Guest post by Claire Hattrick of ClipboardClaire.com
Nothing beats experience in life, but somewhere I would not want to be again is the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). The NICU is most new parents’ worst nightmare. No one is a NICU mom by choice.
More often than not, you have never had much experience being in a hospital, let alone a busy, machine-bleeping, fast-moving, often upsetting situation like in the NICU. Then, suddenly you are in this stressful situation with your newborn baby—the person who means more to you than anything in the whole world!
BUT breathe deep; all is not as bad and frightening as it seems. My story, like many NICU stories, has a happy ending.
I’d like to share with you my personal experience as a NICU mom, along with some tips to help you get through this most difficult time. This post is also for loved ones who want to understand what a NICU parent is going through and better support them.
How I Became a NICU Mom
My personal NICU experience was one of shock and heartbreak, but I also held a firm belief that everything would be OK.
I went into labor with my twins at 31 weeks. I had been to the hospital already that week for monitoring as Twin 2 was suddenly much smaller than Twin 1. Later that week, I was at home having just done a large grocery shopping trip, and noticed my foot swelling.
I called the hospital, and they said they wanted me in straight away. My partner came home as quickly as he could and took me to the hospital. On our arrival, the doctor was waiting for me, and it was all a bit of a rush to get me monitored and see what was going on.
I was totally calm, drinking a hot chocolate and eating a chocolate bar. Then, within 20 minutes of our arrival, they said they were delivering now as Twin 2 was becoming more and more distressed.
My twins, Abby and Beth, were delivered by an emergency c-section, one minute apart. I apparently went into shock and lost a lot of blood. So, I don’t remember much about this time, other than I just had two girls.
I was shown Abby, but Beth was doing very poorly, so I didn’t see her at all.
My First Visits to the NICU
I had not seen my girls for the first 12 hours because I was not doing well. I laid in my hospital bed, repeatedly watching a video of them that their dad had taken.
My first visit to the NICU was is a wheelchair.
I had been in a NICU before visiting a friend, so I was not too alarmed with everything that was going on. But it is totally different when you’re visiting your own, exceedingly small babies.
They were just the most amazing little bundles of joy, but they were both unwell. We knew Twin 2 had a major issue, and it was not until day 4 that we were told she had kidney failure.
I can still remember to this day being really calm when we were told, but the girls’ dad falling to pieces and crying. I had to be told straight, with no sugar coating. That is my character, I suppose.
I remember asking if the doctor was telling me that she was going to die. His response was, “we are not thinking that way right now.”
This was the start of an exceptionally long month in the NICU.
Coming Home Without My Baby
After 10 days in the hospital myself, I came home. For me, that was the worst day.
Everyone else left with their babies, and I left with none. I cried all the way home, then gave myself a good talking to and decided a positive attitude was for the best.
I told myself I needed to make the most of getting myself better and back on my feet before the twins came home.
It still was not easy, as my partner was working and had to drop me off at the NICU very early each day to express milk and do childcare for the twins. I also always went back every evening to say goodnight to them, even though it was a 40-minute drive.
As your time in the NICU goes by, you become more acclimatized to the machines and what is happening. You learn what to do, say, and worry and not worry about.
It is a very steep learning curve, with no two days the same. You never know what is going to happen next.
It is the uncertainty that wreaks havoc on your mind, emotions, and feelings. Especially after giving birth, a NICU mom may feel like the joy and happiness has been torn away from her.
Spending time in the NICU is an incredibly difficult time, but don’t lose hope! There are some good things that can come out of this experience.
Good Things About the NICU
Meeting Lifelong Friends
While visiting my twins in the NICU, I met a lifelong friend, Anita. I can remember her standing at the elevator, upset. I put my arm on hers and said, “tomorrow is a new day.”
She always says that was the most inspiring thing I could have said to her. We became inseparable for the following month. Her daughter had been born in good health but had breathing difficulties shortly afterwards and had to be ventilated.
There was a lot of sitting around watching babies sleep in the NICU, so my friend and I started doing lots of little jobs for the NICU nurses. We just wanted to help in some small way. It helped the nurses out and kept us busy.
Amazing Healthcare Staff
You will see the coolness of the doctors and nurses as they go about their day, calm and collected. The NICU staff are fantastic at getting you to interact with your baby, and they teach you how to do it through the holes in the sides of the incubators.
