Ryder’s birth story feels like a small part of the way he entered the world. He arrived quickly on a hot and sunny Monday afternoon and we were certain the next few days would include hours of baby cuddles as we soaked up every second with our newborn son.
We had four wonderful hours in our labor and delivery room with Ryder before everything began to change. Chase and my mom came by to meet Ryder about two hours after he was born and Chase was so unbelievably sweet and tender with his baby brother. He called Ryder “his baby” and was so excited to check him out with his new doctor’s kit. Dr. Chase assured us Ryder was “very healfy.”
I remember speaking with my dad on the phone hours before Ryder was whisked away to the NICU and I told him everything was perfect. Months of anxiety finally began to dissipate. Ryder was completely healthy and I felt as good as can be expected after labor. We could all finally relax and soak up the intense happiness that comes after a beautiful baby is born.
Around 6:30 p.m., we were told it was time for us to move out of the labor and delivery room to another room in the Mother/Baby section of the hospital. Ryan, Chase and my mom transported our bags and our nurse pushed me and Ryder to our new room in a wheelchair. As she pushed us, she took note of Ryder’s rapid breathing and inquired about his grunting.
Our nurse asked if the grunting was something we’d noticed occurring regularly since his birth. I said I noticed his rapid breathing but the grunting seemed to occur intermittently. She seemed concerned but not too alarmed. She called for another nurse to look at Ryder when we arrived in our new room. The nurses took his vitals and checked his blood sugar. It became increasingly clear something wasn’t right and I felt my whole body become tense. Fear began to creep in as they called the pediatric nurse practitioner.
At this point I felt overwhelmed by our crowded room and asked my mom to take Chase home. I could see her concern for Ryder escalating along with ours and she encouraged me to ask for more people to check on Ryder if I sensed something was wrong after she left. My mom is a nurse and seeing her concern along with the nurses’ concern made me quickly realize this wasn’t something small.
Shortly after my mom left with Chase, the nurses informed me that after speaking with the nurse practitioner, they wanted to take Ryder back to the NICU. They weren’t sure what this would mean and whether or not he’d be admitted. We were told to wait in our room while they took him because the NICU was incredibly busy on Monday evening. We asked for updates whenever my nurse came into our room and waited two hours to hear anything about our baby.
We tried hard to be patient and understanding but not knowing how Ryder was doing or what was going on with him allowed the fear I began feeling before they took him away to build and build. I prayed hard for our baby boy and reached out to very close family and friends to keep them updated and ask for support and prayers.
At around 9:30 p.m., the pediatric nurse practitioner came into our room. She informed us that Ryder was admitted to the NICU and an x-ray of his chest determined that he had possible meconium and fluid in his lungs. His x-ray was very concerning and what she said scared us. She mentioned breathing tubes and feeding tubes. She mentioned a possible transfer to a bigger hospital and the need for a ventilator if he didn’t show improvement.
We were then escorted to the NICU. I asked so many questions and tried to suppress the anxiety and fear that continued to build inside of me. We entered the dark NICU and were surrounded by beeping machines and buzzing monitors. Ryder was in an infant radiant warmer in the farthest corner of the room and we walked over to his station to find our tiny baby hooked up to a CPAP respiratory support machine to assist with his breathing as well as a feeding tube, an IV for antibiotics and other monitors.
Just hours before we were holding our baby in our hospital room and now we were looking at a face covered in tubes and could barely make out our son’s features under his machines. It was alarming and scary and I felt so incredibly helpless.
The nurse practitioner explained that monitoring Ryder through the night would tell us a lot. She said they were going to perform a follow up x-ray in the morning to check on his lungs. She said his body would need to work to reabsorb the meconium or fluid overnight and we would know a lot more from a second x-ray.
I was then told I should begin pumping if I hoped to nurse Ryder to stimulate colostrum and milk production. Leaving our baby in the NICU was excruciating. Ryan stayed with Ryder while I went back to our room and a nurse brought out a large pump and walked me through pumping. I got a small amount of colostrum from the first pump and was told to pump every three hours. Every subsequent pump was more and more discouraging as I got less and less colostrum. The lactation consultants and nurses assured me this was normal but I began to worry that the one thing I felt like I could do to help our baby while he was fighting so hard wasn’t going to be a success. I wanted to badly to do something and not getting anything from pumping for several days in a row was very hard.
We went back and forth from the NICU several times during that first night between pumping sessions. After my 4 a.m. pumping session, we received what we felt like was our first bit of really, really good news. Ryder was responding well to his treatments and the oxygen level he required had been reduced. His x-ray was coming within two hours so we prayed the positive course he seemed to be on would continue and his x-ray would give us another boost of good news.
