The NICU. I never in a million years thought that I would experience it. My kids are all born huge, healthy, and pink. I always (subconsciously) had a false sense of security that because my babies are born big, they’d be safe from the NICU. I never even realized that this was my thought process until Mae ended up in the NICU.
She was born at 12:41 pm on a Wednesday. 9 lbs 3 oz, 20.5 inches long. BIG baby girl! ❤ She didn’t say much when she entered the world, but she “pinked up” just fine. She was quiet and observant. Benji and I actually didn’t even know what she sounded like for about 24 hours after her birth.
Her first night with us was interesting. She didn’t wake me up by crying. Instead, she would wake me up in 30-90 minute intervals by choking. I would quickly pick her up and then she would gag and subsequently projectile vomit (I guess you would call it vomiting?) clear fluid. I had never experienced this with H or E, but I didn’t panic. I just figured she had swallowed a lot of amniotic fluid in the womb and it was working its way out of her.
The day after her birth, we finally heard her cry for the first time. She was really fussy, unlike the day before. I thought maybe she was waking up and this was going to be her normal disposition. I kept her at the breast as much as I could, but she still fussed. Sometime around mid day, I noticed she was breathing rapidly. Her nurse came in for one of her checkups, and I shared my concerns with her, but she told me she thought it was just because Mae had recently been crying.
Later that afternoon, the nurse came in again for another checkup. This time, she noticed the rapid breathing for herself and told us that she needed to take Mae to Well Baby so that the pediatrician could examine her. Still in the “my babies don’t go to the NICU” mindset, I let her leave the room without much pomp and circumstance. I assumed that all would be well and they would return Mae within an hour.
Well…that didn’t happen. We were told a little while later that Mae was being sent to NICU for tachypnea (a fancy word for rapid breathing) and she would be getting a chest x-ray. They didn’t really tell us much beyond that, saying the doctor would fill us in later. At this point, I internally freaked out a bit. I actually type the neonatal chest x-rays for this particular hospital, and I knew that Mae would be getting crap-ton of x-rays if she were to stay in the NICU. Hello, radiation.
The doctor didn’t officially come to speak with me until about 11 PM. Once again, he didn’t give me any specific diagnosis…it was just a “she might have this, but we’re not sure so we’re monitoring her” kind of thing. He did tell me that they had taken blood cultures and had started antibiotics to go ahead and start fighting off any infection that might be there. He said her breathing was already headed in the right direction.
Having never had a NICU baby before, I kept waiting for them to call me to say I could come see her. By 8AM the next morning, I realized that obviously wasn’t going to happen. It had been about 14 hours since I had seen her so I started making calls myself <– apparently this is how the NICU works. You tell them when you want to go see the baby, not the other way around. No one ever communicated this to me, so I was clueless. I was pretty upset when I realized that I could have been in to see her all throughout the night.
The NICU told me I could come see her in about 30 minutes. I was still unable to walk at this point, and Benji had to work on this particular morning (you can read about that Here), so I had to call a nurse to wheel me down. That was real fun.
When I finally arrived, Mae was screaming. She hadn’t had anything to eat since the afternoon before. They had her on IV fluids, and at one point had had a feeding tube in her, but she had gotten mad and ripped it out. Though she was getting fluids, she was still hungry. A nurse was at her incubator with both arms inside trying to pat her down and calm her. Mae was on her belly, with her head to the side and she was violently kicking and flailing around. She was very hangry and was letting everyone know about it. She had a million wires coming out of her and she had a cannula in as well. As soon as I saw her, I fell apart and started sobbing. Every fiber of my being wanted to grab her up and hold her, but there was a giant plastic box and a nurse standing between us. Though I was staring right at her, it felt like she was a million miles away. It was a horrible, gut-wrenching feeling.
The nurse eventually put some sugar water on a pacifier and calmed her that way. She told me I could put my hands through the arm holes of the incubator and touch her that way if I wanted. She left after that, and I just sat and cried. Every time I’d try to pull myself together, I’d start back up again. At some point, another nurse came over and just hugged me. She didn’t say a thing…she just hugged me while I cried. She eventually brought me a baby blanket to wipe my face with – she said they don’t even bother with Kleenex for the NICU parents. It made me laugh. It was such a kind gesture…and I feel horrible because I don’t even remember what she looked like, but I’ll still remember her forever.
One big blessing that came out of my “injury” was that they allowed me to stay in the hospital for one day longer. While I was in the hospital, I visited Mae as often as I could. By Friday, mid day, they had started allowing us to hold and bottle feed her. She was improving and they had removed her cannula. It left a horrible mark though:
Being able to finally hold her was amazing!
