My blood type is O positive. My husband is B positive. To most of you, this information probably seems unremarkable, sort of like if I were to tell you how many fillings each of us has had. Some of you – perhaps those with medical training or maybe with the same blood type combination – already know where I am going with this.
Apparently, if a mother is O positive and her baby is B positive, there is a high probability that the baby will develop severe jaundice. I already know all about jaundice because Zachary had it due to a subdural hematoma, which is fancy talk for the big bump he had on his head as a result of his futile attempts to force his way out through my pelvis. As his body broke down that big bump, his bilirubin count became elevated. Despite what I first thought, bilirubin is not a Jewish baseball player from Cleveland. It is something yucky in the blood that babies’ little livers are not equipped to handle. Hence, the jaundice.
The treatment is light therapy. The babies are stripped to their diapers and put in these little light boxes. Only when the bilirubin count falls are they permitted to leave their tanning beds and go home. To determine how high the count is, the hospital sends in lab technicians every six to twelve hours to stab the child in the heel and collect a blood sample.
Somehow, we dodged the blood-type bullet with both of our boys. This little girl, however, was hit. After a day in the hospital, she started to resemble a carrot. The doctors ran a blood test, determined that she was jaundiced, and started light therapy. They also suggested we start supplementing with formula to make her poop, but that is a subject for another post.
The problem with the light therapy was that, willing though she was to lie under the lights during the day, at night she would wake up three minutes after we put her down and start screaming. And screaming some more. I would pick her up, nurse her, and she’d go to sleep. Gently, I would lay her down under the lights, only to have the process begin all over again.
It’s not that I have any objections to Ferberizing, but two days old seems a little young to start.
By Friday, her count was still too high to come home. They took her off the lights and retested six hours later. Her heels were starting to look like jullianed carrots. But, the Friday afternoon test indicated her bilirubin levels had flatlined, and we were discharged from the hospital. I like to think that decision was made for medical reasons only, and not because there was a line of women up in labor and delivery being told to hold those babies in because the maternity ward was all filled up.
I was relieved to head home because, by all accounts, Benjamin was having a rough time with my absence, as evidenced by the bite marks on one of his classmates. He was delighted to see me, Zach was happy to have us home, and we spent the weekend bonding as the new family unit we had become.
Until her Monday morning pediatrician appointment. The doctor took one look at her and sent us right in for another blood test. As I waited for the results at the medical center, J was home supervising Zachary’s playdate that it had been too late to cancel. I sat there, fretting over reports that the playdate was off to a rocky start but glad we had been able to give Zachary what he needed despite the chaos. And we would be able to give the baby the help she needed.
And then I started to cry, because it occurred to me that – not even a week into having three kids – the middle child’s needs were already being squeezed to the margins. I cried because I was tense and tired, but I also cried for my bewildered two-year-old who would have no idea why Mommy had disappeared yet again.
Of course, when the results came back, her bilirubin levels had skyrocketed. And we were readmitted to the hospital, the baby plus me as her food supply. The doctor insisted that the levels were too high for at-home light therapy, seeming skeptical about my reports that the child will not abide the light box.
Through trial and error, we discovered that the only way she will remain asleep in the box is if I keep my hand on her. So here we sit: her in her protective sunglasses under the lights, me typing with one hand while the other remains on the baby. Across the room is my phone, and soon I will need to take a chance and go retrieve it, because a few miles down the road is a two-year-old in need of some reassurance that Mommy will be home soon.