Thursday, 16 January 2014

Life with a NICU baby

One day you're a normal pregnant lady, with nary a care in the world, and the next you're a NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) mum. Now all you care about is weight gain and 'cares' and wet nappy weights, and mls of fluid and undigested milk and C-PAP pressure machines and pumping and and and and........

Having a baby in NICU requires a very very steep learning curve, all the while you're still maxed out on drugs and shock and recovering from emergency surgery. You ask the same question over and over because your brain quickly forgets. But slowly, you learn the lingo and start speaking a language no one else understands.

Having a baby in NICU requires you to ask lots of questions, to be assertive in your learning, all while trying not to feel overwhelmed. It requires lots and lots of reading of brochures about pumping and sterilizing and kangaroo care and the emotional toll and this drugs consent and that drugs protocol.

Having a baby in NICU means celebrating the small things- she did a poo! She grasped my finger! She is taking another ml of milk! She stopped losing weight! She gained 10 grams! She opened her eyes and looked at me for 10 seconds! She did a big yawn! She calmed down when I touched her!

Having a baby in NICU takes its emotional toll on you too. Up and down from post-partum hormones anyway, add in shock, stress and separation from your newborn. There are moments of elation, but many many times of tears, and yearning for her, and 'oh my body aches so much to hold her.'

Having a baby in NICU lets you see your husband in a new light. He is so in love with her, a sweet, caring, gentle love you've never seen from him before. His face lights up when he sees her, he is enamoured with his daughter. He holds you when you cry, showers you while you still have a catheter in and are not strong enough to stand, stays home to look after you in bed and bring you toast and tea. He happily drives you every night to visit your baby, all while still working, doing most household chores and making the meals. He doesn't complain. He really is your knight.

You don't feel like a 'real mum' because you're not the one looking after your baby. The 'robot womb' machines and nurses do that. Does she really need you? It often doesn't feel like it. You feel like a bystander in your own baby's life. You feel useless and stupid and stuck in limbo land between 'mother' and 'not-mother.'

You feel guilty for not being there all the time, but there are only so many hours you can sit and watch a sleeping baby. You worry if the nurses think you are visiting too much or not enough. You worry that she misses you.

You hear the NICU bells, whistles and alarms in your head when you aren't there. You become a pro at distinguishing this alarm sound from that, of knowing appropriate body temperatures, respiration rates, heart rates and oxygen saturation levels. You watch her monitors like a hawk.

You see the same parents in the corridors at strange times of the night and day. They look tired and drawn, like you. You exchange sympathetic smiles and small chat- you know exactly how they feel. You get to know the security staff who let you in the locked doors in the evening.

You can celebrate the small things about not being pregnant anymore - you can eat sushi! hummus and chicken sandwich! touch your toes and do your shoes up!- but more than anything you wish you were still pregnant with her, growing her into a big strong newborn, feeling her kicks inside you. You miss those kicks- they are gone too soon. You feel like your body failed and let her down. She is where she is now because your body couldn't complete a basic task. 

You diligently pump milk every 3 hours so that your baby can have your milk down a naso-gastric tube, and can continue to feed when she is home. You wake up at 2am and 5am and half asleep you pump, and steralise- rinse and repeat. You forget to hold the pump fully upright and your bed is soaked with milk. Your body leaks and leaks when you hold her, reminded of the task you cannot yet do- it will be weeks until she is strong enough to feed.

You constantly look at photos of her when you aren't with her. You compile video clips into a mini-movie and watch it over and over and over. You dream of her and wake with her name in your mind. You sleep with one of her stuffed toys clutched to you- comforted in ways you were as a little girl while you sleep without her.

You take one day at a time, because thinking about the amount of time she will be away in hospital is too hard to bear. You are wise enough to know that one day this will all be a distant memory, but raw enough to not want to think too far ahead.

You're incredibly greatful that she is ok. So, so cognisant that things could have easily gone the other way. So happy that she is alive, and will be a normal, healthy baby and child as she grows. And yet, you're still mad and sad and hurting that it all had to happen this way. Conflicting emotions tug you up and down every day.

You are thankful for the amazing NICU nurses, the doctors who made the decision to operate. To the Neonatal trusts who offer support, to the caring midwives, to the Ronald McDonald house who offers parents a room in which to take refuge.

You are greatful for the unwavering support of family and friends. The texts and emails and 'how are you's' and meals and flowers and packages in the mail. You know you and your family are so loved, so cared for.

You are thankful to God, who gave you this amazing gift of life, who knitted together this baby- who was only a bean at the 7 week scan 25 short weeks  ago, and is now a real baby. You marvel at the wonder of life.

And more than anything you are greatful for her. For just being your baby, for being alive. Even though she doesn't live in your home yet, she is now always a part of you. She has changed your world in so many ways in such a short space of time and you wouldn't have it any other way.


  1. <3 Awesome blog post Jenn! You will be, and are, and awesome mother xox Looking forward to watching the three of you take the journey together

  2. Dear Jennifer,
    Thank you for sharing your precious experience with us, I am very moved.
    May you go on living every single day as a costly gift and may our father in heaven( so in love with the three if you) give you the strength you need, fresh strength every moment.
    Oh how beautiful the lessons of love he is teaching us, even in lifes' pain and sorrow.

  3. Thanks Jennifer,

    This post brilliantly describes what we're going through at the moment. Sorry to hear read about your continued struggles.

    All the best



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