On Saturday night, as we were driving home from the hospital, I realized with a pang of regret that August 9, 2008 was the first day of Valerie's life that I had not taken any pictures of her. What a delinquent mother I must be, to start to slip so soon! But, as I thought over the day, and how much I had cherished every minute of the 30 every three hours when I was allowed to hold and feed my baby, I think I made the right choice. I wouldn't have wanted to have wasted any of that time tracking down the camera, not even for the sake of "I have pictures from every day of her life." A memory is no less memorable for not having been recorded; in fact, there is a unique value in those memories. Never fear, however, we've taken about 65 pictures since then.
On Saturday morning, Valerie's bilirubins were down, so they took her off one of the three lights, and we found ourselves getting optimistic about actually taking Valerie home on Sunday. Jeremy had a family party and a church party that he wanted to make appearances at on Saturday, so I gave him my blessing to leave me at the hospital so that I could feed Valerie throughout the day, and he could show off pictures like the proud Papa that he is. I'm glad he was able to go, so that he could connect with many of those wonderful people who had been praying for us and bringing us meals, and keep them updated. Phil and Rachel came by to spend part of the day in the education room with me, and it was really nice to spend time with them, even if it probably wasn't the most interesting day for them. Besides, they brought me ice cream.
When they ran her blood work at the end of the night on Saturday, her bilirubins were back up to almost the highest they had been the whole time. I went ahead and packed an all-day bag again for Sunday, and went into the day rather unoptimistically.
The first thing I discovered on Sunday was that someone had moved the hoses for my hospital-grade breast pump, so I had to wean those imaginary second and third babies rather abruptly. Let me just offer my sympathy right now to any mother who has ever had to wean a child, because wow, what a painful experience. That's all I'm going to say about that.
The next thing I found out was that Valerie's bilirubins had gone down a tiny bit, so they were going to take her off another light, but that didn't cheer me up too much, because the last time they took her off a light, her numbers skyrocketed, so I figured the same thing would happen this time. Sunday was a long day, and it didn't help that we had to keep moving out of the education room (which, in spite of getting tiresome, was actually quite comfortable) to make room for other families to visit with their babies.
Monday was exactly one week from the time I checked into the hospital to get induced. When we arrived on Monday morning, the first thing the nurse said to us was, "We're going to do what we can to send you home with your baby today." And she seemed to mean it. It took an eternity to get all the discharge stuff taken care of, but by about noon, we were finally on our way home with our six-day-old baby. I know six days in the NICU is not a very long time in the greater scheme of things, but boy was I glad for it to be over.
A visiting nurse met us at our place with a portable UV light and showed us how to put it on Valerie so that she could start burning up those nasty bilirubins. (Boy, am I going to be happy when I don't ever have to type that word again. Blogger even underlines it in red, because it finds the word offensive, too.) She is attached to the wallaby machine by a six-foot plastic umbilical cord, so her mobility is somewhat limited, but at least we can hold her, now. Being able to hold my baby whenever I want is the most amazing thing in the world.
Monday was a rough day for Valerie, transition-wise. There was too much going on for my little baby who had spent 90% of the first six days of her life wearing goggles and isolated in a small plastic box. She ate poorly, and I started to worry that, when the nurse came the next morning to check her bilirubin levels, they would rush her back to the NICU again. But, as soon as it was dark and calm in the house, Valerie turned into a different person. A very hungry person. And she ate so much that night that I didn't even need to pump, because she was actually keeping up with my production for the first time ever.
Tuesday morning, she was looking noticeably pinker, and, just to demonstrate her new-found normal-babyness, she decided to projectile poop across the room for me when I was changing her in the morning. He bilirubin levels hadn't gone down, however, which confused me a little bit, because she looked so much better, both to me and to the visiting nurse who had come to take her blood for the test. But when we took her to the pediatrician in the afternoon for her first check-up, the doctor explained to us that the numbers don't mean the same thing all the time. A one-day-old baby with a count of 16 is really bad, but a six-day-old baby with a 16 is not bad at all. That would have been something really nice to be told, I don't know, about six days earlier when the nurses started telling us numbers that we knew absolutely nothing about, beyond the fact that they were not good numbers.
Valerie dozed for a good chunk of the day on Tuesday, but it didn't bother me as much as it had on Monday, because I knew she would probably perk back up again right around when I wanted to go to bed. Which, sure enough, she did. Just a little before midnight, alert Valerie took sleepy Valerie's place, and started eating and eating and eating. (I just looked at my notes - she ate 14 times between 11:30 pm and 8:00 am.) Which left little time for Mama to sleep, but fortunately, we still have a freezer full of pumped milk, so Papa was able to pinch-feed for me once or twice so that I could catch a few winks. Then, when my mom came by in the morning, I put her on Valerie patrol so that I could sleep for a couple of hours, and other than one, short bottle-feeding, she didn't wake up to eat until I woke up again at noon to feed her. Her bilirubins weren't any lower this morning, but honestly, I don't care as much about the numbers anymore, because I can see how much better she is doing for myself. You know that whole "sleep when the baby's sleeping" thing? It makes a lot of sense. Difficult to execute, however.
Wow, I talk a lot about Valerie's eating schedule, don't I? Sorry about that. Here are some more pictures, as a reward for trudging all the way through that last, boring paragraph. (More pictures on our Flickr photostream - click on any picture to get there.)
With Mama (five days old)
Watching baby eat (five days old)
That look on my face is, "They're letting me take my baby home!" (six days old)
My little glow worm (six days old)
Wakeman family portrait (eight days old)