We Were In The NICU Three Times (Trigger Warning)
September is NICU Awareness Month. As a mum of three, I ended up having all three of my babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
My first son was an induction, that ended up in a traumatic birth. Before he was even out, the hospital staffed triggered a
Code Pink which is a Cardiac Arrest/Medical Emergency for an infant or child. Once he was out, and immediate assessments were done, he had an APGAR Score of 2/10, he was whisked away to the NICU. I remember glancing up and looking at the door way and seeing about 4 nurses and doctors standing there at the ready to grab my child. I remember glancing at my husband and seeing...fear? Confusion? I'm not sure.
Once he was gone and I was cleaned and stitched up, I really don't remember much, except that I was exhausted and I wanted to see my son. They briefly brought him back to me and he was all bundled up in a hospital swaddle blanket and he looked grey. I won't lie, I actually thought he was dead. In my head, that was not my son. That was not the baby I had played with and bonded with while he was inside. I turned my head away and said "Get that f-ing thing away from me." For me, what they brought, was not my child. It was a cruel joke.
A few hours later, after getting cleaned up and after I agreed to eat a tuna sandwich on brown bread (Two things I actually hate) the nurse agreed to wheel me down to the NICU to see him. I had steeled myself to what I would face. Ultimately I was getting ready to say good bye to him and be done with the entire nightmare. But when I got there, the incredible NICU staff brought me over and he wasn't even in an incubator. He was laying on a pink blanket under the heat and he was big, and rosy and blonde and beautiful. And as I looked at his face I briefly saw my the face of my grandmother who had passed a few years before. It felt like a sign. That she was telling me this was my son. I don't know what they had brought me before, but this was my son.
Because he was almost 10lbs at birth, he actually got stuck and with a vacuum extraction and some damage to the nerves of his neck and shoulder, also called Shoulder Dystocia, and of course not breathing immediately after the birth, he was admitted to the NICU for a week or more of observation.
I was physically fine, emotionally stunned but physically fine, and I was discharged. The NICU staffed helped us with breastfeeding while were there and I went back and forth between home and hospital for a couple of days until a "Sleep Room" became available. Then I ended up paying some stupid amount like $2/day to have a bed at the hospital so I could feed my son and pump for the duration of his stay in the hospital. No food, no medical care, but I was close to him and the nurse would call every time he fussed and I would head down to him. I remember one day when I went down and he had a couple of new neighbours in the incubators around him. They were all preemies and here was my gargantuan son tipping the scales at almost 10lbs. I joked that it looked like he had eaten some of the other babies. I know that's not funny but at the time I thought it was hilarious.
He eventually became well enough to come home and we were feeding at the breast like champs, despite me not really liking it very much. And our lives began as a family of three.
Two and a half years later at the same hospital with the same doctor, whom I loved, I gave birth to my second son. This birth was fantastic and drama free. He weighed about a pound less than his brother and basically fell out after a few pushes. We slept well, fed well and I thought, 'This is great, we can take him home and start our lives and my first son will have a brother to play with.' However that was not to be. During a routine examination, the hospital paediatrician said he was sure my son had contracted an infection. He had a temperature and they would like to admit him to the NICU to start a course of antibiotics. I"m not sure what this doctor had expected us to do or say but we were fairly calm and just said, "Okay, sounds good." He looked at us oddly and asked if we had any questions and we said no. He then asked why we were so calm and we explained that this was not our first rodeo in the NICU and we were confident everything would be fine.
This time we arranged the sleep room right away and I stayed there for the 7 days he was on the antibiotics, we nursed, and I pumped and it felt quite normal for me. I was able to sleep and rest and not have to worry about anything but myself and my son. I could come and go as I pleased and the nurses would call whenever he needed fed. Honestly, it was pretty good. One time when I was there feeding him, I think it was day two, I latched him on and suddenly felt these massive contractions start. Keeping him latched, I stood up and cried out. And nurse asked what was wrong and I explained I was in labour again, and she laughed and said, "No that's just your after pains, your uterus contracting to get back to its pre-pregnancy size." I looked at her stunned and said, "Is it possible to get an epidural for this?" Sadly no. Oh well.
His infection cleared and he passed all his tests and we were told we could go home. I asked for one last jaundice test because he was so dark and yellowy, I was sure he still had jaundice, but it turns out it was just his fathers Spanish side coming through. Not the pasty white Scottish look of my people. And we were now a family of four.
Two and half years later (Can you see the pattern?) I gave birth to my daughter. Not a great birth but not a horrible one either. You can find her full birth story on my podcast Birth And Parenty Things, Episode 22.
This time around we were all discharged after 24 hours. No NICU. I remember asking the nurse if everything was okay and if they were sure we should be discharged. This was my third baby and I'd never done this part before. They assured me all was well and I just needed to keep feeding her and we were good. But that ended up being part of the problem. After being home for 24 hours she began not eating. Breastfeeding wasn't going well and she keep spitting up. So I thought, screw it, we'll just do formula. I wasn't married to breastfeeding and the boys had been partially formula fed so I was good with this decision. Unfortunately that didn't stop her vomiting. And I mean projectile. Anything that went in, came out. Not just a little dribble but all of it, every single time.
Momma bear mode kicked into gear and I brought her back to the hospital and it turned out she had lost more weight. She wasn't feeding. I over heard the nurse talking to the paediatrician on the phone because even though she was a newborn, we had been in the outside world and technically weren't allowed into the NICU. We were going to be sent to the paediatric ward. This did not sit well with me. I wanted to be in a place I felt comfortable, I wanted to have the sleep room and get the support I had with my other two. I didn't say this but I was terrified I wouldn't be somewhere I knew. After some discussion it was decided that she would be better suited in the NICU and they cleared out the nursing/pumping room at the end of the NICU for her to be in her Incubator. Sadly that meant that everyone would have to pump and feed in the main room but I was certainly happy. She ended up staying there for three days and when they were sure there was no risk to the other babies she was moved into the main room with the others.
Turns out, she had not been feeding well at all, mainly because when she latched onto me, her tongue would go to the roof of her mouth and my nipples were going under her tongue and were getting shredded. As a result too, this meant she ended up with some jaundice and so we were settled in to clearing that, getting feeding going right and gaining back the weight she had lost. Thankfully that only took about 6 days and we were discharged home to begin our life as a family of five. Our complete family.
I know how incredibly hard being a NICU nurse can be. And I know I couldn't have been able to make it through these situations without the amazing staff at our hospital. I thank them every day in my head for their support and caring of both my children and myself.
If you find yourself in the NICU after your baby is born. Remember to:
Ask any questions you have in your head - there are no stupid questions
If you are choosing to feed baby at the chest, remember to ask to do that as often as possible and pump in between to give the baby if they need to supplement
Try to get rest and eat well whenever you can as you will need to be there with baby to feed, bond and love them.
Ask about doing skin to skin with baby as much as you can
Ask if the hospital has a sleep room for you to stay while baby is admitted
And did I say ask questions...?
Having a baby in the NICU can be scary, but remember the staff are there to help you and baby and its okay to be scared.
For information on life with a newborn, check out our Infant Care Class that discusses everything from diapering and dressing to sleep to soothing a fussy baby.