Experience a difficult beginning into parenthood by having Dagny spend her first days of life in the NICU
An emotional Mama Bear who wants answers, results, and baby snuggles right now and has a really hard time coping with the fact that those things are not possible.
Babies can be admitted into the NICU for a variety of different reasons: premature deliveries, babies with health concerns or in need of surgical or medical treatments, or, in Dagny’s case, little ones who are underweight. For most parents, it’s a pretty big shock to have their baby admitted to the NICU; we had always known is was a possibility, but had grown comfortable with the idea that it had become less and less likely the closer to term she had gotten. The presence of a NICU was why we had chosen to deliver in Marshfield, but none of us, including our doctors, believed there was a strong chance Dagny would have to end up beind cared for there.
In Dagny’s first hours of life, I found myself grieving the loss of a normal delivery.
we weren’t supposed to have been rushed into an emergency C-section.
we weren’t supposed to have been separated from each other in the first minutes of her life.
We weren’t supposed to have nurses taking on the majority of her care.
We weren’t supposed to have limited snuggle time because she had to get her rest or be lit up by her bili-blanket.
we weren’t supposed to go home from the hospital on separate days.
By this point in Dagny’s delivery story, I can tell you that my emotions were running high in all corners. My husband frequently found me “having feelings” and didn’t quite know if I was crying out of happiness, grief, or sleep-deprivation.
I was overwhelmed by how much I could love a little person I had just met. The thought of being separated from her sometimes became more than I could bear and I would find myself walking down to the NICU at all hours of the night just to see her for a few minutes.
I was sad because I no longer had a baby bump. my easy-going pregnancy and the one-on-one partnership I had shared with my daughter for eight months was over. I would never again feel her inside of me and I would forever now have to share her with the rest of the world.
I was heartbroken because my tiny girl would have to spend the first few days of her life living in a plastic box being taken care of by handfuls of people who weren’t her parents. This especially broke my heart when I physically couldn’t get down to her room. It broke it even more when I would listen to doctor rounding on her talk about like she was just another patient, which, I understand, She was, but to me she was my daughter and the most important thing in the entire world.
Having my daughter in the NICU was something I never wanted and, while it has been one of the most difficult experiences of my life, it has also been the most incredible.
Here are my tips for handling NICU Parenthood:
learn about their visitation rules - When can you visit your baby? How many people can be by her bedside at a time? Are their restrictions on who can visit your baby? Learn all of these things right away and take full advantage of them. For us, our NICU allowed the us to have four people (in addition to ourselves) on Dagny’s visitation list. We could only have four people at her bedside at a time and a parent always had to be present. The NICU was open to visitors 24-hours per day with the exception of their Lullaby Time from 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm. My husband and I found ourselves there throughout all hours of the day and night so that we could be a part of Dagny’s care as often as possible, but more on that next.
Get as involved as you can in your infant’s care - We live in a day and age where most NICU’s around the country operate on a “family-centered care” mission: meaning, the NICU doctors and nurses want parents to get involved in their baby’s care as much as they are able to. In order to get involved, though, you have to move past the feelings of discomfort. NICUs are overwhelming places adn can have a very “controlled” atmosphere, so it can often feel like you are in the way if you try to help or ask your nurses questions. Get over that: They want you to ask questions and they want you to help. Trust me, even the ones who don’t act like it (and I’m happy to say we only had one of those so far) want you to get involved. Ask questions about everything. Ask about what you missed overnight or during the day when you weren’t able to be there. Ask how you can help - if healthy enough, the nurses are eager to have you learn how to change diapers, feed your baby, do skin-to-skin contact, and even minor medical tasks such as taking temperatures and giving certain medications. It’s easy to feel as if your role as the parent is stripped away from you when you have a baby in the NICU, so take back some of the reins as soon as you are able to and communicate with the nurses when you plan on being there. Our nurses have even called us on our cell phones when Dagny is stirring and ready for a feeding and we aren’t already there. Seriously, they want you to help.
Get to know your nurses - The NICU we have been at has a large volume of nurses, so we’ve had someone new almost every day and night taking care of Dagny, but we still see familiar faces every day. Talk to your nurses, ask about them, tell them about you, remember their names, thank them for their hard work. NICU nurses have a tremendously difficult job taking care of the tiniest and most fragile patients in the world and handling emotional, sleep-deprived, worried new parents. They deal with a lot, you’re dealing with a lot, bridge that human connection. It will make you feel so much more comfortable to ask questions or ask for help when you need it.
Develop a NICU routine - I can only speak for our situation, but Dagny’s routine at the NICU was fairly scheduled, especially in the first couple of days. We knew approximately what time she would be fed, so we were able to plan our days (and my pumping) around her schedule. Because of that, we were able to be as involved as we wanted to be (which was a lot). As time went on, they allowed her a more flexible schedule and from her “eat every three hours” schedule to an “eat as needed” schedule because she was becoming hungry much more quickly and was keeping everything down. During that time. because we had established a good relationship with the staff, they would help us predict when she was going to want to eat next and would call us if we weren’t already there to help take care of her.
Sign onto NicView - If you are lucky enough, the hospital your baby is staying at will have some sort of online live-video stream. My nurses immediately told me about this option when I came out of my C-section and helped me pull it up on my computer so I could watch her from my paralyzed state in a hospital bed. Now that I am mobile, it’s been a great way to start predicting when she might wake up and need a feeding. It’s also been outrageously helpful in being able to watch her sleeping habits and learn that, even if she starts fussing, nine times out of ten she isn’t actually awake and will soothe herself back to sleep. It’s also been great for all of the family members who can’t be at the hospital to visit her every day: we were able to share her private log=in information so the whole family can stay up to date on her costume changes.
