My baby stopped breathing
At a month old, I thought I pretty much had life with the twins figured out. We still weren’t getting more than four hours of sleep at any time, but the three to four hour intervals were becoming more frequent. The boys were also beginning to be in sync more often during the night, meaning we had to wake up less often. More than getting more sleep, we were beginning to get used to life with five to six hours of sleep a night. I was even starting to get into the habit of staying up after the 5:00 or 6:00 feeding and getting a run in before work. We started to get to a point where we could feed the boys, get food ready for ourselves, and take a short walk at night before the bedtime feeding. Things were not great, but they were looking up. Then Anders stopped breathing.
A month in, the terror and stress of the hospital was beginning to fade. Worries about birthweight and weight loss were far behind as both were now over eight pounds and had gained over two pounds in two weeks. In fact they were growing so fast, newborn clothes were beginning to get tight, diapers were barely fitting, and we couldn’t tell them apart based solely on fullness of face anymore. We worried less about how to feed, how often, and about breastfeeding and the boys had been eating way more, way faster. Once home, we no longer needed to worry about the constant blood testing and weigh ins either. Though it was shocking to go home with little if any instruction and no manual after all the oversight at the hospital, we started figuring things out and making progress. The constant fear and worry from the first week or so was only a memory now.
In fact we were getting so used to the constant change and progression that we may have missed some warning signs. The boys, Axel especially, had begun to be more fussy when feeding and a bit harder to settle down. We attributed this to general fussiness or perhaps early signs of colic. Five weeks would be early for this, but not unheard of. With our boys, this wouldn’t be a surprise. Anders had been holding summits that would rival the Potsdam conference with his stuffed animal friends and Axel had been eating what should be the level for a six month old for the past week. Both were even trying to lift their heads and would show signs of attempted crawling when laying on their bellies. We attributed these warning signs to colic or growth spurts rather than the congestion they experienced.
At the one month check in, the boys would be weighed in and generally checked out. We arrived right on time for the first time. The first time we arrived 15 minutes late and the second time 30 minutes early. We were still figuring out how timing worked with the lads. We took our final on time arrival as a good sign of our progression as parents. We were killing it. Of course we neglected to calculate the boys’ feeding schedule as part of the appointment, so we arrived right as the boys were waking to get ready to eat. As we sat down in the waiting room, Axel began crying and making his fish faces, so we started feeding him. Then Anders began, but went from red, his normal gas or potty color, to deep dark blue, something new. He also stopped breathing.
Thankfully we were in the right place and ran into the doctor for help. They moved him around a bunch and hooked him up to an oxygen tank and he started returning to his normal color. He also shot out an immense mucus plug and immediately started looking better. Still, due to the seriousness and suddenness of the episode, the pediatrician’s office called 911 and the EMTs arrived a few minutes later.
Now I am incredibly thankful for the paramedics and pediatric staff at the hospital, and I do not intend to criticize them, but there were a few hiccups and parts of the entire experience from here forward that as a still fairly new parent who was admittedly freaking out, could have been better. The EMTs seemed a bit out of their element with a one month old. It took approximately 30 minutes of questions and preparation before he and my wife got taken off to the hospital. Luckily the pediatrician remained with them to both check on Anders and keep my wife calm. I naively thought that since it had been 30 minutes and he seemed fine, we might not even have to go into the ER. Not so. Thankfully they also knew a hospital with good pediatric care and ER fairly nearby. While they went off, I stayed with Axel to have him quickly checked to make sure he wasn’t about to have a similar episode.
Once at the hospital, I was pretty happy with the ER staff. The rooms were not exactly cozy compared to the recovery rooms when they were born, but the staff seemed both friendly and confident, like how the excellent staff at our delivery hospital struck us. One of the doctors even had worked with our pediatrician before, so I think we got a little extra attention as a result. That or that our boys are just so charismatic they always seem to get extra attention. But, once moving to the pediatric care unit, after about six hours, I felt less comfortable and inspired by the staff. Here the staff seemed to be guessing and clutching at straws. Perhaps because we were now at over eight hours since the incident without any sign of an issue, or perhaps our refusal to believe our boy was anything except a perfect and happy baby, it felt like they were just digging for something that didn’t exist. The first few tests, blood work and cultures for illness and respiratory infections made sense, but when they started looking for heart murmurs or seizures, it got frustrating. I did appreciate the thoroughness, but a lack of information and what came off as uncertainty from the doctors only hurt the situation. Plus, several nurses who probably thought they were helping only infuriated us with stupid guesses based on no real information when they should have stayed quiet. Guessing that they might have sleep apnea and then telling us we’d probably have to take home a machine for it which was not actually conveyed from any doctor and clearly made no sense as he had no issues sleeping or breathing in his sleep just put us more on edge. Coupled with uncertainty about when we’d even be able to take him home, it was a tense experience.
After a night of further tests and “observation” in which no doctor visited Anders for about ten hours, we were itching to go. When a doctor mentioned that we’d have to stay at least one more night because he had had this “cold” for “over two weeks”, neither of which was true or something we’d said, we freaked out and told them they needed to give us a real plan or we were out of there. Gratefully logic prevailed and we got discharged that afternoon. Three days later, he’s had no further symptoms. In my admitedly unprofessional medical opinion, he just had a large boogie that he propelled out. I’m pleased to announce that since, he’s launched more snot rockets than Space X has regular ones.
The entire experience solidified what we had noticed about the value of a good nurse while staying at the hospital after delivery. The truly exceptional nurses are confident while not injecting their own opinions, unless it might be helpful. For example, one told us how there was nothing wrong with formula feeding after she saw we were getting frustrated with breastfeeding and the consultant. This is different from trying to be helpful by diagnosing huge problems like WebMD. They are also compassionate and truly care about the kids. Our favorite nurse wouldn’t even let us leave without saying good bye, giving us hugs, and sneaking a few supplies into our bags to help us. This made a huge impression on us and whereas I often forget co-workers’ names, I remember hers over a month later. There’s a good chance we’ll stop in to say hi when we take the boys in for blood work in a week. Nurses are incredibly under-appreciated but can make such a huge difference in your health and sanity, especially early on or during high stress times with kids. If you find a good one, let them know. Bring some chocolate or other little symbols of your appreciation as well, these go a long way.
During and after this ordeal, we came back to the fear, uncertainty, and doubt that characterized the first week or so with the boys. What had we done wrong? Did we miss obvious signs? Were were terrible parents because we let it happen? What would we do if he wasn’t alright? What if he was just first and the same was about to happen to Axel? A million questions and scenarios played out in our heads, all of them terrifying. The fear was almost paralyzing. This is perhaps what parenthood is, cycles of ups and downs reaching apogee at feelings of control and structure, and perigee during times of complete uncertainty and terror that you know nothing. Maybe all we can do is ride those waves and enjoy the rises and crests.
Anders is back to perfect again, and is holding a peace summit with his skunk and T-Rex as we speak. I have high hopes he’ll be uniting houses of congress, leaders of the middle east, or perhaps even humanity and alien civilizations sooner than we may think.