The Silver Lining of Being a NICU Mom

NICU baby and mom

I was one of those women who just loved being pregnant and may have actually been glowing. Then my water broke 5 weeks early. Rather, it exploded as it doused the front seat of our car, leaking down to the toes of my boots while my husband and I drove home from our first parenting class. Two hours and an emergency c-section later knocked that glow out of me real quick. I caught only a glimpse of my new daughter as she was whisked away to spend the first three weeks of her life in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

A birth not-at-all according to plan can be expected, but a NICU stay was not remotely part of my own mental preparation for labor or this whole parenting gig. And so I went into the dark, mourning over all the unmet expectations I had for new motherhood. I couldn’t see anything beyond the beeping monitors and the lonely chair where I rocked my tiny baby as she was hooked up to tubes that needed rearranging each time I picked her up. When I came home from the hospital with her still in the NICU, I would walk into her room and stare at the empty crib.

I’m lucky, though. I eventually left the hospital with a baby in my arms. Even luckier still, three years later I had a second, perfectly average, birth story to compare to my first weeks of motherhood spent in that lonely chair. I realized even though it’s hard to see it when you’re in it, there are actually a few positives that can come from having a baby in the NICU.

You have a village of experts at your disposal.

Rather than being ushered out of the hospital two days post-partum, you hang around a while. Learning, not only about heart rates and oxygen levels but also becoming comfortable with newborn care basics like changing diapers and bathing babies. NICU nurses are simply amazing.

You get more sleep.

Save for the worry, you are not cluster feeding, reacting to every grunt and squirm, or constantly checking to make sure they’re breathing (you’ll do all that later, of course, but right now, the NICU monitors have it covered). You can sleep in your own bed as you rest and heal.

You are amazed by modern medicine.

You’re beyond grateful you were born in this century. A time when your baby has a chance to thrive and when birthing complications that could have taken you both a hundred years ago is now a routine procedure.

You are amazed by your baby.

You wish you could trade places with them, but are in awe at what they can endure. With each strength they gain, you gain a little too.

Milestones are put in perspective.

You might celebrate the “first time I breathed on my own” and “first time I ate without a feeding tube” milestones more than the “first time I rolled over” because each one means you’re closer to bringing your baby home.

The good in your friends and family shines.

You begin to feel thankful. After two days in the NICU, I sent out a “can you be here tomorrow?” mayday to my mom, who lived across the country. She hopped on a plane the very next day. Friends brought us meals and groceries. The day my husband and I left the hospital while our baby stayed, a friend made us vegetable soup for dinner. It was fall, the weather was just becoming cooler, and that soup was a warm salve to our souls.

The good in your partner shines.

You are navigating this unknown together. You will both cry and celebrate those small victories. Your partner can help pull you out of the darkness if you let them.

You shine.

Your mama bear comes out early. As you learn more each day and form a plan with your baby’s doctors and nurses, you become your baby’s strongest advocate.

You have a new community.

The I’ve been there’s from other NICU alums can be a lifeline as you try to process your feelings. For every when is she coming home? I couldn’t answer from someone who didn’t get it, there was another, I know this is so hard right now from someone who did. You will be that person for a future NICU parent now.

You have a new cause.

Whether you feel more connected to the important research conducted by the March of Dimes or to smaller charities founded by NICU loss mamas like Carrie Meghie of the Jackson Chance Foundation or Stacey Skrysak of the Triple Heart Foundation, you are now deeply invested in the wellbeing of preemie babies (and their families).

So, mama, if you are in the never-ending days of the NICU, I know this is so hard. I hope you can celebrate those milestones that are inching your baby closer to home. And if you love a NICU mama right now, give her a hug and make her some soup already. Hopefully, she’ll be calling you for advice on breastfeeding and sleep deprivation in no time.

My Boss Called Me Back to the Office a Week After Giving Birth

Maternity Leave

This post was featured on Scary Mommy.

The question caught me completely off guard. “Well, I guess since she’s still in the hospital, I could come in this week,” I heard myself answer as a lump formed in my throat. My boss had called my cell as my mom and I were driving to visit my newborn daughter in the hospital NICU.

What I thought had been a check-in to ask how I was doing after my first baby arrived five weeks early, was instead a request to come into the office for a few hours and train my replacement.

Yes, my daughter had arrived at 35 weeks with no warning and no, I had not trained the person who was going to be covering my maternity leave. But my boss hadn’t even figured out who my replacement would be. Now the team was scrambling and I was asked to lug my one-week postpartum body, which was still shuffling instead of walking thanks to an unexpected c-section. And my emotionally unstable postpartum mind, that couldn’t go an hour without sobbing, on a 45+ minute commute downtown, up an elevator 40 floors, and back into work while my new baby lay in a hospital hooked up to tubes. I wish I would have articulated all of these considerations out loud to him, but instead, I hastily hung up the phone and promptly burst into tears.

To the Girl in the Belly Bump Photo

Read full story at Her View From Home

I look at the girl in the photo, and yes, I can call her a girl because, gosh even though she was 30, she looks so young. She is smiling and excited and I’m sure she thinks her stomach looks “huge”. She has no idea how huge she will become. Or how her back will ache, her feet will swell, her first birth story will not be at all the way she pictured it or how long it will take her to let that last part go. But right at this moment, in this picture, she looks downright radiant. I can’t believe how much that girl has grown, too.

