No one ever plans on starting out motherhood in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). No one ever plans that the first time they hold their baby will be when they are already a week old.
No one told me that pregnancy would be so difficult and that labour and delivery would make me feel like I wanted to rip open my own uterus just to finally get the baby to come out.
I miscarried three times prior to finally successfully carrying my son. The pregnancy started out rough. I started bleeding very early in the pregnancy and found out I had a blood clot in my uterus right next to the baby’s sac. They told me at the ER that it would either clear up on its own or it would become a problem later in the pregnancy. Luckily, mine cleared up on it’s own.
I was so sick through the first four months, I was on medication just to help me not throw up. It didn’t matter what I ate or drank, or didn’t eat or drink, I would throw up. I felt weak, tired, and disgusting. But this was my first successful pregnancy and dammit I was going to enjoy every second of it.
At 29 weeks gestation, my water broke. I remember this night so clearly. I was using the bathroom before going to bed and stood up of the toilet only to feel like I was still peeing. But it was a gush of water and blood and my only thought was “No, it’s too early!” Rushed to the hospital only to find out I needed to be transferred by ambulance to a hospital in another city that would be more prepared for an arrival as early as mine.
They were able to stop my labour that night. I was put on strict bed rest and kept in the hospital where they told me I would stay until the baby was born. I prayed and prayed to get to at least 36 weeks to give my boy more of a chance, but on Friday May 18, 2012, my 25th birthday and 30 weeks gestation, I went into labour at 2:30 am.
My labour was long. 17 hours long. I was hooked up to IV and on so much medication to prep me and the baby for an early delivery and to try and prevent infections, that I don’t remember much about labouring, only that I was in a lot of pain and very tired. It took so long for me to dilate, that I thought for sure I was going to end up needing a C-Section for them to get the baby out. But at 7:00 pm, my nurse told me to start pushing. By 7:10, there were 11 people in my hospital room. My mom, my husband, and 9 doctors and nurses preparing for the arrival of my little one.
He was born at 7:25 pm and needed to be resuscitated. A nurse calmly stood beside my hospital bed as my placenta delivered and explained to me what the doctors and nurses were doing to keep my boy alive. Once he was somewhat stable, they whisked him out of my room and I only got a glimpse of his tiny face.
By 10:00 pm, he was stable enough that the staff let my husband and I in to see him. I’ll never forget laying eyes on him that first night. I was exhausted and emotional and the only thing I wanted to do was hold my baby. But the best I could do was put a finger in the hole in his incubator and touch his tiny hand.
Sunday morning, they released me from the hospital. No one can prepare you for having to leave the hospital without your baby. It was THE hardest thing I have ever had to do. But the prognosis was that if all went well, baby would be able to come home by his original due date which was July 17.
I finally got to hold my baby boy the following Saturday. A nurse had been changing his diaper and I said meekly “when will we get a chance to hold him?” She replied “have you not held your baby yet?” And we both said “no”. She quickly brought over a reclining chair, shut the curtains around our son’s pod, and turned down the lights. She brought out warm blankets and gently placed my son in my arms. It was the feeling I had been waiting for. The feeling of being a Mom.
We experienced so many ups and downs while in the NICU. On the good days, we celebrated and hoped that his release date would be moved up. On the bad days, we prayed and prayed that our little guy would grow bigger and stronger.
No one prepares you for being a NICU mom. No one wants to really talk about it because it’s one of those things that you pray will never happen to you. The first eight weeks of my son’s life, I grew accustomed to the beeps of the machines. I saw babies graduate from the NICU and I saw parents lose their babies. It was the most difficult experience of my life.
By week 6, I was finally comfortable. I had gotten used to the routine of the NICU. I spent all day there and then would go home, eat dinner, pick up hubby from work, and then we’d go visit in the evening together. I knew how to disconnect little man from the monitors to give him a bath in the sink. I knew what all the different bleeps and bloops meant on the monitor at his bedside. And then one day, in week 8, I showed up and they told me it was time to go home, and I felt…unprepared. I was terrified of taking my son home where there was no breathing monitor, no heart monitor, no blood pressure monitor, no nurse around the corner to ask for help. No doctor visiting twice a day to check in on everything.
But somehow, I knew we’d all be okay. Because we had made it through the last eight weeks, I knew we could do this on our own.
It was a big adjustment coming home. And yes, I did check on my son an insane amount of times while he was sleeping the first few days. Just to make sure. But he was home and our NICU experience was finally over.
To the parents who have graduated the NICU – I salute you. It is no easy task dealing with all of that on a daily basis. To the parents who have experienced the NICU, I’m happy for you that your baby was healthy enough to not need the extra attention and care. And to those parents that have lost a baby in the NICU, words cannot express what I feel for your loss. We had one night in our NICU journey where we almost lost our boy and I honestly don’t know what I would’ve done if he didn’t make it.
This post has ended up being much longer than I originally intended but I guess I had a lot more to say about this topic than I thought I did.
To all the NICU parents currently in the thick of things, I wish you nothing but strong, healthy babies.