The Aftermath of the NICU

If you’ve never been in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) then this post may shed some light. This post may also be a trigger for those that have been through the NICU – so please read with caution.

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As part of launching my blog, Not the Momma, I have decided to relive our NICU journey and share, with daily pictures, our experience. In rereading what we wrote it’s amazing how much we survived and the details that we captured. Ultimately the experience was physically, emotionally and spiritually draining. I have never been so challenged in so many ways (that is until the actual parenting began…), and I learned first-hand that watching your children suffer is the worst. Nothing compares. The experience also brought my husband and I closer together in ways I’d never have imagined.

After traveling to the hospital from Philadelphia we were exhausted. After we were finally registered and received our bracelets, we were escorted to the NICU Pod where our kids were resting in Giraffe Isolettes. We were exhausted. We were anxious. We were nervous. We were excited. We were – well, scared shitless. We had no idea what to expect. We just kept saying to one another, “No matter what, we got this. We’re a team. We’ll survive.”

We walked into the NICU, scrubbed from finger tips to elbows for 3 minutes, sanitized our phones using UV light and then they took our temperatures. We walked over to our children – and we stood there. We stared. The nurses greeted us with open arms – there were two there that night, Paige and Sarah. Paige is who gave us a tour and stayed with us nearly the entire night, and Sarah was taking care of Pickle. Both were assuring, positive and kind. What we didn’t know was just how special they would become to us, along with so many other angels that worked in this NICU. Meanwhile in the background were the sounds of beeps, alarms, buzzers and so many other noises. It was hard to focus. It was distracting.

We finally had the opportunity to meet with the Pediatrician doing rounds and she gave us so much information about our children. It was overload. It was too much for either of us to compute. But what we did take away was, “be prepared to stay until their gestational due date.” That was 2 months in the future. Amid the alarms and beeps we were panicked. We had no idea how that would play out. But we took the punch and moved on to the next item, which was skin to skin (kangaroo care) for the first time. I ripped my shirt off so fast…

The first moment we held them was incredible – both of us pretty much in complete awe and entirely speechless. I remember Brian saying, “I’ll take the larger of the two – I don’t want to break my daughter,” as he gasped at the fact he uttered, “my daughter.” More beeps. More alarms. “Is my son ok? Did I move the wrong way?”

Each baby was placed on our chests, their breathing tubes were affixed with tape to our bodies. They were tightly strapped to our chests with warmed blankets. The nurses placed pillows under our arms to make holding them less burdensome and more comfortable. And we sat there. With our children sleeping on us. Alarms going off. Beeping everywhere. Some of them letting nurses know something was going on with our children, and others for the other surrounding babies. In fact, next to Pickle was a baby that was born at 1lb, 13 oz. And on the other end of the pod another born just north of 2lbs. Omg. Children born that weighed less than ours?! So far it was heart wrenching, but we found comfort in just being with our family, our children, while they rested peacefully in our arms.

Over the next few days it was up and down. Good days. Bad days. It was on day five that our Occupational Therapist (OT), Kristin, said to us: “stop looking at the alarms. It’s going to be hard. In fact, some parents suffer mild PTSD from their stent in the NICU.” With a perplexed look we pondered it – and agreed that we would try to be less obsessed and just “roll with the changes.” Much easier said than done.

Each night when we got dinner we would recap. We would talk – this was a way for us to decompress and gather thoughts for our nightly letters. Sometimes we’d laugh; other times we’d cry. Some days it was my turn to lose it, while others it was his. And there were those times when we’d drive back in utter silence. And then it would hit us that we weren’t driving to our home in PA but our surrogate’s home. That our friends and family weren’t a short drive away. The NICU and being out of state was finally getting to us. But we pushed through – that’s what we do as parents. And it was great to have our surrogate and her family help us through.

And now here I sit – writing this piece. Crying. I see exactly why our OT warned us. It wasn’t something that would affect us then, but rather later. In other words our kid’s birth and subsequent stay in the NICU was like a volcanic eruption. It happened so abruptly that all we could do is react and survive in the moment. It wouldn’t be until much later (now) that we could truly begin to unpack and process what actually happened – in other words, not until all the dust settled in the aftermath. So what have I learned? A lot:

• I am strong.

• My husband is strong.

• We are strong.

• Our communication about our feelings is stronger than ever, despite short term lapses due to frustration.

• Our children are strong.

• Our children are resilient.

• The NICU prepped us for challenges we would face later on, but were starkly unaware (like most new parents).

• The NICU was both a blessing and a curse.

The letters we wrote was our way of processing all that was going on. They were our way to capture details that we would have otherwise lost in translation. It was our way of bonding and growing together as we began to learn our children and how to best take care of meeting their needs. It was our way of communicating to our family, friends and ourselves that in those moments we were ok. It was our way of sharing the final steps of our journey towards coming home with our children. And as I sit here, reflecting, I see how we were challenged and I am proud of us. I am proud of our children. And I am proud of my family. We survived the NICU. And while we have those emotional scars, just like any other experience we are stronger with them.

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