Life in the NICU
For those who have never been in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit one way to describe the sights and sounds would be very much like a casino: lots of bells ringing and lights flashing.
Giving birth to babies at just 31.4 weeks gestation definitely means a stay in the NICU for an undetermined period of time.
Seeing our girls in their incubators for the first time was a surreal experience. They were so tiny and looked so fragile. The first time we did skin to skin kangaroo care with them I think my husband and I were afraid that we would break them.
The girls had monitors on their chests and feet and IV lines in their little hands. Ella needed a CPAP machine to force air into her lungs for the first 24 hours and Zoey had to stay under the special lights to get rid of her jaundice for a few 24 hour periods. The good news was, since I had received two steroid injections while in labour, the girls’ lungs seemed developed enough to not require being put on an oxygen machine.
Getting used to the alarms sounding was definitely a learning experience. Every time their monitors would sound I would jump and feel a sense of panic. After one of the many times that I questioned the nurses about the alarm they said to me “If we’re not panicking, you shouldn’t either.” This was good advice and helped to keep me sane.
48 hours after labour I was discharged from the hospital. I didn’t let myself think about leaving the girls, I just kept saying to myself, “I’ll be back tonight, I’m just dropping my stuff off at home.”
Needless to say, after four exhausting days, once my husband and I got home we both hit a wall. I could barely walk due to the surgery and was bed-ridden all night and my husband was so exhausted he couldn’t stay awake. We had an extremely emotional night, not going back to see the girls. We both broke down emotionally. Luckily I had a friend working in the NICU and she would send me updates all night. She also gave me some good advice telling me to get my rest and recuperate now while I can because I’m no good to the babies if I’m tired or sick. Once I came to terms with that logic I felt better about my night at home without our babies.
In the days that followed my husband and I learned about the importance of hand washing (not that we didn’t know the importance, but just how it can affect premature babies), we learned how to handle and care for newborn preemies and I was able to focus on pumping, pumping, pumping to get our little girls the milk that they needed.
After four days in the Toronto NICU and us calling a nearby hotel home, the girls were transported to our local hospital.
My husband was able to get eight days off work to be there with me and the girls and we quickly fell into our new routine of daily hospital visits and feeds, handling our preemie babies and watching them grow and hit little milestones every day.
When it comes to NICU babies the one thing I learned is to expect two steps forward and one step back when it comes to their heath and development. The girls would hit amazing little milestones like getting their IV’s out and then they would get a sick, or they would latch amazing one day and not the next.
For anyone who has a baby in the NICU the best advice I can offer is to learn as much as you can. It’s a wonderful opportunity to pick the brains of the nurses and lactation consultants there. Our NICU experience was a great one. We learned as much as we possibly could, had full trust in all of the nurses caring for our girls. As much as we wanted nothing more than for our girls to come home, we also knew that it was important for the girls to be there getting the best care possible.
After about five weeks in the NICU and spending about six hours every day in the hospital with the babies our girls were finally ready to come home.