My daughter spent 18 days in the NICU after she was born eight weeks early. This was new territory for me since my son was evicted at forty weeks three days. The experience made her homecoming that much sweeter, but it was a difficult journey fraught with emotions for our entire family.
Admission to the NICU
When your baby is very premature, they are quickly taken to the NICU after birth. I got a brief view of her when the doctor held her up for me to see. My husband got to see her while she was weighed, measured, and her birth APGAR scores were taken. But neither of us got to hold her when she was born. She was quickly ushered away to the NICU.
When a new baby is admitted to the NICU, the unit closes down. Parents have to leave the unit temporarily. It is all hands on deck as a doctor and team of nurses work on the baby upon admission: taking vitals, placing the baby on oxygen, and inserting an IV, and a feeding tube.
Scrubbing In and Keeping Sterile
When the unit reopens and parents are able to return to see their babies in the NICU, you have to scrub in each time you enter the unit. You scrub with medical-grade soap up to your elbows for two minutes. Your cell phone is placed in a sterile bag that you can take pictures through. You have to sign in with your name and the time you arrive and exit. When you want to hold your baby, you have to wear a hospital gown.
The first time I saw my baby after delivery, she was in an incubator covered in tubes. IV antibiotics, oxygen, and a feeding tube. She could not maintain her body temperature yet, so the incubator regulated her temperature. They let my husband and I hold her skin to skin for thirty minutes a day when she was in the incubator.
Each day and night 12-hour shift, every NICU baby gets their own nurse. Thank you, God, for night nurse Alyssa who took such wonderful care of my baby girl. You aren’t supposed to have favorites but she was our favorite. The nurse assigned to your baby monitors them frequently, feeds, changes, and bathes the baby. You can call at any time, even at 1:00 in the morning, and get an update on your baby from the nurse assigned to her.
Celebrating the Milestones
The NICU is all about milestones. You focus on the milestones so that you see progress and are able to stay positive. First, babies are undressed except for a diaper in the temperature-controlled incubator. The first milestone is getting them dressed in clothes. Premie clothes are so teeny tiny. The next milestone is the baby regulating its own body temperature so the top comes off the incubator. Our next milestone was no longer needing the bilirubin lights for jaundice. We then were able to try bottle feeding. We started with one bottle per 12-hour shift, then every other feeding by bottle, then every feeding by bottle. When the baby takes all feedings by bottle and has no episodes of apnea or difficulty breathing, they are able to come home!
I think the most difficult part of the NICU journey is being discharged from the hospital without your baby. It is like leaving a piece of yourself behind. It is devastating and stressful. It’s the worst part. But, you will get through this.
I would wake in the night while my daughter was in the NICU with feelings of utter panic. Was my baby crying? Did she need me? Thankfully, the NICU my daughter was in had angel cameras over the incubator that connected to an app on my phone so that I could see her at any time. I would frantically check the camera throughout the night. I would call for updates at any time. The nurses are so patient and understanding. They are happy to give updates and celebrate milestones with proud parents. They encourage visiting any time. They are caring angels.
One of the biggest emotions I felt while my daughter was in the NICU was guilt. I felt like I did something wrong to prompt her early emergency arrival. I felt guilty that I was not the one to give her her first bottle or first bath. I felt guilty leaving my son every day to visit her during the Christmas holiday season. I felt guilty only spending two hours with her in the NICU on Christmas day. I felt guilty that her room at home was not ready. All of these are normal emotions you have to overcome on the NICU journey. Just know and keep telling yourself that your baby is in the best place to meet her needs and is getting a level of care that you would not be able to provide at home. You will all be together soon.
The most wonderful news is that your baby is ready to come home. Bringing your baby home for the first time is so special, but bringing home a NICU baby is such a magical experience. You’ve prayed and dreamed and hoped for this moment that has finally arrived. Our family felt complete once we were all together. All the guilt went away and I was filled with joy and gratitude. I am so thankful for the wonderful care we received in the NICU encouraging my baby to gain weight and thrive.
If you are on your own NICU journey, know that your baby is in the absolute best place for them. We are lucky to live in a time with such amazing medical advancements that babies born early or with serious health conditions are able to overcome these obstacles. Focus on the milestones, take care of yourself, and wait for the day your family will all be together. That day is coming and will be better than you ever imagined.