After the NICU morning shift change where no one is permitted in the NICU from 6:30 – 7:30 a.m., we entered the NICU and were met by the nurse practitioner who greeted us and delivered some amazing news. She said Ryder’s x-ray showed dramatic improvement and wheeled over a computer with two images. The first image showed blackness in our baby’s right lung. The second image showed a foggy gray lung but very little blackness. She assured us this was a very, very good thing and that Ryder’s progress was wonderful. She said his body was clearly working hard and responding well enough to his treatments to take him off the CPAP and change his oxygen support to a nasal cannula later that morning. To say we were relieved would be a serious understatement!
The next few days that Ryder spent in the NICU passed by in a blur of questions, answers, worry and hope. We learned quickly we were not going to get a timeline for Ryder’s release but that his release from the NICU would depend greatly on small bits of progress achieved through milestones (removal of the nasal cannula, removal of his IV, removal of his feeding tubes, etc.) and these milestones would come little by little, day by day.
We leaned on the NICU nurses and felt so grateful for the care they gave to our boy and their knowledge, compassion and expertise. They were the first ones to hear Ryder’s name when we selected it after the first time we were able to hold him in our arms. They heard all of our name options as we waffled back and forth for two days and it became increasingly clear they were all pulling for the name Ryder. We knew it had to be the one!
We also spoke at length with the other parents in the NICU and were amazed by their strength. I know our experience pales in comparison with what many other parents and babies go through in the NICU and we know we are so, so lucky. We all expressed our intense admiration for the resilience of our incredible babies. It’s amazing how strong such tiny little babies can be!
The day I was permitted to attempt nursing Ryder was wonderful but it coincided with the day we were told we were going to be discharged from the hospital without Ryder.
I was a mess and driving home without our baby tucked snuggly in his car seat was horrible but as we left we held onto the hope and the knowledge that we WOULD be bringing Ryder home with us.
We drove to and from the hospital to visit Ryder for hours and I nursed him as much as possible. The timing of nursing Ryder seemed to coincide with the timing of my milk coming in which was a big blessing. I still kept up with pumping but finally started to see a mix of colostrum and milk drip into the bottles which alleviated a bit of the stress I felt surrounding nursing and the ability to hopefully breastfeed Ryder.
Once we were discharged from the hospital we assumed we would be driving back and forth from the hospital until Ryder was released from the NICU so we were absolutely shocked and so, so relieved when the nurse practitioner approached us with another option that arose the day after we were discharged.
She told us that the hospital rooms were not as busy as they were the day before and that we could be readmitted to the hospital as Ryder’s guests. Since Ryder was now off of breathing and feeding tubes (huge milestones!), she said he could stay in a room with us but he would still be closely monitored until he was ready to be released. It was the BEST news and such a blessing.
The ability to cuddle with Ryder as much as we wanted, nurse him whenever he showed signs of hunger and spend some time with our newborn baby in a private room was incredible and I’m so grateful our hospital was able to make this an option for our family.
My mom and Chase came to visit us in our room once we were settled and Chase finally got to see Ryder for the first time since their brief meeting after Ryder was born. During Chase’s past visits to see me and Ryan at the hospital when Ryder was in the NICU, Chase would come into our room, look around and immediately ask, “Where is my baby?” so it was really wonderful to be able to reunite Chase with his brother and watch them interact.
Chase has been so sweet and tender with Ryder (although trying to get him to understand that Ryder’s name is Ryder Thomas and not JUST Thomas took some time!) and I cannot wait to watch Chase and Ryder grow up together.
The day we got the news Ryder would be going home with us was fantastic. Watching Ryan walk up our driveway holding onto Ryder’s car seat with our baby buckled inside made my heart soar.
Seeing Sadie run around and curiously sniff our new baby was the best. Listening to Chase call Ryder his brother and watching him kiss him on the head and said, “I love you Baby Ryder” made me melt. My boys!
My heart is so full and I am so grateful. Bring on the cuddles and the chaos!
There’s no way I can share this update without including another huge THANK YOU to all of you for your support, prayers and kindness. The personal stories you shared with me about your babies and NICU experiences, whether they were short or very, very long, meant the world to me. They helped me so much during a time when I felt so scared and more anxious than I ever have before.
You reassured me and lifted me up and I felt your love and your strength through your comments, messages and emails. THANK YOU. I referenced your comments and experiences to Ryan and my family over and over again because so much of what you said and shared with me detailed exactly what I was feeling and exactly what we were going through at any given time. I appreciate you taking the time to pray for our family, leave a supportive comment and share such personal experiences with me more than you can possibly understand. You all helped me so, so much.