October 30th, the day after Mason was born, was our 3 year wedding anniversary. I joked that Terra’s present would be some ice chips and jello. “At least I’m getting jello,” she said. “That’s more than you’re getting.”
Beginning at 8:30 a.m., parade of friends and family walked through our hospital room. Cameras flashed, and people passed Mason around, and everyone smiled and laughed. I was floating through it all, grinning inside and out. I quickly became comfortable changing his diaper (okay birthing class, I guess that's one). I gently pulled Mason from many a guest’s arms. He just felt so good to hold.
Terra was in a lot of physical pain and she stubbornly resisted the advice given to her by 3 different nurses: “get out of bed. Move around.”
The night slid down singing and tired over the day, and we decided to pack Mason off to the special care nursery for the night so that we could sleep for the first night in 3.
At 3:30am, a shadowy figure appeared in our doorway, already talking. Something was wrong. Something about oxygen levels. I struggled to focus. The room was dark. I sat up from my cot. “What’s going on?” my voice was shaking.
Terra was already awake.
“Meconium aspiration,” I heard the scowling nurse say. “His oxygen levels aren’t what we would like them to be, so he’s being treated with oxygen in an incubator…”
As I mentioned before, meconium is baby shit. It has a tar-like thickness. Mason had, indeed, inhaled it in utero.
I stood up. “What does this mean?”
“The Dr. will be in to talk to you very soon.”
I dialed my mother’s phone number (she is a nurse, by the way) and fought tears as I struggled to tell her what what was going on.
“I’ll be right there,” she said as I knew she would.
She and the Dr. arrived at the same time. We still hadn’t turned on the lights in our room. With mecomium aspiration, he explained, it sometimes can a day for it to catch up with the baby. They can compensate, at first, for the lack of oxygen. One would expect, he explained, that eventually, the meconium will be absorbed by said child's lungs and that child can be expected to fully recover. At that point, though, his heart rate was too quick and he was having significant trouble absorbing the oxygen he needs.
We spent the next 6 days in the hospital, feeding Mason with a syringe. I almost did not sleep at all during this time. I spent all my time staring at the heart rate and oxygen monitors. The numbers on the monitors. The movement of the numbers on the monitors. Every few hours they would try to wean the oxygen down a notch. I stared at the numbers. “Please, please, please…”
Eventually they would have to turn the oxygen level back to where it was. As the days wore on, I became so exhausted that I began having auditory hallucinations. I saw light tracers. I stared, stared, stared at the numbers on his monitors. We were able to hold Mason, but it was difficult with all the wires and the oxygen tube. His nose was chafed from the oxygen. It made me angry to look at it. Angry at the hospital, myself, everything. I was tired and I was desperate and I was... mad.
But there was a nurse, Rita. A warm red-head in her 50’s, she was more encouraging and nicer than any of the rest. “That boy,” she would say, looking me dead in the eye “is going to be absolutely fine. He just needs to work a little harder!” Every time she said that, I wanted to hug her. Every night that she had a shift, Mason would seem to improve just a little bit. She turned the oxygen way down and watched him carefully as he fought for air, saying "nope, we're not going to do it for you any more." She did this for hours, all night long. It would make Terra and I so nervous as we watch the oxygen levels drop…
“You’re just going to have to work honey,” Rita would repeat, sweetly.
On Rita's 4th shift while we were there (our 8th day in the hospital) we could finally see that Mason had slowly but steadily improved. The oxygen levels he had been on were going down, ever so slowly. I had started to feel as if I might be able to fall asleep. Terra and I "slept" on the same tiny cot inside our tiny room that the hospital provided for parents of children in the special care nursery. It was about 2/3 the size of a twin bed. I was worried that I could roll over onto her incision, the bed was so small. A TV was always on in that room and I remember staring at the results of the local election as my eyelids became too heavy to...
BANG!! I woke up. It was 5 hours later. The lights in the room were still on. Terra was asleep! She had slept too! I walked out into the hallway toward the nursery and I saw Rita.
“Looky there,” she sang, pointing to Mason.
His heart rate was normal. His oxygen level was at 98%. He had no tubes!!!!!!!!!! He was breathing normally on his own. My heart JIGGED. I hugged Rita, who stumbled back, smiled and waved me away. I couldn't WAIT to tell Terra.
“You all might be able to go home today. I knew that little booger could do it,” I heard Rita say as I leave. (I have called Mason "Booger" ever since.)
I shook Terra violently awake, and she shoved at me, enraged until she noticed that I was sobbing.
“What is it?” She sat up, worried.
I couldn't speak. I tried to catch my breath. I fanned my face with my hands like old ladies do in the south. I hugged her and sobbed.
“What?!!” She pushed me off. “WHAT?”
“He’s okay,” I managed. “He’s totally off of oxygen…” Relief crashed over me.
After a couple of hours, we were allowed to bring Mason into our room and were told that we could go home THAT NIGHT. I felt so fortunate, and sobbed happy tears all day. I felt such a powerful, intense force of happiness all day, and I wondered if it could be God, who I didn't think I believed in.