September was NICU awareness month, and I had a brilliant article all typed out and ready and somehow in the process of trying to upload it, it lost it. It has taken me a month to stop moping and attempt to write this again. So here goes!
The overpowering smell of disinfectant, the sound of beeping machines, the sound of shuffling feet of busy nurses and the cries of tiny humans - over our 41 day stay, we got to know the NICU of Femina Hospital VERY WELL.
We ended up in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) as Eli had to be delivered via emergency c-section at 33 weeks` (7 weeks early). I have previously written about my birth experience if you want to have a read.
It was honestly the hardest thing I've ever had to endure and I would hate to ever go back, but I learnt a lot and hopefully my experience be of encouragement to someone else.
Disclaimer: I know so many families who have had far more traumatic birth and NICU experiences, and I know I could never truly relate, but hopefully something here could be helpful.
For those who haven't experienced the NICU, please let me paint a picture:
You've just given birth to your baby, most likely unplanned with little to no warning. You aren't even sure if your baby is going to be okay and you have to endure the couple of minutes (feels like hours) before your baby starts to cry or shows some sign of life. You then get a 5 second family picture before your baby is wrapped up, put in an incubator and whisked away to a place called the NICU (which you never even considered, because all first babies come after 40 weeks right??)
Your partner then stays with the baby and you get sent to recovery (in my case I was sent to high care for 24 hours). Only once you're strong enough to stand up without collapsing from the stab wound in your gut, you can go meet your baby properly.
Once you get there, your heart explodes and breaks from seeing this person who was in your tummy, now attached to what seems like a million wires and machines. You are given the run down about how fragile your baby is, and how holding them too much wears them down. You have never seen something this tiny.
You go home after 3-4 days in hospital and that drive home without your baby feels empty and heartbreaking. The next few weeks, depending on how long you stay, will be emotionally and physically draining, driving back and forth from the hospital (our hosptial was a 30-40 minute drive away!).
The nurses or pediatrician won't give you any indication of how it's going or when you can go home. You just have to go to the hospital every day and pray the previous night was good and that there was progress. One day you will get there and they increased feeds since you left and it's going great, the next day you will get there and they picked up an infection and stopped feeds altogether, meaning you have to start over.
You sit on an uncomfortable stool for hours a day, while going to express breastmilk every 3 hours. This is the most unnatural, mechanical process when all you want to do is breastfeed your baby like you always dreamed you would.
Every tiny bit of progress feels like the hugest victories - every time a new wire comes off, when they increase a feed, when your child picks a bit of weight, the first time they are allowed to wear clothes and the glorious moment they allow you to breastfeed for the first time (for me it was when Eli was 5 weeks old). Eventually you are told things are going well and your baby should be going home soon, which gave us 2 days to prepare.
You are completely overwhelmed with excitment and fear as you finally take this little person home who looks way too small to even be out your tummy, let alone be exposed to the germs and the new inexperienced parents who has to try keep him alive without machines.
Through it all you have grown a new appreciation for other moms who sat for hours expressing milk with you, nurses who were essentially your baby's first moms and for this little fighter who against all odds, learnt how to do things way earlier than he was meant to. (Sorry, that was a bit long-winded!)
Here are some tips I found helpful and lessons I learnt:
Here are some ways you can support family or friends:
That's it for now! Please share your story or even suggestions. I'd love to hear!