Our story is not even close to the heartbreaking stories of those who have spent months in the Neonatal Intensive Care Units with their infants. But it is our NICU story and one I want to share. So many Mama’s know what it is like to be discharged from the hospital when your brand new baby has to stay, and sadly there will be many more Mama’s who have yet to experience it.
And I remember my husband praying over him; I remember others asking why I couldn’t request to stay in the Mom room that was available on the same floor so I could see him around the clock. And I also remember the intense guilt I felt that I didn’t ask because I had a not-even 2 year old at home that also needed her Mommy.
So off I went back home that day, without my baby. I was heartbroken, but I knew he was where he needed to be.
It was a Saturday morning in May 2015. We just spent the prior evening in downtown Nashville at the rehearsal dinner of dear friends we had introduced a couple of years before. They were getting married at the beautiful Cheekwood Botanical Gardens in Nashville, and my husband was a groomsman.
I had some contractions at the rehearsal dinner and felt that the real deal labor was on the way. So, I chugged water and ate SO much food that night because I also knew that once I went to the hospital there was no snacking for me, so I thoroughly enjoyed my “last meal!”
I woke up around 5:00 a.m. and the contractions were definitely unmistakable, but not at all painful. So I got busy cleaning up the house and putting my final toiletries into the hospital bag. I had my husband call the groom of the wedding to tell him the news (though my husband was convinced we would be released from the hospital by noon with a false alarm and still make the pre-ceremony wedding pictures). It must be a man thing – he did the same thing with our 3rd child…as if I didn’t know what labor pains were by the time the 3rd kid rolled around.
Baby boy arrived around the time the speeches were being said at the reception, to give you a timeline of things. Looking back, they broke my water right around when the bride walked down the aisle; I definitely would have been giving birth on the side of the interstate should we have braved it…
At this point, you are probably wondering why he was in the NICU. Well, he didn’t arrive too early. He was born at 37 weeks and 5 days, but his birth was a quick one. I barely had to push. If you know a thing or two about childbirth then you may already know where this is going. Due to him coming out so quickly, it did not expel all of the fluid off of his lungs. Therefore, the fluid stayed on his lungs and caused breathing problems within an hour of his birth. He had to work very hard to breathe and grunted as he tried to eat. This caused rapid, shallow breathing and a rapid heart rate.
Everything moved quickly at this point. The pediatrician on call had the neonatologist awoken and sent to the hospital where they admitted our son to the NICU. At our hospital, the NICU is on the same floor as the maternity ward, but off by itself. His doctor came in after he was admitted. We discussed everything. He asked me lots of questions, and explained what to expect next. I assume it is the protocol to say, “He will be in the NICU for at least 2 days.” That is the same answer I got for the first 24 hours. But those two days turned into a week as I expected might happen. I have zero medical knowledge, so this intuition must have been The Lord preparing me for a week’s time because I don’t know where else that would have come from.
After my 2 nights in the hospital, I received discharge papers. It’s a sad day when Mommy goes home and baby does not. It will almost rip your heart out. But when you have another one at home, then you know you have to be strong and be Mommy to your other child. Your NICU baby is in more than capable hands until you can return for your visits.
We immediately fell into a brand new routine of being between the hospital and home.
My schedule looked something like this:
My son had a feeding tube when first admitted to the NICU. They needed every ounce of energy he had to go into healing. The first couple of days, he couldn’t spend any energy on even feeding.
He had IVs for antibiotics to ward off any pneumonia. He was given steroids to boost all the things, and likely some other things in his IVs that I can’t recall.
They did chest Xrays almost daily to monitor his lungs, and each day he became stronger and more alert. His breathing crept toward normalcy, and his heart rate slowed toward normal as well as he moved toward good health.
I would call in the middle of the night to check on him. The nurses always loved giving updates. They let me know how he took his last bottle, his vitals, and the details of his last soiled diaper. They were such a comfort to me. I remember being a ball of tears if I realized that was the last shift of the week for them and we might not see them the next evening. One sweet, young nurse cried with me as I told her through blubbering tears how thankful I was for her. God bless the nurses, am I right?!
The day prior to his anticipated discharge was a learning day. The nurses trained and tested me on both infant CPR and Choking Training for Infants. It was intense, but I didn’t complain once. I am so glad NICUs require this of parents. And I am so thankful for the nurses; they ensured I knew exactly what to do.
He also had to have the car seat test. We left his infant car seat with the nurses and they placed him in it to make sure he would be fine in his car seat. I wasn’t there for this. They did it during the night shift so I don’t know exactly what it entails. From what they explained to me, it seemed pretty straight-forward!
The night before his discharge, I stayed in the “mom room” with him on my own. The nurses came by and checked on us throughout the night to make sure I had been waking up to feed him, that he was taking his bottle just fine, and that he was doing well. Thankfully, he was! We passed with flying colors, and the next morning they came by and discharged us! What a wonderful feeling to know we were finally taking our baby home!
I know that our experience is not like any other. I know that his condition was not nearly as severe as others, nor was his stay hardly as extensive as other families endure. And I know that we are beyond blessed to have a wonderful NICU facility right here in our town, staffed with wonderful neonatologists and nurses that took the most amazing care of our baby.
I also know that there are parents who cannot come be with their child each day for various extreme circumstances. I know that I am fortunate to have been able to be with him every single day.
If you are facing a NICU stay, know that I, with many other mamas, are praying for you. We know and understand your heart and all the things weighing on it. Your hormones are already a hot mess, but a NICU stay adds on a layer no one else quite understands.
A mama’s heart is fragile, yet stronger than any other. And it is devastating when a piece of that heart is left in the hospital after birth. But know this: we who have gone before you are cheering for you. We are here to encourage you, and we are praying for you and your sweet bundle!
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Our NICU Experience