That was only six years ago and I want to tell her not to sweat all that other stuff, it will all be OK. I want to tell her so much, because six years seems like both a lifetime and a minute ago, as fresh as it is faded. I can’t tell her everything, though, she has to live it to learn it, but if I could just tell her something, I would want to tell her this.

 

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Mantra for the New Mom of Two

Mantra for the New Mom of Two - Don't Wish it Away

A coworker once told me it takes six months to get the hang of a new job. I don’t know whether she based that time frame on any scientific studies, but it sounded about right to me. As I prepared for the birth of my second child, I anticipated some transition time as I took on my new role as a mother of two.

My first day began as I happily went into labor a few days before my scheduled c-section. Compared to my water-breaking-five-weeks-early emergency birth of my first child, the birth of Baby Number Two was blissfully normal. She came into the world screaming and healthy. I kept waiting for the emotional wave of postpartum to wash over me like it had with my first, but when week one passed without incident, I was optimistic.

Then came week two of my new gig. Screaming turned out to be the norm. As I settled into sleep deprivation, I sent a bleary-eyed text to a friend who’d had a baby two months prior. I asked her to remind me how long it would be before things got easier. When she texted back “Yeah that first month is tough,” I thought “Month?! How am I going to survive the week?”

Discovering the Natural in an “Unnatural Birth”

Discovering the Natural in the Unnatural Birth

I’ve never been good with blood—or pain for that matter. I’ve fainted while ripping off a Band-Aid, getting a flu shot, and reading the vampire birth scene from the third Twilight book. I was even wary of reading ahead in What to Expect When You’re Expecting during my first pregnancy because I didn’t want to pass out in public or change my mind about this whole giving birth thing.

So while I knew a “natural” birth experience wasn’t for me, I didn’t know my water would break five weeks early, drenching the passenger seat in our car as my husband and I drove home from our first parenting class.

A quick U-turn back to the hospital and it wasn’t long before I was being wheeled through an eerily empty corridor towards a green-lit OR. It was near midnight and I literally watched one of the doctors about to cut me open yawn as I passed. Thankfully, another doctor held my hands maternally as the anesthesiologist stuck a needle in my spine. She assured me the baby would be fine before she disappeared to the other side of the blue curtain.

Read the rest of the story at Her View From Home

Part of the Time, Life’s Mighty Good

Great Grandma

The day my grandmother died, I missed the phone call to tell her goodbye. I’ve often wondered how I would have handled the weight of that moment. Surely many “I love you”s would have been blubbered through tears, but would I have told her what I’d known for as long as I could remember? That if I was lucky enough to have a daughter someday, I would name the baby after her? I’ll never know.

But let’s not talk about that, she would say. This is not a sad story. A year later, I did have a baby girl. And I did name her after my beloved grandma, Corinne.

My pregnancy had been pleasant and uneventful until my water broke five weeks early, dousing the front seat of our car as my husband and I headed home from our first parenting class. Two hours later my baby was out and I enjoyed regaling the tale of our late-night surprise to my family, friends, and even clients via calls, texts, and emails. It was 3 a.m. and I think I was still high on adrenaline and whatever drugs they gave me for the C-section. Initially, doctors said to expect a week-long hospital stay for our preemie. I had only seen her for a second before she was whisked off to the NICU while I stayed on the table to be sewn up.

Eight hours later, with my husband’s coaxing, I finally stood up in slow motion and shuffled my way toward the NICU wing. I stepped into the room and froze. She was tiny. She was hooked up to tubes. She opened her mouth to cry, but no sound came out, a ventilator stuck down her throat. She would spend nearly three weeks gaining strength in the hospital, while I found myself in a dark fog. Even after she came home, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had missed out on so many “firsts” of motherhood.

Then, something miraculous happened. My dad emailed me a direct line to the past. My uncle had come across a typed essay my grandma, my new baby’s namesake, had submitted to Reader’s Digest sometime in the mid-1960s. It was never published—he also found the rejection letter—but today she may have been a bonafide mommy blogger.

New Traditions Born After Spending Baby’s First Christmas in the Hospital

New Traditions Born After Spending Baby's 1st Christmas in the Hospital

I’ve always had to travel for the holidays. My parents were wonderful about keeping Christmas morning focused on our immediate family, waking up at home with Santa gifts under the tree. But then after breakfast, we’d be packed up and on the road for at least an hour’s drive to visit relatives.

When my first baby was born, my husband and I decided we weren’t going to travel for the holidays. She was a preemie, we were recovering NICU parents, and she was only a few months old. Plus, my husband had always been a closeted Clark Griswold, and wanted to make Christmas magical for his firstborn.

Then the miraculous happened. My entire extended family was coming to me in Chicago on Christmas! In truth it wasn’t just me drawing them there, some cousins lived in the city too, but now 30-some of my relatives were going to be gathered in our city to celebrate a real “big old-fashioned family Christmas!”

My husband and I planned a casual Christmas eve dinner with friends since my family would be arriving Christmas day. I couldn’t wait to introduce our new bundle of joy to the expansive extended family she’d been blessed with, plus my three younger brothers, one even flying in from his job overseas. I imagined everyone swooning over her and pictured us bundling up and strolling downtown to take in the twinkling magic of Michigan Avenue at night.

But the day before Christmas she got sick. New parent worry kicked in and we took her to the doctor that day, assuming we were probably overreacting. A quick check-up later and we were told to go straight to the ER and, alarmingly, not to even stop at home.

Our little preemie had RSV. No visitors. No unwrapping gifts under the tree. No “big old-fashioned family Christmas”.