Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, NICU, life is something I had not planned for before trying to conceive.
The heel pricks, brain scans to check for bleeding, the echocardiograms to check their heart, eye exams, hearing tests, constant beeps, heart rate drops, and more.
For us, our pregnancy included having all the complications you can imagine for twins. It included Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome and Selective Intrauterine Growth Restriction. It was a lot.
The boys arrived at 33 weeks and 1 day.
When they were born, I was able to see my babies for 2 seconds before they rushed them away to the NICU. The smaller twin was 3lbs, and the bigger twin was 4lbs 13oz. They were seven weeks early, and a lot of development still needs to happen during that time – brain, heart, and lung.
I am very fortunate that my babies only spent 21 and 29 days in the NICU, and during that time, I learned many lessons.
#1 You Cannot Ride in the Hospital Bed to the NICU.
Giving birth to two babies and being alone in a recovery room is heartbreaking; it was not how I had envisioned becoming a mom.
My husband went with the babies to the NICU while they got them settled. He returned to check on me and help me get up and move so I could see them. You have to get in a wheelchair to go to the NICU; there is no riding your hospital bed to the NICU!
Honestly, I don’t even know how long it took for me to make the big move to the wheelchair, but it felt like an eternity.
When I finally was able to see my boys, I also quickly learned not only how difficult it was emotionally not to be able to hold them. There were no baby snuggles, no baby smells, and I was unable to help. They were utterly reliant on doctors, nurses, and lots of machines. Not being able to hold and touch the child you gave birth to is gut-wrenching.
#2 Preemie Mom Discharge is Traumatic.
When a preemie mom has to leave the hospital without their baby, it is traumatic. I’ll never forget the day I was discharged from the hospital, and it was time to go home because the NICU was closing for shift change.
I left the hospital without a baby.
There were no flowers or balloons: nothing but an empty womb, sore boobs, and a broken heart. Leaving the hospital took away all sense of control even though you don’t have much when your babies are in the NICU. At least I had been sleeping in the same building as them.
#3 There is NO Sleeping.
First, NICU nurses are amazing, and they became part of our family. We are forever grateful for all the care and attention they gave to our boys.
While I was away from the hospital, people would tell me to sleep. However, I set the alarm to wake me up every 2 hours to pump. I was trying to feed two babies, and the only way to do this was to pump, pump, and keep pumping!
Also, I would call the NICU and check in with their nurse to make sure they were doing well. I remember calling one of the first nights after I got home, and the nurse telling me she gave them their first bath. I was a little angry with her for not waiting for me and letting me help, but I just let it go. It’s one of the many things that break your heart about not bringing your baby home.
#4 You Will Cry Over Spilled Milk.
I would pump before leaving the NICU and get home just in time to pump again. It was hard. It was a lot of pumping.
Honestly, trying to provide my babies with breast milk caused me so much stress. I pumped all the time with little output.
I did everything, and I mean everything.
Every day I would pack up the milk I’d pumped through the night, and it still wasn’t enough. One night, I spilled three ounces. I was exhausted. I couldn’t think straight, and I just let it all out, all the tears. It was by far the most emotional roller coaster of my life.
They eventually had to supplement. My heart broke because my body needed the babies to produce enough milk. There is no connection with a breast pump. No emotion. Just the sounds of the *bleeping* pump and small amounts of liquid gold.
#5 NICU Babies will Fail the Car Seat Test.
One day the nurse cheerfully said, “Be sure to bring the car seat and base with you tomorrow because Connor will have a car seat test!” If they think your baby will come home without oxygen, they do a trial run to see if your baby can maintain breathing room air for at least as long as it will take you to drive home from the NICU (so for us, 1 hour). They disconnect all supplemental oxygen (insert panic here), and they watch the monitors.
NICU babies almost always fail their car seat test the first time. They don’t tell you that until AFTER they fail it. Thankfully, Connor passed on his second try!
#6 Feeding a Baby with a Syringe was a New Concept.
You also can’t prepare for feeding your tiny babies with a syringe. When I say syringe, I’m not talking about that giant 1 tsp size you might use to give them a Tylenol dose. I’m talking about the ones that hold like 1 CC – that is 1ml. 1 teaspoon of Tylenol is 5ml.
So, my baby started out being fed 1 ml of breast milk!
Babies born prematurely can’t “suck, swallow, and breathe,” which means they can’t nurse without you practically drowning them in breast milk. So, we learned how to feed our babies with a syringe.
#7 Your Baby will have Tape on His/Her Face.
Although our NICU babies didn’t know how to drink from a bottle, they did learn how to pull out a 2-foot-long feeding tube from their stomachs.
This led to a bunch of tape over their face.
Christian became a pro at this. He would stick that little tiny pinky finger in the loop between his nose and mouth, and he would gently and slowly pull out that tube, hoping the nurses didn’t catch him. I would come in to see them in the morning with tape covering most of his face and the night shift nurses telling me, “this one is feisty,” and he definitely was and still is! Christian also failed his first car seat test, but passed the 2nd time!
#8 Do NOT Feel Bad When You Say “No Visitors.”
Don’t let people make you feel bad if you tell them they can’t visit in the NICU, or when the babies are home. Don’t let guilt set in for 1 second!
Their feelings are not your problem.
If they get their feelings hurt, just let them be hurt. You have enough to worry about already, and adding any stress to the mix is not fair to YOU! Real friends understand. Real friends will be ready to love you when the time is right. If you have something to say to someone, say it!
#9 You are the BEST Advocate
If you need to speak up for your baby, speak up! If you have questions about your babies’ care, ask them, even if they are the hard questions. Be an advocate for yourself and your babies. Everyone else can wait!
There is no way I could ever prepare someone for the time in the NICU. There are so many experiences that nobody really tells you about beforehand, and I hope you will never have to experience them!