From One NICU Momma To Another :: You Are Not Alone
My first pregnancy was completely normal … until it wasn’t.
I could not wait to give birth to my first biological child. Having been in education for nearly a decade at that point, finishing the upbringing of a former student due to a tragic loss, and being blessed with a bonus daughter, I felt more than up for the challenge. I was fully invested in my prenatal care. I attended every doctor’s appointment, asked questions, and tried my best to be mindful of what I ate. Nothing about my pregnancy was out of the norm, and by all accounts I would go to term and deliver a perfectly healthy little girl.
I had seen close friends and family members have babies. On many occasions, I happily flounced to the hospital with a pink or blue bear, balloons, and other trinkets. I was ready for it all, the love my daughter and our new little family would receive as we grew by two baby feet.
At 34 weeks, I was just preparing to start doing weekly visits as my due date in November got closer. Deciding for once in my life to be prepared and responsible, the week before I packed my hospital bag, gave my husband the list of people to call and text once labor started, and had him put together the crib and other items to bring baby home.
Unlike my normal fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants demeanor, I was ready. Looking back, I’m so grateful I was.
Suddenly, at 34 weeks and 5 days, my water broke in the middle of the night. I called my mom, a former nurse (who I just assume can answer all my medical questions) to review my symptoms. She immediately told me to go to the hospital. We grabbed the packed hospital bag and did as we were told. The nurse checked me and confirmed what we suspected. “You are having a baby today!”
After an abnormally quick delivery for someone who had never given birth before, my 5-pound 6-ounce preemie arrived. My doctor immediately informed me if I ever get pregnant again I would have to receive weekly shots of progesterone to safely deliver another baby full term. Initially, my daughter seemed fine and we thought we’d go home in a couple of days as I had seen others do so many times before.
Unfortunately, that was not our reality.
It is amazing what intricacies develop in the final weeks of pregnancy, and the reflex to suck a bottle or nurse is one of them. My poor sweet baby just could not eat on her own when she was first born, so we were informed the morning after her birth that we would have to be transferred to the NICU. The idealistic dream I had of bringing my baby home in her curated outfit just two or three days after coming to the hospital came to a screeching halt and I was thrust into the unknown of NICU life.
It was scary. It was unpredictable. It was extremely taxing mentally and physically. I stood vigil at her bedside every single day, only leaving for 30 minutes during the evening shift change to go scarf down dinner in the hospital cafeteria. I was still in the classroom at the time, so I graded papers and responded to my students (who were CHAMPS in my sudden absence) to the melodic and traumatizing sounds of the machines hooked to my daughter to check her vital signs. Our village was strong and we had a constant stream of visitors. I even had a “baby shower” in the NICU lobby since my baby came before my shower scheduled for October 15th.
She suffered a Bradycardia (her heart stopped) during her first days in NICU which both terrified me and extended our stay there by several days. I had the nurses coach me on how to squeeze her little cheeks to make sure she started to get the hang of sucking a bottle and tried to hold back tears as the staff put a feeding tube down her nose.
It was not what I expected to experience as a first-time mom.
However, it taught me about what motherhood looks like. It laughs at your most well-thought-out and structured plans. It requires a heavy dependence on your village and the people who show up for you during the toughest times. And it is a total surrender to the ebbs and flows of being a mom responsible for another human.
The first year of my daughter’s life was plagued with sickness, hospital stays, grief, joy, and triumph. As she approaches her 7th birthday next month completely healthy and with no developmental or physical delays, I cannot help being grateful and in awe of my little miracle. She is an answered prayer in every sense of the phrase.
Be mindful that everyone’s pregnancy and delivery journey looks different. Check on the MOMMIES of preemie babies who are dealing with probably one of the scariest things a mom can face. Support organizations like Saul’s Light who advocate for and support parents of NICU and angel babies.