The wires were a nuisance, but it was all part of the twins getting better and keeping them alive and monitored.
The nurses were just the most dedicated, beautiful beings ever. They looked after our babies when we were there and when we were not there.
I remember coming into the NICU one evening, and one of the nurses was rocking Abby in a chair, feeding her a bottle, and singing to her! It just melted my heart.
The NICU staff take their job to heart and give their absolute best every single day, treating your babies like their own.
In addition to the staff at the hospitals being amazing, with today’s medicines and technology, there isn’t much they can’t do. If it wasn’t for the NICU, my Twin 2 certainly wouldn’t be here.
I will forever be indebted to them. Looking at where she is now reminds me to never lose hope, even in the darkest of situations!
We were very fortunate that there was a new drug that had been used successfully on other young kidney patients. This drug was given to and worked successfully for Beth. Her kidneys started working almost immediately.
We were obviously elated and knew we were then in the home stretch. Abby would have been able to come home a week before Beth. She needed to feed properly, being so small, but after a few fits initially never had any other health issues.
But I refused to bring one baby home without the other and break their twin bond. From the word go, they were so close and inseparable. They still are to this day!
Words of Advice From a NICU Mom
Having gone through this experience, I have a few words of advice for other NICU moms and loved ones seeking to support them.
Talk to Other NICU Parents
Talk, talk, and talk some more! The NICU is a lonely place, and mentally exhausting at times, so you need a great support network while in there.
Just saying hello to other parents in the NICU breaks the awkward silence, and chatting with others going through the same difficulties as you is priceless.
Celebrate NICU Babies
If you are visiting someone in the NICU, still take the card and gift you would have if they were on a normal ward. And please, speak openly about their baby!
It is still so important to make the NICU mom feel like she had a new baby who should be celebrated. For me, it was more awkward when people ignored you because they did not know what to say.
Treat NICU moms the same!
Take Care of Yourself
Being a NICU mom is exhausting, physically and emotionally. You’ve just given birth, and now you must cart yourself back and forth all over town and at all hours just to see your precious baby.
Sitting in the chairs in the NICU for hours on end can become uncomfortable on your healing body. But still, you push yourself to do everything possible for your baby. You might be pumping breastmilk round the clock and feel like you’re tied to a machine practically 24/7.
Remember that you’re recovering too, so take some time for yourself. You need sleep and rest. You need to feed your body and drink water. If you don’t take care of yourself, it won’t be good for you or your baby in the long run.
Your time and energy will be greatly limited during this time. So, accept the help of loved ones, be it with rides, chores, childcare, food, etc.
And it’s OK to ask for help when you need it. You’re allowed! Sometimes well-intentioned people don’t know what they can do to help, but they very much want to pitch in.
There can be a mix of complicated feelings during this time: worry, guilt, and an incredible longing for your baby. Confide in someone about your feelings if you can (especially another NICU mom)—it will help.
Feel free to cry it out when you need to. You’re going through a lot. You don’t have to bottle up your feelings or put on a happy face for others. Your feelings are totally valid, and no one will judge you for them.
Thank your NICU staff. Let them know how much you appreciated them.
Also, fundraising in any small way helps these greatly underfunded hospital departments.
Without them, so many more babies will die due to a lack of very expensive equipment that they so desperately need. These hospitals are pushing science to the limit with new and more advanced, cutting-edge equipment and research thanks to money raised by their supporters.
Final Words of Support
If you’re in the midst of your NICU experience right now, or expect one in your future, I wish you all the best. It is a most difficult time, but one you can get through.
You are stronger than you think. NICU moms get dropped into some of the most challenging parts of parenting from day one. It’s not something I would wish on anyone, but I’m grateful for those times because they gave me my two amazing girls who are now happy and healthy adults.
About the Author
I’m Claire Hattrick, a 53-year-old mom of identical twin daughters. I recently started a blogging website called clipboardclaire.com so I could help others going through a similar situation to me! I cover advice on topics from being a single mom of identical twins through to menopause and internet dating! If my blogs can put a smile on one person’s face or help them get through a hard time, then they were worth writing! Sign up for my email reminders to get the latest posts. In addition to my website, you can find me on Facebook and Instagram.