Lessons from the NICU

When I went in to be induced at 40 weeks & 3 days I was just so excited to meet my baby. Not a single ounce of me thought we wouldn’t take our full term son home for seven days. Instead of leaving the hospital two nights after my delivery, my husband & I would spend the next week sharing a 10×10 hospital room. We would wake every 2.5 hours to walk the 400 steps to the NICU to see our baby boy. After a difficult labor, lasting over 36 hours, our little boy had trouble maintaining his blood sugar levels & would spend the following week in the NICU trying to manage his sugar. This was not the plan. I had spent the previous 40 weeks with an otherwise seamless pregnancy, each scan & blood test giving us reassurance that everything was on track.

Our time spent in the NICU taught me more than I ever realized. During that week, we lived in 3 hour blocks. Just waiting for the next blood sugar check, verifying how his dextrose infusion was being titrated, waiting on critical labs to return. The first few days I was somewhat in denial that this was my reality. The ER nurse in me kept thinking “they’ll stabilize his sugar & he’ll be back in our post partum room & we’ll be right on track to go home”. It soon became clear he was going to be there longer than we had imagined & that we were going to have a NICU baby. We were joining an exclusive club no parent wants to be a member of, a club that puts you on a crash course of endless love & fierce protection for this little life you created. Below is some of what I learned from that week.

Look for silver linings anywhere and everywhere: This was huge for us, it kept us floating. Our silver linings were anything from a solid blood sugar reading this hour, to taking advantage of the fact that our little boy was being put on a regimented schedule & was learning to self soothe in the middle of the night since the nurses couldn’t immediately run to him or that he was learning to simultaneously breastfeed & bottle feed. All of these silver linings would be things we’d be thankful later!

Take the help: This is as simple as it sounds. Take people up when they offer to bring you things from the store, clothes from home, keep your dog an extra night (or 5!). One night my best friend & Chris’ brother came over in between feedings & we ordered pizza to our room. People desperately want to help you. Let them. Everyone will feel better.

Sometimes Cuddles Are Enough – One night when we were in the NICU for a feeding & Will wasn’t doing the best at breastfeeding a nurse reminded us that sometimes just holding your baby & being in the moment is plenty. Even though we wanted each feeding to be a great success to help with his blood sugar it realistically wasn’t going to perfect every time. So she encouraged instead of putting pressure on every feeding, to relax & just let him lay with us & know that being on us was just as powerful as any IV infusion. He was gaining comfort & love & security all things he would need to get better.

Feel the warmth: Something that struck me right off the bat being in the NICU was how much warmth there was. As an ER nurse I’d say warmth can be hard to find in an emergency department, however there’s no shortage of it when it comes to the people who dedicate their lives to caring for tiny humans. My recommendation is to let yourself feel it. As someone who doesn’t readily accept hugs from strangers, I found myself gladly taking the hugs from nurses I had just met.

Prepare for setbacks: This lesson sucks. But inevitably you’ll take two steps forward and one step back & it’ll sting.  Honestly we weren’t prepared until we had our first major set back & it totally crushed us. A part of me felt guilty for feeling so crushed, when I looked around & saw babies on ventilators, or babies too sick to be held. I felt guilty for feeling so knocked down when our baby wasn’t close to being the sickest one there. Just know set backs will happen & it’s okay to cry, but know that it’ll get better. When we’d walk to the NICU for another feeding we’d talk about potential set backs & prepare ourselves for a low sugar & just talking about it being an option helped.

Think big: This became our motto before every blood sugar check. I’ve always believed in sending out good energy into the universe & as much as we mentally prepared for setbacks I think it’s equally important to be positive & to “think big thoughts”. Even though doctors & nurses are watching over, your baby needs you to believe in them & to be their cheerleader, now more than ever.

Do normal things. Walk outside. Listen to music. Shower. It’s amazing how a hot shower, or a walk around the block helped. It’s important to try to bring some normalcy to a very abnormal situation. There was a Starbucks one block from the hospital so we’d try to go for an afternoon walk & get a coffee. It felt so strange to walk outside & remember there is a whole world outside of the windowless walls of the NICU where our whole world lay in an isolet. I really believe those little pockets of normalcy kept us going, as did the afternoon coffees!

Support Each Other:  I would not have been able to make it through this experience without my husband. At various points we each had to be the person to pick the other one up. We knew our son needed us & he needed us to be in a good place. Who ever your support person is, let them support you. And return the favor when they need it. Celebrate the baby steps together, cry when you need to.

Lastly,

Know the NICU isn’t anyone’s first choice. No ones birth plan includes a week long stay in the NICU, ours certainly didn’t. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be & it’s okay to be upset about that. No one will truly understand unless they’ve been through it. The simultaneous urge to fiercely protect your baby paired with the total lack of control over the situation can make even the strongest people weak. For some reason I’ll never know, this was our journey. Having made it out on the other side I’m thankful for the lessons it taught me & how it forever shaped me as a mother. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the feeling of getting to dress our baby in his first outfit & walk out those double doors. The bitter-sweetness of being so incredibly thankful for the hearts that took such good care of him that week, but wishing all the babies got to go home.

If you stumbled onto this post because you’re going through a similar journey my heart aches for you. It aches for all the moms & dads that don’t get to walk out those doors with their babies like they planned.

^moments before we walked out of the NICU

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3 thoughts on “Lessons from the NICU

  1. Wow! This made me cry. You have such a way with words! We spent 4 days in the NICU with our daughter, our days regulated by the same three hour blocks of blood sugar checks and feedings, and it felt like a lifetime. I can’t even imagine a whole week. Every single one of your lessons resonates very deeply with me. Thank you for putting it into such eloquent words. Your son is beautiful and perfect. Happy Mother’s Day to you. ❤️

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