It has been almost five years since my twin girls were born. Sometimes I just look at them and am amazed at how far they’ve come. There have been challenges but I am thankful for the courage they have embraced and for the strength they gave me.
Looking back on my delivery, it was a lot. There’s simply no other way to put it. From being rushed for an emergency caesarian and seeing those babies for the first time, there are so many emotions that raced through my mind. I couldn’t wait to bring them home.
Except, I couldn’t bring them home for about a month…
Many mothers look forward to taking their young one home within the first week, depending on recovery. But sometimes the baby needs extra special care and is whisked away to a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). This is never what one imagines as it delays time spent bonding at home and pushes the stress and worries over one’s head. However, many parents encounter the NICU experience. It’s estimated between 10 and 15 percent of babies born in the United States stay in the NICU.
When I met my twins in November of 2017, the NICU was something I only heard of and never imagined my baby girls would enter. After all, there were no complications during the birth process, and they were relatively healthy for being born at 36 weeks.
So, I faced the ordeal of them staying in the hospital nursery while I also stayed in the hospital. You see, while my babies were receiving special care, I was also a patient in the hospital due to severe preeclampsia and HELLP. In addition to recovering, I also was trying to take care of my babies and figure out breastfeeding and pumping. It was overwhelming to say the least.
Since the hospital I stayed in didn’t have a NICU, they had to transfer to the babies to another hospital which, thankfully, was all a part of the same system.
I’ll never forget that moment when I was still at my hospital, and I had to say a momentarily bye as they were whisked away to downtown Columbia. Looking back, that was extremely hard, as I was in the process of transferring to the same hospital. I had to trust my babies to strangers to take them away to the NICU. The stress just kept amplifying in my body, which was the last thing I needed.
My plans suddenly crumbled before my eyes as I learned to give up control while they were hooked up to wires. The visions of them with feeding tubes, in incubators, and the initial bilirubin treatment, made for a long and trying postpartum recovery.
I specifically remember filling out paperwork for my girls’ social security cards and seeing another new mom do the same. She was smiling and happy, and that was great. Except, I had this twinge of jealousy because while she took her baby home, mine were in the NICU. I wasn’t mad at her because she didn’t do anything wrong. I was upset over the scenario.
For any mother or father who’s had to face the NICU, I understand what you’re thinking and experiencing, for the most part. There are different levels of NICU, including varying degrees to how long babies stay in the NICU. My babies had a shorter stay compared to others. It’s not the ideal situation but there are ways to deal with it.
It is my desire that if anyone ever has to face the NICU, or know someone who does, that you approach the situation with compassion and understanding. Because frankly, it’s just hard. I’m so thankful for the dedicated and extraordinary medical professionals for helping take care of my babies while my husband and I coped.
Let me share with you some NICU survival tips from my firsthand account. No parent should have to battle this alone. Asking for help is one of the bravest choices you can make.
NICU Survival Tips
It’s important to take care of yourself first
This is especially true for the mothers. If you don’t take care of your overall health now, the ability to take care of your baby once you all leave the hospital may suffer. The nurses and doctors are trained to take care of your baby, so catch up on as much sleep as you can and eat well because the healthcare staff can’t come home with you! Make sure you step outside of the hospital for fresh air. It’ll help clear the clutter in your mind.
Remember, there is your physical health but just as important is your emotional wellbeing. If you can’t take care of yourself, it’s going to be even harder taking care of a little baby.
Pump as much as you can
If you will be nursing your baby, be prepared to pump as often as you can. Sometimes moms may not be able to breastfeed a premature baby, so pumping is the next best option. Consult with the hospital’s lactation team and ask questions when you’re unsure. Be prepared for a pumping schedule and abide by if you can. By the way, if you choose not to breastfeed, know that it’s OK. It’s your choice.
Fed truly is best
Whether you choose breastmilk, donor milk, or formula remember that as long as your baby is being fed, the source doesn’t matter.
Cuddle with your baby as much as you can
This is the most rewarding thing you can do for your baby’s health and well-being. Hold that baby and go skin-to-skin so they can hear and feel your heartbeat and your warmth. Trust me, there’s no better feeling as it warms your heart and baby’s heart.
Know when to ask for help
If you ever feel any of your daily or weekly responsibilities are slipping, reach out to your significant other or other family and friends for support. That is, if they haven’t reached out to you first. Oftentimes, good friends and family will ask what they can do to help. Tell them. Take them up on any offer they can help out with, even if it’s just as a listening ear. Make sure you stay in tune with your emotions, as crazy as they may seem. If there are extreme thoughts racing through your head, it’s important to tell someone you trust pronto.
Keep hand lotion and lip balm close by at all times
If your baby is in the NICU, you’ll be washing your hands a lot, and the dry air will have you reaching for lip balm. Sometimes it’s the little things you don’t think about that you really need, like your own bed. Hospital chairs and pull-out sofas are not the most comfortable to sleep in, so as hard as it is to leave your baby at night, sleep in the comfort of your own bed knowing that the nurses are trained to care for your baby and help bring him or her home quickly.
In closing, my babies were blessed to come home. But not all parents have the luxury of being able to take their loved one home, as they face bereavement. Let the hospital staff help you find support and counseling you’ll need and take it one day at a time.