Reflections from a NICU Mommy
My Normal Pregnancy
Yes, for the most part, this pregnancy was fairly routine.
In June of 2009 we found out we were going to have another baby. Hubs and I were so excited. I had a relatively normal amount of pregnancy side-effects... with my first pregnancy I had the WORST morning sickness. It was more like all-day-sickness and it lasted the entire 9 months. This time, the nausea actually cleared up and I felt more like a normal human during the second trimester.
With both pregnancies, I had gestational diabetes, so I have to visit the perinatologist more frequently than the average prego. Baby #3 was due on February 22, 2010. In early December, we scheduled the c-secton for February 16.
But, like most things in life, you can't plan everything. Especially in parenthood. You make plans and your kids laugh then change them.
The Visit that Changed Everything
Things at my job had become nearly intolerable. I was miserable there. And the stress was starting to negatively effect my pregnancy. My blood pressure was up (not too high, but we noticed a slight increase in it). My diabetes was under control, but by the first of January I was up to 2-3 doctor's visits per week. Twice a week I was doing NSTs (non-stress tests). I actually loved this appointment. It was the one hour where I could relax in a recliner and listen to my baby's heartbeats. But each time, Baby's heart rate would "dip" several times during the tests and the doctor would do an ultrasound to check his status.
This one day started off like any other... Stu was off work that day, so he was going to spend the day with our daughter. I got up, put on comfy clothes and headed off to my job. I hadn't been feeling great all week, but that was nothing new. Plus I hated going to work, so I was extra miserable. I remember lunch that day. My friend Meg said, "Geez Min, you look like you are going to have that baby real soon." I think I had some four letter words for her... I had more than a month left after all.
After school, I picked up Stu and Rea. And we headed off to the NST together. Stu usually worked on the days that I had them, so I was super excited he was going since there was a pretty good chance we would have another ultrasound. Stu was excited to see his little boy on the screen. He hadn't seen him since we found out we were having a boy.
I had been taking Rea to these appointments so she could feel like she was part of the action. She loved getting and collecting all of the pictures of her little brother.
This appointment was exactly like all the ones before it: An hour in the chair. A couple of heartbeat "dips". An ultrasound.
As I looked at the screen, I noticed something looked strange. I said to the tech, "Where's all that black space that's usually around the baby?" Then I looked at her face (a mistake). She looked like she was concentrating really hard and desperately searching for something that wasn't there. Finally she said, "Um, yeah... there isn't any fluid there. I have to talk to your doctor. Wait in the waiting room. DO NOT LEAVE."
Not exactly comforting words.
Shane was already beginning to pace. I was sitting next to Rea. She was chattering on and on about the newest picture of her baby. Finally my nurse came out. She said, "You need to go straight to the hospital. Go to the Labor & Delivery floor for probable delivery. They are expecting you. Do not eat or drink anything. Go. Now."
I froze. Shane said, "What?!?! I haven't showered yet today!" (oy, men)
So off we went.
We called my parents, filled them in on what was happening and asked them to meet us at the hospital so they could pick up Rea. Stu's mom had flown to GA that morning, so his dad would be joining us at the hospital. We told Stu's mom not to come back right away... we still had no idea what to expect.
The anesthesiologist didn't think it was a good idea to do the surgery immediately because I had eaten a granola bar on my way to the doc's office that afternoon... I'd have to wait until the food was out of my system.
At 11pm, my OB came strolling into the room. We discussed all of the possible scenarios for us at that moment. The biggest variable was how far along in my pregnancy I actually was. My original due date was February 14. But a few months in, my doc pushed it back to February 22. So there was a chance that Buddy was a week more developed than we thought. There was no way to know that, but it was something for us to consider. My doctor was really "on the fence" about whether to perform the c-section or keep me on hospital bedrest. Since I had been having so many issues and complaints, and since he was already "here and dressed**", he thought it would be ok to pull the baby out... but since I had been laying in the hospital bed, Buddy had not been having any heart "dips".
It was a decision that Stu and I had to make. Doc left the room for us to talk.
A few minutes before 1am, I was brought into the OR. To call me terrified would have been a gross understatement. Had I made the right decision? What was going to happen next? Would I regret this forever? Is my baby going to be ok?
After I received the spinal and was strapped down to the bed, I told my nurse I wasn't feeling well. She gave me a dose of an anti-nausea medicine... then I threw up. She hit me with two more doses before I actually stopped vomiting. I know it was my nerves in major overdrive. (Later Stu told me that he and my OB were standing outside and could hear me... Dr said "Oh she must be ready for me...haha.")
