That morning, I left for work not knowing it would be five weeks before I’d come back home. By the end of the day, I found myself on an antepartum unit, being taken care of by my coworkers. Labs were drawn and a 24 hour urine was started. I wanted to be so certain that I was making the right decision. I struggled going forth with an induction that I knew would give me a premature baby. As a labor nurse, I knew my physician was making the right decision. My blood pressure was so high my vision pulsated. Out of nowhere, I would vomit uncontrollably. I could barely see a foot in front of my face. And less than 24 hours later, with plummeting platelets and multiple doses of pushed Labetalol, I knew there was no way out of an early delivery.
Knowing in advance that my baby had suffered an intrauterine brain bleed when I was 20 weeks pregnant, I had always expected he would go to the NICU. My entire pregnancy I fought to give him the very best start in life, and I felt like I had stripped him of that when my body betrayed me and began to fail the both of us. When he was born, I watched as the neo team assessed him. He looked so incredibly perfect, for a moment I really thought everything was going to be okay. I asked the neo team if I could hold him skin-to-skin, really believing that would solve everything. I placed him against my bare chest and held all 4 pounds 5 ounces of him for only a moment before realizing I wasn’t going to be able to fix him.
As he started grunting louder and louder, I suddenly couldn’t bear to hold him. I couldn’t stand hearing him struggle for breath. I distinctly remember looking at his face as I handed him back to the nurses, praying for his forgiveness for having to let him go. And before I knew it, the neo team whisked him off to the NICU, and I was alone in a room full of people who were still smiling and excited about the birth of my baby. But I was in a panic. Frantically, I asked my nurse for a breast pump, knowing it was crucial I pumped as soon as possible after delivery to help establish a good milk supply. I stared at the Magnesium Sulfate drip next to my bed, aware it would keep me imprisoned in my room and out of the NICU. And as people began to dwindle out of my room, all I could do was try to remember exactly what his face looked like in those few moments I was able to hold him.
To this day, I’m so thankful for the nurses and neo team that took care of us. Although I wasn’t able to hold my baby for long, if I close my eyes I can still remember the way his bare little body felt against me. And those few moments I was able to hold him skin-to-skin were the only moments that I had actually planned and pictured in my mind before he was born.
I suffocated on feelings of guilt, and anxiety ate away any rational thoughts. What no one tells you about having a NICU baby is that suddenly, separation is supposed to become normal. The only problem is…it’s not normal. Women have to eat, and sleep, and take care of their other children. So it becomes this constant inner struggle, an endless loop of guilt, desperation, and bargaining. Everything becomes “I could have, I should have, I need to, if only…” And the constant alarms, and lighting, and the endless amount of machines and cords begins to swirl around your head until you’re not quite sure what time it is or if there’s an end in sight. What no one tells you about being a NICU mom is that you will be forced to allow strangers to take care of your baby. A different level of exhaustion will set in. You will still eat and sleep, but at a price. No one tells you that you will be overly nice to your newborn’s nurses or that you’d remortgage your house if it would just guarantee that his nurses were good to him.
Being a NICU mom was one of the hardest experiences of my life, and I had the absolute best people taking care of my baby. I just couldn’t get use to the separation. Even now, when I walk through a NICU, my heart skips around in my chest. If I were to ever get pregnant again, my biggest fear would not be of torn retinas and throbbing vision from blood pressure so high it could have caused a stroke or a seizure. Without hesitation, it would be of having another NICU baby. Even though I had some of the best nurses and physicians taking care of my son, I was still stripped of the ability to take care of him myself, and I had waited so long to meet him.
To any nurse out there that takes care of a NICU baby, never forget that the NICU might be normal for you, but it will never be normal for a mother. You may not see the lights and or hear the sounds or notice the monitors, but when combined with exhaustion, they may make a mother feel disoriented and completely out of place. But most of all, if you are the mother of a NICU baby, know that you aren’t alone. So many women have stood in your place and have walked in your shoes and understand what you’re going through. Talk to your family, talk to your physician, talk to your nurse. And remember, you are so much stronger than you know.
Until my next delivery ❤
For Parents on NICU, Trauma May Last – New York Times article
The NICU Family Support program – March of Dimes
Pregnant? Have a PEP talk…