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What It is Really Like: A Baby in the NICU

*What It Is Really Like” is a Baby Gizmo series of guest posts about what it is really like to be something, do something or experience something. It is a way to give our audience a voice and allow them to share their stories. If you’d like to submit an article/post to our What It is Really Like series, email us your story with “What It Is Really Like” in the heading. 

GUEST POST by Melissa Nichols

Going into my 5th pregnancy, I knew that I would deliver my baby early and that I would have a high risk pregnancy.  Our goal at the beginning of the pregnancy was to get me to 36 weeks and deliver if the lungs were developed.  When I went in for my 29 week appointment to do an in-depth ultrasound, it was found that there was no way we would make it to 36 weeks.  Our new goal was to make it to 32 weeks and not go a minute past that point.  The doctor told me if I could just make it to 32 weeks it would be a huge deal for the baby.  I went home with strict instructions not to do anything that wasn’t necessary.  I took it as easy as I could to help get us to 32 weeks.

The day I hit 32 weeks, we went in for a scheduled c-section.  I remember being nervous about what was to come.  As the c-section progressed and I heard the doctor talking about my baby, I was just waiting for a sound.  I knew if I could hear my baby cry that he was alive and well.  After what seemed like forever I heard a little cry and knew my baby was okay.  When you deliver a baby that early, there is a team from the NICU in the operating room with you to evaluate the baby as soon as they are born.  My little Austin was 4 pounds 14 ounces and 17 inches long.  For a 32 week baby that is actually big.

nicu baby

The NICU team was very nice and quickly showed me Austin before they whisked him away to the NICU to be hooked up to all the monitors.  He was having trouble breathing so they had to put him on the ventilator.  My husband tried to go with him but since it was during shift changes, the NICU was closed to visitors and he was kicked out.  We had to wait an hour before he was let in to see Austin and talk to the doctors about how he was doing.

The minute I was wheeled into the recovery room I was on my phone sending a picture of Austin to his brothers (ages 2 and 5) and sisters (ages 7 and 9) who were waiting anxiously at a friends’ house.  We lived 420 miles from our family and so we had to rely heavily on friends for help during this time.  I had my husband snap a picture of Austin in the operating room with my phone so I could see what my baby looked like.  I had a c-section so I couldn’t immediately jump up and go see my baby.  I had to wait until it was safe for me to get up and out of bed.

The first time I saw Austin was early in the morning (he was born around 9:00 PM) when a nurse was able to wheel me into the NICU.  My husband had to leave the hospital around midnight after he talked with the NICU team so he could take care of our kids at home.  They were a little freaked out about mom and brother being in the hospital.  The first time I saw Austin, I couldn’t hold him because he was still on the ventilator.  I could, however, touch him with two fingers.  I couldn’t rub him because rubbing is too stimulating for a preemie.  You have to be careful how much stimulation you give a preemie or it can throw everything off!

My husband brought our kids to the hospital the day after Austin was born so they could see him.  He took them one at a time into the NICU to see their brother.  When you take a child into the NICU, you have to completely cover them.  After a good hand scrubbing, kids have to put on a gown, surgical mask, hat, and gloves.  The process of walking all my kids in to see him took about an hour.  My older kids had a hard time seeing all the tubes and wires attached to their brother and were a little teary eyed when they got back to my hospital room.

On the second day, I was finally able to hold my baby for about ten minutes after he took his feeding.  He was off the ventilator and doing well so we got the okay to hold him once a day.  At our hospital, they “mess” with your baby every three hours.  During this time they take temperature, blood pressure, change the diaper, and feed the baby.  If you want to hold your baby they like you to do it at this time because the baby is already being messed with so it isn’t as big of a deal to the baby to have someone touching him again.

