The first sign of trouble came when the nurse told us that Juniper would have to go to the transition nursery.
My heart sank with worry.
I watched tears stream down Coley's face as she told Juniper goodbye and the Magnesium entered her veins. I struggled to cope with that, so I began to build a wall. Brick by brick, I would busily build that wall over the course of the coming weeks. They took Juniper, slowly and casually, away to the transition nursery.
When I first visited her a few hours later, I picked up and old landline telephone and told the nurse I was Juniper's dad. She was the first person I would tell that to. I entered a room full of babies, who were - for all intensive purposes - fighting for their lives.
Juniper lie there connected to the machines.
The tiny pulse oximeter told the nurse about low oxygen saturation. They added some oxygen to help her breathe. I noticed my own breathing speed up. I worried Juniper would not make it, despite being told that she would be OK.
Life is just so fragile. She was just so small.
The transition nursery cleared Juniper to come to the hospital room just seven hours later. We were all together as a family for the first time (minus their big brother and my best friend, our hound dog Townes).
Coley and I quickly became acquainted with the challenges of managing two newborns.We struggled to feed Juniper. She seemed frantic, as if the womb had been some dry desert to her. She re-fluxed badly. The nurses assured us that this was all "normal" infant behavior and that first time parents often expressed such concerns.
I felt sick.
The humid Georgia air brushed against my nose and throat. I wore a SARS mask to protect the girls from their father. I worried about how I would look in the photos, but thought about the benefits of not having to smile.
At night I felt exhausted. We sent the girls to the nursery and slept a few hours.
On day two, the daunting challenge of keeping two infants alive began to cause me significant anxiety. My fear about the situation manifested itself into obsessive compulsive behaviors. I became obsessed with washing my hands. They cracked and itched.
I began to unravel.
Reality had hit me. I felt that I had traded in my freedom. I put lotion on my hands and then washed them again. I sneezed into my shirt and later did "skin to skin" with Laurel. I then became convinced I had infected her. I asked the nurses to take her temperature obsessively.
Medical professionals and family members flooded our room. They talked over one another and we struggled to their hear advice and congratulatory remarks. The room was filled with a plethora of information, but I retained very little. The hospital provided some printed materials that I put into a neat pile and moved around the room.
The flowers in the room rotted and smelled like death. The security system failed and an armed guard was placed outside of our room. I felt the pressure of guarding something valuable and vulnerable. We stayed in the hospital for just 4 days and then they sent us home with around 10 pounds of human flesh and 10 bags of formula, blankets and diapers.
I played "My Girl" by The Temptations several times on the way home to keep myself from panicking.