Stu was AMAZING. I wouldn't have gotten through the surgery (or the next 10 days) without him. When I was giving birth to our daughter, all he wanted to do was stand up and watch the surgery... he likes blood and guts. But this time, he sat calmly next to me and kept telling me how much he loved me and how we were all going to be alright.
Then Buddy was born.
When you have a c-section, right before they pull the baby out, there is an enormous amount of pressure on your chest. This time it didn't feel so bad. I made the comment that this time the pressure didn't seem to be as much as I recalled from the first time. Doc laughed and said, "this baby is half the size of the last one I pulled out of you." (Rea was 8 lbs 13 oz. Buddy was 5 lbs, 10 oz)
Buddy didn't cry immediately, which FREAKED ME OUT! But the team of doctors and nurses took care of him, got him to cry, and brought him over to see me for 30 seconds before they rushed him off to the NICU.
I was kept in Recovery longer than normal because the only way to see Buddy again was when they wheeled me through the NICU to my room. After that, I wouldn't see him until I was up and walking around. So we waited until the neonatologists stabilized him.
It is still all a blur for me. By now it was like 4am... I had been awake for 23 hours and had just come out of major surgery. My doctor was great. He hung around for a while too. He made multiple trips from the NICU to the Recovery Room to give us updates on what the team was doing for Buddy. He continuously checked with the nurse and made sure she would not take me to my room until I could go see my baby. And every single day that I was in the hospital, he called my room to see how we were doing. I was always in the NICU when those calls came in, but Stu told me about them.
It was scary. I was scared out of my mind that night. I was scared to see my little guy. Again, all of my unanswered questions. And the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit is a very intimidating place.
We saw him for about 1 minute before the nurses wheeled me out and into my room. Stu and I prayed together. Then he fell asleep. I couldn't relax. Instead, I laid there in the dark, listening to the passing trains and Stu's snoring, and cried alone for 3 hours. My guilt kept me up. I could not shake the feeling that I had made the wrong decision. Even if the drugs had worn off, my fear was paralyzing.
At 9am my day nurse came in. She told me that my OB had left orders for her to get me up and moving ASAP, so I could go see my baby. It took about an hour... then I was strong enough to get up out of a chair and walk without the assistance of a wheelchair. I was cleared to enter the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
The NICU is divided into 3 sections, Level 1, 2 & 3 babies. Buddy was a level 3, the most unstable and easily the scariest part of the room. Its very dark in the level 3 section. This is reserved for the sickest of the sick. There was a preemie baby girl in the incubator next to Bud's who was easily half his size. And across the walkway was another little baby boy born on a few hours after Buddy, but he was not in nearly as good a shape as our little guy. It's hard not to cry for all of the little tiny humans in that room. It's equally hard not to hug all of the nurses, doctors, PAs & other staff who work tirelessly to take care of the babies and their parents.
The docs and nurses told us that the first 24-48 hours were going to be the worst... they were the most touch-and-go. No one could tell us how Buddy was going to turn out. That was the worst part.
We stayed for a little while by his side. When we went back to our room, Stu broke down and cried. We prayed. Honestly, I prayed CONSTANTLY for the first 48 hours of Buddy's life. The Bible talks about the peace that passes understanding, and I think that's what really helped me get through Buddy's time at the hospital. Although I never stopped feeling guilty for him being there, I remember a strange sense of calm through it all. Our visitors might attest to a different story.
Buddy, like most white boys born too early, had difficulty breathing and eating. Breathing was the first thing the NICU staff focused on. We watched the monitors as his levels went up and down. We watched and asked questions about the various equipment and procedures.
When Buddy made it past the 48 hour mark with no major problems, I was able to hold him. It was killing me not to just pick him up and cuddle him. We were a little restricted on even how to touch him prior to this milestone... Preemie babies sometimes get agitated by touch. They aren't supposed to be out yet, so any disturbance causes them alarm. Just a gentle rub of Buddy's hand would cause the monitors to blink and beep. One nurse showed us how to just rest his foot on our palm, no caressing... this his little body could handle. But as a Mommy, with all of my post-pardum emotions, this was so hard!
It is difficult to put into words what a conflicting emotional experience it was. I think only NICU parents can understand what it feels like to worry about your little one, while simultaneously having to take a step back. It is so painful to see your precious little one with all the tubes and wires in and on him. And the parental/maternal guilt can be debilitating.
You're Not Alone
- According to the CDC, about 33% of women who gave birth in 2011 had c-sections.
- The CDC says that in 2012, 1 of every 9 babies was born premature (that's before 37 weeks).
What kind of delivery did you have?
The Club No One Tries To Join
I think NICU families have a special bond... even though we have never met. Please share your story in the comments below.