We took a tour of the NICU when I was hospitalized at 30 weeks, so we at least knew what we would be walking in to. It wasn't as scary and overwhelming as it could have been. Bubs was in the middle room, meaning she required less care than the intensive-care room, but more care than the least intensive-care room. She was on CPAP for 6 hours, and pulled her umbilical line out on the first day (that's my girl!). She had a PICC line in for a few weeks, and slowly was given more and more expressed breast milk via nasal gastric tube. After the first week, when her risk of infection had dropped away, she was just a "feed and grow". I took over her cares (taking temps, changing nappies and giving feeds down the ng tube), and when her PICC line came out I was finally brave enough to take her out and put her back in the incubator myself. Also, by that time, the c-section wound wasn't as sore and I could get up and down from a chair without a problem. I joined a study (where I was the guinea pig) that evaluates parental well being and experience in the NICU as well as length of stay in relation to level of parent involvement. I was already doing a lot of these things, but it made sense to start caring for her as soon as I could, or the first day home would be really overwhelming!!
(presenting at medical rounds in my pajamas)
We had one bad day in the NICU, the day the Moose went back home to look after the cats and bring back some stuff for me. Naturally this fell on the day the pregnancy hormones crashed, the dreaded Day 3. I came down from the post natal ward (aka fifth circle of hell), and met one of the doctors by the incubator. The doctor told me that it was possible Bubs had an infection because the gastric fluids they aspirated from the ng tube were green and bile-y, and that it was really not good to get an infection so early. All I could think of was necrotizing enterocolitis (the doc did not say it). I nearly lost my shit sitting all alone next to the incubator, watching an unhappy Bubs (unhappy because her tummy was empty- her food was cut off and she was being fed only by TPN through the PICC line). I at least made it back to the post natal ward and my room before I burst into tears. I allowed myself 5 minutes to cry, and then forced myself to think more positive thoughts. It turns out Bubs did not have an infection. She simply didn't tolerate having her feed through the ng tube increased. But as soon as her tummy settled and her feeds resumed (on a slightly different schedule), she was away and had no more problems.
I was having cuddles with Bubs one day in the NICU when I was called upstairs to the post natal ward. We had only just taken Bubs out of the incubator, and as you aren't supposed to overstimulate preemies, that meant that my cuddles were over for a little while. But still, I had the nurse put Bubs back, and I went upstairs, thinking certainly something must be up, some blood tests must have come back showing some problem. When I got upstairs the midwife apologized profusely. It was Dr. Unibrow. He wanted to check on my incision. That was it. Nothing else. And clearly he couldn't do it later. The midwife had chewed him out. I refrained, but after that I pretty much made faces at him whenever I saw him, and once I admit I hissed at him like a cat. Total reflex. Couldn't help it.
(Someone should call the Dental Surgery- they are missing their breast pump)
Life in the NICU was a lot like the previous 8 days living on the post natal ward, except I was able to take my own meds (less chance of an overdose or drug mix up!), eat food (for free) from the staff cafeteria, and sleep on a REAL bed!! Yup, not a hospital bed. A real, honest to god proper bed. It was awesome! Still crappy hospital bedding and pillows, but hey, there was a mattress. A bed frame that didn't adjust height or creak really loudly every time you moved. It was also quiet at night. No crying babies, no dinging calls or blood pressure cuffs being wheeled down the hall.
The most important part, though, was easy access to Bubs. She was just a 20 second walk away. I could pop in any time to see her, and spend as long as I wanted without having to go get my blood pressure taken/meds/food (ok, I still had to go get food within a certain time frame, but it was far more reasonable).
The other NICU moms, especially the boarder moms (ones like me who lived too far away), were awesome. It was great talking to them and hearing their stories. Some simply went into early labour, a few others were things like pre-eclampsia or placental abruption. There were two babies there weeks before we arrived that had been born at 24 weeks. One is from my town (I didn't know her before). Most moms were quite positive, used to the routine, used to the good days and the bad days, and getting by one step at a time. The longer I was there the more I saw new moms come in. They were always quiet, maybe smiled a little in passing, but mostly they just looked shell-shocked.
I think being a parent of a baby in a NICU puts you into a sort of shitty club, like the infertility/subfertility club. It is a very different club, but it still brings you together with a common yet unique experience. I made a few friends and it is great to watch their wee ones grow and reach new milestones.
The NICU also gave me another advantage. As I have little to no experience with babies (especially newborns), taking one (full term, of course) home the day after birth would have been a challenge. Mastering breast feeding, getting sleep, recovering from birth and just getting used to such a new life would have been overwhelming for me. Obviously I wouldn't wish premature birth or a less than healthy bubs upon myself or anyone else, but given the hand I was dealt here, I can see the positive. The NICU eased me into motherhood slowly. I had time to recover. I got sleep between pumping sessions. Hell, pumping sessions helped me to know a bit about breast feeding and latches (because if you don't get that nipple just right in the pump it hurts like hell too!). I had the best teachers possible (the NICU nurses) show me how to do pretty much everything. The knowledge and experience I gained through them gave me confidence that otherwise would have been slow to grow. Of course I would have rather Bubs made it to full term and received all the advantages further cooking in the oven could give her, and had she been less than perfect in the NICU I am sure I would have found it all way more stressful. But overall, I have to say I am very happy with not just my birth experience, but with my NICU experience as well. It wasn't what we wanted or would have wished for, but everything has turned out well, and a happy healthy Bubs was the goal afterall!
(2 weeks and 4 days)