acclimate to my new life and help Sofia get everything in order. It is one of the best decisions I have ever made. I know I have to go to work eventually, but having this time with Henry and Sofia in the meantime is invaluable.
Over this past weekend, Sofia and I adjusted to life outside the NICU. But it felt so uncertain. We were conditionally released from the NICU. The condition? Henry had to continue to gain weight at a relatively regular rate. So we started tracking feedings in a spreadsheet and turned it into a numbers game. Within a couple days, we had him on a schedule in which he took in the optimal amount of breast milk each day. And when we went in for his first Well-Child Visit on Monday, we had gained five ounces (to seven pounds five ounces). Perfectly on target.
It’s only been a couple of days since that appointment. But everything feels different now. We’re (mostly) in the clear. My parents, who helped for the first four days, have gone home. Now we are alone and…we have a baby. It’s been a strange adjustment. Just going with the flow seems like the only approach, making sure that everything is taken care of. In the past two days, I think I’ve turned to Sofia three times and exclaimed, “we have a baby!” The surrealness of this moment is difficult to put into words.
Although this period of our lives is beyond exciting, it has its share of drawbacks. I find that I don’t care about the lack of free time or ability to go out that I’ve read and heard so much about. Instead, the difficulties are largely retroactive. For Sofia, it is trying to come to terms with having a baby despite never going through labor and never even experiencing anything in the way of constant contractions. For me, it’s the rush of emotion that comes with realizing I was living in survival mode since the sonographer told us, “Looks like your baby picked his own birthday.”
I still cannot think about the birth story without tearing up at the memory of the anxiety and fear. That’s part of why I have been keeping this blog. Writing about everything is my best way of coming to terms with what happens in my life. It’s how I understand the world around me. It just so happens, in instances such as this one, that it also became a great format to keep my friends and family up-to-date with what’s going on.
The other reason I keep this blog is for support. If this blog is found by just one expectant parent who is anticipating a Gastroschisis birth, this will have been worth my time and energy. It reminds me of when i kept a Peace Corps blog after returning to the states. I had probably a dozen people reach out to me over the years seeking guidance or to just talk something out.
So that brings me to the core of what i want to cover. If you, or someone you know, is dealing with an expectant case of Gastroschisis, please reach out to me. If the child is already born and you want to know about the recovery process, reach out to me. If you are in the NICU or anticipating being in the NICU for something other than Gastroschisis, please reach out to me. I wish I had known even half of what I know now. I didn’t even know what questions to ask. I hope I can be that guiding light for someone else.
Sofia and I found out about Henry’s birth defect with a test at 18 weeks. We had 18 weeks after that diagnosis to prepare for the NICU. Even with that preparation, I honestly had no idea what to expect. From dealing with nurses to becoming you newborn’s advocate, there is so much that you simply cannot prepare for. A support system is the best thing you can ask for. I was lucky enough to have that–both in my wife and in nearby family and friends. Even if I am a small part, I would love to be a part of your support system.
If you would like to reach out to me, my email is RichardThomasReilly@gmail.com