Hello! Welcome back to my blog series about my 4th and final pregnancy as a newborn photographer! I hope that you've been enjoying the story so far, but if you're just joining the series, check out the announcement, maternity and birth posts, too! Ok, with that taken care of, I'll continue the story where I left off:
Ashley was all settled into the NICU and I had been moved upstairs to the maternity floor at Reston Hospital Center, and it began to hit me that she wasn't with me. I knew that she was in the NICU, but it didn't really hit me until it was just Seth and I in the room. When I was still in labor, one of the neonatologists came and talked to us about what the NICU would be like, what she was likely to need and about how long she would be there. In my head, I understood everything that she was saying. Of course Ashley would need help maintaining body temperature! She was going to be small! A 34 weeker isn't terribly early but it's not ideal, either. I intellectually understood why she should be brought into the NICU, I just didn't understand what it would mean emotionally.
I wasn't emotionally prepared for the sense that something was wrong. It felt that way because something WAS wrong: I had just had a baby and I wasn't with her. I wasn't waking up every few hours to nurse her; I was waking up to attach myself to a machine to provide breastmilk for her. This pump and I were best friends.
I wasn't snuggling her to make sure that she was warm; she was in an incubator for warmth.
I didn't have to document her feedings/diapers; the INCREDIBLE NICU nurses were keeping close track of what she was doing, but it should have been me.
I couldn't kiss her anytime I wanted because I needed to rest and recover myself. (As I write this, she's snuggled on my lap and I'm kissing her over and over again.)
One of my nurses made me promise to sleep because she saw how often I was awake, either pumping or down in the NICU with Ashley. While I was there, Seth had gone home to take care of the older three and I was alone in the hospital. There was a code pink (where not all babies were accounted for) and a nurse came into my room and said "We're just counting all of the babies. Is your baby here with you?" And I had to respond "No, she's in the NICU." That was a hard moment for me because she SHOULD have been in the room with me. (Side note: The "missing" baby was never actually missing and there was just a miscommunication.)
When I was sitting in the NICU, I became very grateful, very quickly. Other babies were brought into the NICU that had trouble breathing or weren't moving well or had consistently low sugar or had a myriad of other medical issues. Not all of Ashley's neighbors were sick, but most of them were. That's why it became my mantra to say "She's not sick, she's just small." And she was! A teeny tiny peanut that was perfect in every other way besides being born almost 6 weeks early. While being in the NICU, I became accustomed to the beeping (especially the really sensitive pulse ox that would alarm whenever she moved in a way that it didn't like).
I was discharged after 48 hours, but Ashley had to stay in the hospital because she still wasn't regulating her temperature well and was also having difficulty with her billirubin levels. Thankfully my parents live in Reston, so I was able to stay at their house while Ashley was still in the NICU. But leaving that hospital without her was one of the hardest things that I've ever done. I was heartbroken to leave her there. At night, I would spend hours sitting in the chair, holding her close and attempting to nurse her (which was hard because she was so small and nursing is more of a workout for preemies than many of them can handle). I visited her twice a day, every day because the thought of her being in the hospital with no one other than nurses and doctors (as incredible and loving as they were), made me infinitely sad for her. I wanted to be with her and bond with her as much as I could.
As a photographer, I've seen hundreds of Fresh 48 sessions done beautifully. (Fresh 48 sessions are where a photographer comes to the hospital and takes documentary style images of everyone still in the hospital.) But I wasn't going to have that experience. Not exactly.
Blaire came to see us in the hospital while Ashley was still in the NICU, so we did a preemie session. I am in love with these images because it's a reminder to me of how small she really was. Not everyone knows what a NICU looks like, but that 8x8 space was my whole world for 11 days. Here are some of my favorite images from that day. (All images credited to Second Ave Photography)
This space would be where my little girl would fight to get to where she needed to be. This space was where I bonded with her for the first time. And this space was the only place that I felt whole because I had her with me, quietly sleeping on my chest among the steady beeping of the NICU monitors.
I hope that you're enjoying the photographic journey of my last year! Stay tuned for the next part of my series: Posed Newborn Sessions