I was discharged on Saturday. The doctor who discharged me said that the room was mine until midnight, so I could stay as long as I needed to even though I had been discharged. I decided to stay until 5pm, so that I could feed her one last time before going home.
That last feeding was pretty terrible. I cried and cried and cried. Leaving her at the hospital just felt so wrong, and I felt very guilty. It may have helped if we had known when she’d be coming home with us, but the NICU was absolutely horrible about communicating with us. We still didn’t even have a diagnosis for her at this point and when we’d ask when she might come home, they’d basically just repeat their standards and procedures to us. The only time we got close to having an answer was when one nurse told us “Maybe by Wednesday” but even that wasn’t encouraging with the “maybe” in front of it.
The next two nights were difficult and lonely, to say the least. There should have been a sweet little baby right next to me at night, but instead, her bed was empty. I would sit and pat my flattened belly, while looking over to where she should have been, and I would play back all the times I had ever complained about being pregnant, my heart heavy with regret. I may have been uncomfortable, but at least she had been safe then. Now she wasn’t with us at all, and it just sucked.
Thanks to some amazing friends of ours who watched H & E for us practically all day on Sunday, we were able to spend a good portion of our day with her the next day. It was the best medicine! I got to breastfeed her for the first time since Thursday afternoon. She took right to it, like we had never been apart. I was relieved. There was a part of me that believed she wouldn’t know me anymore after all of this was over.
When we came back on Monday, they informed us that we could “room in” with Mae that night. This was music to my ears. Though they still hadn’t told us when she would be discharged, this was the step right before they discharge a baby from the NICU so we had a pretty good feeling it would be the next day!
I had originally planned on just doing the room in alone, but some of the nurses were treating me like an invalid since I had a catheter in and had to use a walker to get around. One had even hinted at Mae not being able to go home until I got well. This statement didn’t sit well with me. Not wanting anything to interfere with her coming home, I asked my friend Bekah if the kids could stay with her overnight so that Benji could come with me. I just wanted the nurses to see with their own eyes that we are a two person team, and Mae would be well cared for, in spite of my injury. So H & E had their first ever slumber party! Thanks Bekah!! ❤
The NICU “room in” closet (I won’t even call it a room) was apparently designed to only have one parent stay with the baby – why??? Who knows.
It had one twin size bed, and then a crappy fold out chair across from it that was totally nonfunctional. Poor Benji got the worst night of sleep ever that night, I believe. He was a good sport about it, giving me the bed, and not letting me trade out with him, even though I offered to. He’s so sweet.
Mae did splendidly that night! She woke up at her feeding times, ate well, and went back to sleep. The last time that we had spent time with her alone (on Thursday), she had been extremely fussy so I assumed she would scream this night as well, but she didn’t.
The next morning, we were officially told that she could go home. We were so happy! Our family was finally going to be together. The doctor came by to discharge her around 11am. He informed us that she had really been kept “too long.” Yes…he admitted that. After three chest x-rays, one abdominal x-ray, and a round of antibiotics, it turned out that she never had an infection in the first place. All of her x-rays were clear. All of her blood work was negative. “Sometimes babies just do this” he told us. Nice. So my baby just went through hell – being poked and prodded constantly, exposed to radiation, not to mention being separated from her parents – all for nothing? Awesome. Thank you, Doctor. Given my stance on modern medicine, the overuse of antibiotics, and the horrible damage they can do to your body, etc. this honestly just pissed me off, but I decided not to focus on it. I decided to instead focus on the fact that we were finally going home and it was OVER.
My friend Alexa made this for me to go with one of my birth affirmation cards ❤ RTR, y’all.
So we made it home. I told Benji when we left the hospital that I officially felt like Mae was ours. It just didn’t seem like she was while in the hospital. Anytime we tried to do “normal parenting” stuff, we had a nurse or doctor hovering over us…watching. It always felt like we were being judged on whether or not we were fit parents. Super weird experience.
And just because I have to document EVERYTHING. This is what Mae looked like when she got home:
Seven sticks in her right foot
Seven sticks in her left foot
One stick in each hand
So many boo-boos 😦 And she had another heel stick at the doctor last week, and SCREAMED…so now I can only imagine that she did the same for each of these 16 sticks. Breaks my heart.
But she’s home now…thank God. THANK GOD. And given her start to life, I’m finding it very hard not to spoil her. She’s going to get everything she wants from here on out. Mark my words 😉