We were in the hospital for four days after the kids were born, sleeping (or at least trying to) in a hospital room with our children. Being four plus weeks premature, there were a number of tests that needed to be performed, in addition to general monitoring. So my husband and I tag-teamed to grab a shower back at our hotel once a day. It was an extremely emotional time on many different levels, over and beyond the euphoric joy of finally holding our children.
Firstly, our son had extremely high bilirubin levels so he had to spend 24 continuous hours under blue lights to treat him for jaundice.
Watching our tiny little 5 lb., 8 oz son alone and blindfolded under the lights was gut-wrenching – especially since he had already struggled so just to be born, just to even start breathing. The best we could do to meet his need for tender loving care was gently stroke his hand during that endless 24 hours: we nearly blinded ourselves gazing at him through the harsh fluorescent glare.
This feeling of helplessness continued when some heartless phlebotomist came to administer California’s mandatory Newborn Screening Program. This particular battery of genetic screening tests requires a huge amount of blood from babies, which is drawn by pricking an infant’s heel and endlessly milking the puncture for blood. Now I know that I should not take out my frustrations on the phlebotomist, but this one seemed exceptionally heartless – leaving our children unwrapped and crying while she shuffled paperwork, not warming their ankles to improve circulation as we had seen others do when taking blood, and mechanically repeating “I know, I know” to our screaming children. I’ll never forget that moment, because it was the first time I heard my children in real pain. Not just a flash of pain – they were in ongoing agony. I knew I was a parent at that moment, because it took every ounce of self-control I had to keep myself from physically throwing the woman out of the room. Thankfully my husband is a model parent because while I stood helplessly rooted with tears running down my cheeks, he walked over and started trying to comfort our children during that horrid blood draw.
(In case you’re thinking that this state-mandated screening is a reason not to have your child born in California, there are perks as well; my husband and I are listed on our children’s original birth certificate as parents. We didn’t need to get it amended by court order!)
A completely different kind of emotional moment came when we said good-bye to our gestational surrogate. Of course, we weren’t really saying good-bye but it was definitely the closing of a chapter. It’s been nearly three months, but I still miss the regular check-ins and our conversations over lunch or dinner. I take solace in the fact that she and her family will always be part of our lives, and that the children will grow up knowing her – not as their mother but as someone very special who helped bring them into our family. My husband and I wanted to give her something special to commemorate the moment, so we commissioned the custom necklace pictured here for her. (Thanks, Peter Norman Jewelers!) It’s two Tahitian pearls – which would have been our children’s birthstones if they hadn’t come early. We chose black pearls because she wears black often, and a white gold necklace because her style is sleek and classy. She seemed to really like it anyway.
After passing a car seat test because our children were premature (they were placed in car seats with heart and blood pressure monitors attached for an hour), we packed up into our car together for the first time as a family. As my husband and I looked at each in the car, a moment of complete bliss swept over me. It was better than any drug I’d ever experienced (unlike former President Clinton, I actually have inhaled). I’ll admit, it was followed by a moment of panic looking at my tiny children and realizing that their lives are largely in my hands. And that the odds of my making a mistake are astronomically high.
We made the six hour drive home in about nine hours, of course because of feedings and diaper changes. I could almost swear my children pee and poop more in volume than they take in. I read somewhere that you shouldn’t react negatively to diaper changes because your children will develop negative associations with being changed. You’re apparently suppose to focus on the positive (“won’t it be wonderful to be clean again?”) in a cheerful voice. #whatever I am very glad, however, that they no longer poop meconium – that is the nastiest and stickiest stuff to clean up! And if you had told me five years ago that two gay men could be as intensely attentive to female hygiene as my husband and I are for our daughter’s sake, I’d have thought you were on drugs. What we do for love, huh?
The picture at top is our first family portrait, taken in our children’s second week of life.