Long before we were doulas, Kelly and I were moms to NICU babies; my first born and her third. We were unexpectedly thrown into a life no one ever asks for but painstakingly trudged through. Here, we share our own NICU Stories, so you can see that when we tell you NICU parents that we know exactly what you’re going through, we truly mean it on a whole other level. This is Nicki's story.
Being a NICU parent is isolating, scary, brilliantly-hopeful, and a thousand other adjectives I could use to describe the experience. It’s a special club that only the strong survive (we are ALL survivors of the NICU, no matter how it turned out) and while I am thankful to have lived through that time and went on to have more children, it’s a time I still remember like yesterday.
I was 41+1 and truly over being pregnant. I had been in prodromal labor for 4+ weeks already, but I knew these contractions were different than all those others. At 6am sharp, I was jolted upright in bed and my labor was off and running. By 8am, I was at the hospital in active labor, and was receiving my epidural within no time. At 11:55am, my son flew into the world (kicking me on his way out, no less) and my world was forever different.
Back in those days (now, I feel old, as ‘those days’ were 1998), baby’s cord was immediately cut and baby was taken over to the bed warmer to be checked out, dried off, diapered up and wrapped to be given back to the birther. By the time I held my baby for the first time, he was a good 20 minutes old. Within 10 minutes, we knew that something was off with his breathing and he needed a better check in the NICU.
As suddenly as his arrival was, so was the emptying of my birth space that day. The NICU nurses, the baby nurse, my husband (at the time), my doctor…everyone was out and it was me and a nurse, in a very quiet, sullen room. I was so numb that I couldn’t even move my body over to the postpartum bed awaiting me, I had to be rolled over and taken downstairs. Once there, I sat in an empty room by myself, for what seemed like hours, while my ex was with our son upstairs, waiting to hear what was going on. Pneumonia…which meant my brand-new baby was going to be staying in the NICU for DAYS rather than just a quick check, and I wasn’t allowed to go see him until I was able to walk and the epidural was worn off; that came at 8pm that night.
I had not been warned at all by what to expect in the NICU. I had no idea what I was walking into. From the beeps of the machines, the dim lights, the incubator that my son was in, covered in wires and IVs. It hit me like a Mac truck that my sweet boy was sick. At one point, I remember a nurse coming to my postpartum room with a breastpump to get me to give her some milk for my baby, and didn’t take a second to even explain how to use the thing (I nearly sucked my nipples clean off with that pump).
For the next 10 days, my days consisted of lots of visits to that beeping, noisy room, where I was taught to breastfeed my baby, spent hours upon hours holding him skin-to-skin, lived and breathed hospital jargon, and bonded through wires, tubes, and hospital policies. The nurses were nothing short of amazing, and took such great care of my baby, while doing their best to also help me learn how to feed and take care of him; they have such an overlooked job. I’ll forever be grateful to them! My ex worked all day long, so it was just me making most of the trips to the hospital to be with my baby.
As a doula now, I know that THAT experience helps me to help my clients who end up there, no matter how long the stay. You have my support as a doula and as mom who knows exactly what you’re feeling and going through. What I would have given for such a gift in support like that! Nowadays, there’s also great resources like Facebook groups where you can find other NICU parents to talk to about your experience and connect with others to feel less alone. It’s imperative for you to see that you’re not alone!