WRITTEN BY SARAH LIN
I was pregnant with twins so we had prepared ourselves for a potential NICU experience. That being said, their birth was much earlier than we had anticipated, and the delivery and aftermath were terrifying. I had a checkup with my OB on a Friday and my baby shower on Sunday. Apart from difficulty getting pregnant, there weren’t particular challenges during my pregnancy and everything was moving along just fine. However, Sunday night I started having severe back pain. By the time we got to my OB on Monday, I was 7 centimeters dilated and ready to deliver. There wasn’t enough time to give me both doses of the medication needed to hasten our babies’ lung development, I almost delivered before we could get set up in the OR, and the epidural did not take the first go around. We knew 30 weeks was really early too. Our daughter cried in the OR (a good sign) but our son was quiet. They intubated him right away and both were surrounded by nurses and doctors and whisked to the NICU. Our son was on a ventilator for a couple days. Both were under bili lights for jaundice and got lots of oxygen throughout their stay. I remember the pediatric cardiologist paging me while I was pumping in the NICU nursery. That was one of the lowest points. What we learned, though, was that their little hearts were just underdeveloped! No intervention was needed, they just needed more time to “cook.” All told, our son was in the NICU for 49 days and our daughter for 38 days. They were by far the most traumatic and scary days of our lives. For years afterwards, we would visit the NICU and in particular our main nurse, Suzy, who I credit with loving our kids night and day when we couldn’t be there 24/7. I remember crying every year on their birthday for a decade after their birth- both out of gratitude for our children and out of reliving the trauma of their birth and NICU experience.
What I wish I had known
I wish I had known that NICU nurses will “hold” you as a family, take care of your littles like they were their own, be there for your babies physically but care for you as parents emotionally. I wish I had known about a “NICU graduates” parent group who would bring us pizza and remind us that they had been through what we were going through, and were there to listen. I wish I had known that we would bring our daughter home from the NICU before our son, and leaving him there would be the hardest moment of my life. I wish I had known that NICU babies are fighters- they may be little but they are truly fierce! I wish I had known that the experience of being a NICU parent would forever shape me as a person, in both sad ways and special ways.
Advice for future NICU parents
Take care of yourself and embrace the support and love of your family and friends who will be there for you. Buy baby clothes and put them on your little one- it was an important moment for us to bathe and dress our babies in the NICU. You don’t have to be with your baby 24/7. Trust that your little one is getting extraordinary care, that NICU staff are angels on Earth, and your babies will not remember this experience. Know that every NICU baby has their own story and path. Know that you may feel traumatized by the stories of other NICU babies not as fortunate as your own, and know that your care and love for the parent next to you is helping. Find empathy for yourself. Whatever happened leading up to the NICU stay, know that this is not your “fault.” And, take lots of pictures! Even though this is a scary time, you will want to see how happy you all were, and you will want evidence of how tiny feet can turn big in a blink of an eye!
You can read more NICU experience stories here