The most unforgettable day in my life!

by Rebecca Lemke

My son was just four days old.

The hospital had kept us for the first two days of his life and sent us home on the morning of the third day. I remember it was the only day in his entire first week that it wasn’t raining.

We had been through a hellish and dangerous pregnancy and were all just thankful to be alive and going home.

He was tiny, a little over six pounds. We had to prop him up with swaddling blankets in his car seat.

When we arrived home he nursed constantly. He had difficulties keeping his temperature up at the hospital and had minor jaundice as well. They sent us home with it at a certain number (not sure what measure they were using).

I had asked at one point if we should be concerned and they told me the numbers and what would happen at each. He was well away from anything dangerous but we did need to keep the levels down.

We cuddled and he napped a lot. We had a little, undisturbed, perfect family for about 24 hours.

The next day, because of the rain, we weren’t able to take him out to sunbath and get the bilirubin (a yellow pigment that’s in everyone’s blood and stool) out of his system. So we nursed a lot and hoped for the best. They told us it would go down naturally.

By 7 pm that night, his eyes and skin rapidly turned into the color of a yellow highlighter.

We quickly repacked our hospital bag and headed to the hospital an hour away where he was born.

I called ahead to let them know what was happening. When we arrived we ran in and the lady at the front desk was the human version of a sloth.

I showed her my son’s skin and eyes; we were the only ones in the emergency room. Yet she said he wasn’t a high priority. Not the best choice of words for a new mother who had already fought idiot upon idiot to keep her child alive during pregnancy (we will never have another child in this state again; we will go to a place with better healthcare).

When we were finally let back, the doctor took a small blood sample and patronized us the entire time. When the results finally came in nearly an hour and a half later, the nurse came in and told us he was fine and to go home.

I asked what his levels had been and she said she didn’t know much about it but gave me the number and told us to put him in the sun more. We asked for the doctor and were refused, even though the levels she had indicated were high enough for hearing damage.

We drove the entire way home with me in tears. My son was barely moving. He wouldn’t nurse. I knew they had made a mistake. My husband was exhausted and couldn’t console me, so he went to take a shower.

Five minutes in and I am sitting with my son in my lap, tears dripping onto him. My phone rang, and at this point it is nearly midnight and I am wondering who in their right mind calls a new mother at freaking midnight.

“Hello?” I said gruffly.

“Mrs. Lemke?”

“Yes, who is this?”

“This is doctor ____, I made a mistake with your son’s labwork…”

He swallowed, “I need you back here immediately.”

I admit, what I said next was not kind. I told him if he killed my son through this stupid mistake there would be no place on earth he could run from me.

“Will he survive the trip there?” I screamed at him. “Promise me!”

“I -” he stammered.“He needs therapy now.”

Cue me dragging my nearly naked, dripping wet husband down to the car. I drove. We reached the hospital and I ran in and threw the door open, passing the sloth receptionist.

I explained the situation to the nurse and she rushed through the procedures for admission.

A different doctor came to correct the first one’s mistake. He said we would have to do a second blood draw before our son could be treated. I argued profusely and after half an hour of being unable to put an IV in our son, they caved. The blue lamps and baby goggles were placed on him as we waited for the results.

When they came in, it showed that the levels had elevated quickly and significantly in the last two hours. The world came crashing down. On my son’s fourth day of life, he narrowly missed having a seizure.

I sat there, toplessly nursing my child as a doctor apologized. I was beyond angry. A special nurse came into the room with a small plastic box with round air holes cut into it. She took my infant and placed him in that box. On the ride up to the level we were headed to, I lost my mind. I became a different person.

My son became a NICU baby. (NICU = Neonatal, Intensive Care Unit, an intensive care unit designed for premature and ill newborn babies.)

His infancy was destroyed by needles and doctors and alarms going off every time he moved. I had to sit and watch him rather than hold him. I had to pump to give him milk rather than straight breastfeeding.

I had to sit and watch other women’s children die and be resuscitated while tending to my newborn as a first-time mom.

Our lives have never been the same since that day.

Before I got pregnant, I thought child rearing was difficult but safe.

Now I know that there is nowhere on earth that you are guaranteed a living child at birth and even if that is what you get, it is not a guarantee that they won’t be insanely early and fighting for every breath or get sick and end up in hell on earth.

When they gave us a pamphlet about NICU PTSD upon being discharged, the date of which kept changing from minute to minute, I glared at them.

I didn’t need to read it to know what it says. The nightmares still wake me up and send me scrambling to check my baby’s breathing and make sure he is alive.

Thankfully, he is now fine and asleep in my arms.


Rebecca Lemke is a Lutheran wife, mother, root beer lover, abuse survivor and author of a book on purity culture, The Scarlet Virgins.

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