I quickly got into a routine of going to the NICU for about 45-minutes every three hours so I could help as much as possible in the care of my baby.  I started changing his tiny little diapers and doing his temperature.  When I could hold him, I would, and the other times I would just touch him with one finger to let him know I was there.  When I would finish with him, I had to go back to my hospital room to pump.  I wanted to breastfeed my baby so I had to pump every 2-3 hours around the clock.  I did not go in at night to hold Austin but I did have to go deliver my milk to the NICU so it didn’t go bad.  Any other time I was usually sleeping trying to recover from having a baby.  I was so tired!  This went on for five days until I had to go home.

mom holding nicu baby

Leaving the hospital without your baby is the worst feeling in the world.  I felt like I was the worst mother for leaving him behind to go home.  BUT, I knew he was being taken care of and loved by the doctors and nurses in the NICU and I had four other kids at home to take care of.  I cried the entire 30-minute drive to my house and then tried to turn on a happy face for my kids so they wouldn’t feel as stressed.  Thankfully my mom was at my house when I got home to help out for a week until I could drive myself to the hospital, and to hopefully let me get a little rest.

We quickly got into a routine once I was able to drive.  I would go to the hospital and spend an hour with Austin during his 9:00 AM feeding so I could do his care and then I would come home.  The hospital was 30-minutes from my house so I was really gone 2 hours every time I went.  A few nights a week I would talk my husband into driving me back at night to spend the 9:00 PM feeding with Austin while the other kids were home asleep with a babysitter.  I would have loved to spend multiple hours holding my little Austin but I knew my other kids at home were struggling with their brother still in the hospital so I had to make home life as normal as possible for them.

As a nursing mom, I was still spending every 2-3 hours pumping for 20-minutes and then sanitizing the pump parts.  All day and all night this is what I did.  I was so tired and never felt like I had a minute to catch my breath.  I ran into a friend one day at the store and she told me it was probably nice to have my baby in the hospital still where someone else was taking care of him so I could rest.  I just smiled and said not really, while in my head I was just thinking that if she only knew what I was going through she would never have said that.

After eight days, Austin was breathing on his own!  HUGE milestone but also the start of a very long feeder and grower phase.  He was now in the NICU waiting until he could eat on his own and maintain his weight.  I had high hopes that he would catch on quickly… but that did not happen.  He would only drink 25% of his feedings from a bottle on a good day.  I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to want something so bad and not be able to do anything about it.  All he had to do was drink a tiny little bottle.  But for a little baby trying to catch up on all the other things going on it was too hard.

The ups and downs of the NICU can also be so hard.  Your baby can do amazing and have almost all of their feedings one day, and the next day they won’t do any and have to get it all in the tube.  I would keep thinking we would be leaving soon because he almost had it.  We were almost there so many times.  But, he would get tired again and have a bad day and start all over.  I would sit and watch the other babies leave while I sat there with my baby wondering what I could do to get him to have the strength to eat.  And, then I would walk out to my car and burst into tears during half of my drive home and work hard to compose myself and look normal the rest of the drive so that my kids would see a happy mom.

We spend 30 long days in the NICU waiting for Austin to be able to take all his feedings from a bottle.  That was 30 days I spent with my family in two different places.  My heart was being torn so many different directions as I tried to maintain life at home, recover from a c-section, and spend time with my newborn baby.  It was 30-days that I had to stress about all the germs my family came in contact with because a runny nose for me meant that I couldn’t see my baby.  Any sickness my kids came into contact with could mean no visits in the NICU. 

My kids got so frustrated that we wouldn’t let them go to parties because there were too many people there we didn’t know if they were healthy or not.  My preschooler had to miss a fun fieldtrip and couple weeks of school because his teacher was sick.  We couldn’t risk coming into contact with sick germs any more than was absolutely necessary.  Sending my kids to school freaked me out!  I sent each of them with hand sanitizer and strict instructions to wash their hands all the time because if they got sick they couldn’t go see their brother.

The day Austin came home was the best day for our family.  We were all tired of the routine of always having mom pumping, or going to babysitters so mom could go to the hospital.  My kids hated that I was always too tired to do anything and I just wanted to take a nap.  My kids were all stressed out despite the fact that we tried so hard to keep normalcy in the home.  The gigantic smiles on their faces when they came home from school the day we got home told a story they would never tell me.  We were a family again.  We were finally together under one roof.  We didn’t have to go to the hospital anymore…hopefully never again!!

nicu baby

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Melissa Nichols is a stay at home mom of five very active kids.  She loves to read, make cards, ride her bike, and play with her kids.  She loves Disney and has raised all her kids to be HUGE Disney fans.  Their goal is to one day make it to Disney World since they have spent every vacation they take at Disneyland!  “Staying at home with my kids is not the easiest job in the world but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”


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