WRITTEN BY ABIGAIL NAIRNE
Our NICU Story
I had my second baby, my son Teddy, by emergency c-section on 15th January 2020. I was 38 weeks pregnant, exactly the same gestation as when I had my daughter by emergency c-section. In both pregnancies I had a condition called ICP. This condition puts baby at high risk of stillbirth. When Teddy was born at 9pm he was raised up over the medical canopy and shown to me briefly before being taken to get weighed. His dad went over to be with him for this whilst I was being stitched up. However, the time was ticking by and my baby wasn’t being brought back to me. I was stuck staring at a ceiling not knowing what was going on.
A nurse (I think) came over to me and said Teddy was having some breathing troubles and would need to be taken for a little bit of help. He was taken from the room with my husband without me seeing him again. I was told it would probably only be for a couple of hours. He was 7lb 12oz so he was a good size and he would be with me in no time. Those were some of the longest minutes of my life, unable to move with no-one to speak to and no baby with me. I went into the recovery room on my own with the nurse whilst my husband went with Teddy. From what I can remember, I think he sent me some photos but it was all a blur. The nurse chatted relentlessly, to take my mind off things!!
I was taken to my room and I was told to pump. I was told to pump throughout the night, every 2 hours. This was all very strange for me as my daughter was born at the same gestation, 2lbs lighter and she was passed over to me straight away and we were discharged from hospital within 24 hours (in the UK).
I was checked on regularly and the feeling started to come back into my body. My son didn’t come to my room that night and I officially met him at 6am the next morning when I was wheeled in my wheelchair and able to take him some colostrum that I had pumped. He was covered in wires and in an incubator, he was on a drip to keep him hydrated but they didn’t feed him for 24 hours which is when they gave him a feeding tube.
I was told he would be with me by the end of the day. He wasn’t with me by the end of the day. I was exhausted and in pain and my baby was in an incubator. He had 1-1 care round the clock with a NICU nurse. I was told I could put my hands in and touch him, but when I did, all the alarms went off and the nurse told us that there was a certain way to touch NICU babies to comfort them. The doctor did her rounds and we managed to be there when she was assessing Teddy which meant we could understand more about what was going on and his treatment plan. He just was unable to breathe unaided.
One of the loneliest feelings in the world is being on the postpartum ward, in your room on your own and without your baby. Especially when you can hear other babies and other families celebrating. My husband needed to be home to be with our 2 year old in the morning, evening and night time. In those times I would visit Teddy, but I needed to agree with the nurse when I would be back to have my observations done.
We were originally told he would need to be in the NICU for 2 hours, then 2 days, then I was told he would be coming home with me, when that didn’t happen, I was devastated. To leave the hospital without my baby was something I didn’t believe I would ever be able to do, but I did. I also knew that he was in the best place he could possibly be. Everyone we encountered in the NICU was incredible and superhuman to us. They reassured us, were compassionate but also confident in what they were doing. It became a safe place for us to be, away from the outside world and questions. I found it hard not knowing the answers, people would ask “what next?”, “what does that mean?”, but we just didn’t have the answers ourselves. Learning about oxygen saturation levels and CPAP was something I didn’t imagine.
We got a fright one morning when we arrived at the NICU after dropping our eldest at daycare, Teddy wasn’t in his bay where he had been with his 1 on 1 nurse. I quietly panicked, but very quickly someone came to show us that he had moved bays and graduated “to the other side” where he needed less observation so was with a nurse on a 1:3 ratio. It was wonderful news! He was breathing without support!
He still had a way to go because he needed to prove he could breathe and maintain his heart rate without the support, something that took him a while to handle! Finally, the last hurdle was that he had to prove he could sit in his car seat for 1-2 hours without any difficulty. We got a phone call in the morning to say they had done the car seat test and Teddy could home! We cried happy tears so hard, we couldn’t believe it!
Teddy was in the NICU for a total of 2 weeks. Each day feels like it’s own week. The experience is exhausting but strangely wonderful too. We were second time parents but it was amazing to have dedicated help and refreshers on how to handle our newborn! I had lactation consultants on speed dial who would be with me in a matter of minutes to help me with Teddy’s latch. We are still successfully nursing, which I put down to all their help!
I will never forget the beeping from the NICU and the emergency alarms. Watching as new babies are admitted and seeing other parents go through similar experiences. We are just so fortunate that our baby came home and we are so in love. Now he is 1 and the cheekiest, lovable character!
Key things I wish I had known about the NICU
- The nurses just get on and do things. We missed Teddy’s first bath. If there is anything that you want to definitely witness or participate in, speak up!
- We were offered donor milk, we accepted this but we didn’t even know this was something that would be on the table and there was no time to discuss it. NICU babies require more milk to help them, so what I was pumping was not enough. I was very explicit that I didn’t want formula, so they made a label for his incubator
- Although you are not with your baby, it is exhausting as you still have to pump every 2 hours round the clock
- Mom guilt is real, you want to be with your baby, but actually, they don’t do much. I found myself reading books and messaging people. Then feeling guilty when I was home that I hadn’t focussed enough on baby.
- People will message you for updates, and ask how they can help. The best thing for us was food. Food we could grab and eat on the way to the hospital, packed lunches, and meals to heat in the evening
- They have volunteer cuddlers, this is wonderful to have someone cuddle your baby when you are not able. BUT this took me by surprise as I thought surely I would have to agree to this. With raging hormones and grief of not having the experience I had hoped for, I was initially upset that someone I had never even seen was cuddling my baby before so many relatives! I then quickly came to the conclusion I was pleased he was being cuddled and loved. What a wonderful gift.
- You can call any moment, 24 hours a day to ask how your baby is and you aren’t being a nuisance
- It is scary, but it really is a wonderful place to be, surrounded by so much love and competence. I have never felt gratitude like it
- Take clothes in for your baby and make their little area your own, decorate it, bring anything to make it feel a little more special
Read more NICU Stories here