Brush up on NICU Etiquette - Alright. Just use common sense. Many nicus are set-up to have open bays where a series of baby beds and monitors will be lined up in large areas so the nurses can monitor multiple babies at a time. Keep your focus and questions on your own baby, Make sure you are following all “scrubbing in” protocols, and make sure your guests do the same. You wouldn’t want someone asking about your baby and you certainly wouldn’t want them bringing their dirty germy hands in contact with anything your baby might also be in contact with, so have the same consideration for the other babies. And anti-bacterial wipe your cell phone!
Participate in rounds - each day a team of doctor’s will do patient rounds to discuss each baby’s progress and care. This is a great opportunity to be a part of the conversation that helps decide a course of action for your baby and, even if you can’t influence their decision, you will hear everything firsthand. This is something that my husband was more interested in than me (1) Because he’s a doctor and can clearly explain her history, understand their treatment plan options, and help determine a good course of action and (2) Because, if we’re having honest talk here, my highly emotional and sleep=deprived self didn’t really vibe with Dagny’s Neonatalogist. That being said, once i started sleeping more and my emotions and Mama Bear settled into place, I attended those rounds and made sure to ask any questions that I might hav
Take part in Skin-to-Skin contact (AKA Kangaroo Care) - Remember in my last post how I mentioned pregnancy and motherhood is shameless? Well, here’s another example. Take part in skin-to-skin contact and don’t be shy about it. Of course, most NICUs will have separate rooms for you to sit in so you can get topless in private, but there were many cases for me when those rooms were occupied and I wanted to do skin-to-skin. My nurses would pull curtains over to her bed and get me as blocked from public viewing as possible, but that didn’t meant they didn’t have to occasionally pop in to grab supplies or that I couldn’t hear everything else going on around me. No one cared at all. Don’t forget NICU nurses see boobs all the time. Yours are not going to shock anyone. Not only does skin-to-skin contact just feel amazing, but it also helps regulate baby’s body temperature, promotes breastfeeding, improves vital signs, soothes crying, and encourages good sleep patterns. So don’t be afraid to experience it!
Take advantage of breastfeeding support - Here’s another way you can get shameless (and topless) about your new found motherhood. Having a NICU baby will change the game on getting to breastfeed right away. Rather than starting that adventure with Dagny on Day One, we were asked to wait a few days so that she could spend all of her energy drinking from bottles and gaining as many calories as she could until my supply started to come in for her. Subsequently, i got the joy of pumping every three hours throughout the day and night and volleying two different schedules (hers and mine). Once I got the thumbs up, though, I utilized the lactation consultants as much as I could. successfully getting Dagny to nurse was probably the biggest worry of mine towards the end of pregnancy, so this was an area I wanted as much help as I could get. Since we got extra days in the hospital, I got as much training as I could. I asked them all the questions, I had them observe several nursing sessions to make sure we were doing everything correctly, and I asked them what I needed to know for making the transition home. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions. again, they’ve seen a lot of boobs and have been asked every question under the sun. Nothing you can say or do will shock them.
Take care of yourself - This was the hardest one for me in the first few days of being in the hospital. emotions were running high and sleep was running low. I struggled with the balance of being by dagny’s side constantly and doing what I needed to do to recover from surgery. Day three was the hardest one for me and several nurses encouraged me to get my feet up because my legs were swelling from sitting in a chair at her bedside for so long. I was sleeping only about two to four hours per day trying to balance all of our schedules and it finally all caught up to me (read; i walked into the NICU crying at 3:30 in the morning). There’s really no way around feeling guilty for not being there for every feeding, diaper change, cry, and cuddle like you would be if your baby was staying in your room, but find a way to work through those feelings; lean on those around you, get outside for a walk if you can, take a shower (seriously, this ones a game changer, especially when you are still in the hospital yourself), take to your Mom, get out of the hospital and treat yourself to a meal or a coffee at a localrestaurant or cafe. Whatever it is that fills you up, do that thing. Own up to your feelings and talk about them with someone: whether it’s your significant other, your mom, or the hospital staff (ask about support groups for NICU parents) acknowledge the feelings you are feeling. Trust me, they only get bigger if you try to “be strong” and push them way down under the surface.
Celebrate the wins - It’s easy to get impatient when your baby is staying at the NICU and sometimes things take a step backward before they take two steps forward. And sometimes it feels like you’ve taken many steps backward and only one step forward. When you are talking about tiny babies, though, sometimes the difference from one day to the next is also tiny. though I wouldn’t call us “Lucky” per se, Dagny was only placed in the NICU because of her size - she had no other health concerns or necessary major medical interventions. Her care basically consumed of on-demand feedings, sleeping in an isolette to keep her temperature up, and, for a few days, sleeping with a bili-blanket to keep her bilirubin levels down. Still, it was hard to hear when the doctor added more care for her rather than taking care steps away and it was hard when she wasn’t gaining as much weight as we thought she was. We learned we had to celebrate every little victory: maybe she still lost weight one night, but it was only five grams or maybe she didn’t gain any weight one night, but she finally got out of the isolette or no longer needed the bili-blanket. The staff in the NICU are working around the clock to get your baby to a point where there is very little risk in parents taking the baby home; even though it may seem like the steps to getting your baby home aren’t clear or aren’t progressing as fast as you would like them to, they are just as eager to get your baby home to you as you are.
Other NICU-graduate parents - What advice do you have for anyone who experiences NICU parenthood?