Can you remember that first pregnancy, when everything was new and the possibilities were endless for your future child? Also, the excitement of planning and preparing. Gathering the items you needed and wanted to make up the perfect nursery. The place where you would hold, rock, sing over, read to, love your new precious being. I do! I loved every moment of those days and the days that followed. I sometimes still look back at the pictures of it and get all the feels.
But for some, this journey is stalled. Not all of us immediately get to bring home that bundle of joy after our quick stays in the hospital. We spend our hours rocking, holding, singing to our newborns through isolette holes, alarms, wires, and endless information.
My second and third (technically) pregnancy and birth was much different. The twin girls that were growing inside of me came at 31 weeks, on the dot. One of my twins had a tumor, which we knew from very early on. Our amazing team of maternal fetal medicine/OBGYN physicians here in Birmingham sent us to a wonderful hospital, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio. There they prepared us for our obvious NICU stay. We knew our time would be long there.
I thought I felt prepared until the day came when my mother wheeled me through the sliding glass doors and signed my name to the check-in sheet. I met Twin A about six hours after giving birth to her. She was so tiny. Almost like a pea. She was doing well, though. The bells and alarms were abrupt and abrasive to my senses. It was startling — not only to see my daughter lying there hooked up to oxygen with a feeding tube through her nose but to see row after row of other babies just as small as, and some even smaller than, her.
Seven days after I was discharged from the hospital, I was given the chance to see Twin B. She was the one with the tumor and in a completely different NICU and hospital altogether. Upon entering the hospital, we were met by a hospital member and security guard. They asked to see my ID bracelet and asked for my name, my infant’s name, and other demographics. So this was new!
Once we completed the security measures, I was wheeled up the elevator, guided through another set of sliding glass doors. I stood at a sink, washed my hands, then signed my name to yet another sign-in sheet. The nurse coordinator was waiting to lead us to our daughter’s bay. Again the constant dinging, ringing, was more startling than I had anticipated. We arrived at Twin B’s bed. To say it was overwhelming is an understatement. She was even smaller than Twin A, so sick, so frail. Her plexiglass isolette was covered with a blanket. Under the blanket were tubes, both big and small, oxygen mask, and IV lines. Our team — yes, team — greeted us, went through everything, and gave us our daily update.
Home Away from Home
Over the next 90+ days, these NICUs became our home away from home. The staff became my counselors and friends. The alarms were not so alarming. The tubes not so scary. The sterile protocol and unnatural feeling of gripping your infant’s hand through an isolette hole started to just feel normal. Don’t get me wrong, I still longed for that nursery that I had planned out in my head waiting for me back in Birmingham. The matching cribs, monogrammed blankets, shelves of books. I wanted it all. But I found comfort in these places now. My babies were safe, well taken care of, and loved.
I will say the NICU is not a peaceful and comforting journey for all. You can have an unpleasant experience. Your baby might be taking more time to heal or might end up healing somewhere not here on earth. I grieve for those parents who I witnessed during our stay go through the process. It was hard and a punch in the gut. It made me feel guilty at times that my girls were beating their odds. I also experienced those babies who did not have parents. I watched them lie in their beds day in and day out with no human touch other than a hospital member. No one talking to them or singing them lullabies. No one bringing cute clothes and hats when they graduated to clothes. Again, it sometimes was too much to bare. No one prepared me for that part of our journey.
The End of Our Journey
After 92 days, our journey was coming to an end. Twin A had been released and they were unofficially “allowing” us to bring her to see Twin B. It was a joyful reunion. Big sister was even allowed to come and observe these beings that were soon to invade her space. We left the following day and waved tearful goodbyes to our new-found family. As we walked through those sliding glass doors for the last time and they shut, the bells and alarms were no longer ringing, no one rushing to save a life, no one changing leads, no more doctors crowding our daughter’s bedside.
I wanted to go home to the nursery my dearest friend and her mother had spent weeks making perfect for our newest blessings. I wanted to be woken up by our daughters’ cries where I was freely able to feed them and rock them in the freshly painted rocker. But the imprint that this journey in the NICU had left on my heart I knew would never fade. Ten years later, and another NICU stay for our fourth, has given me such an appreciation for what these nurses and doctors do. Not only do they literally keep our babies alive, but they care for us as well.
To all the mommas who live have lived this life, no matter how short or long your stay . . . it is hard, it is different, but you can do it. Live in that moment. Take the quiet, uninterrupted, intimate moments with your babies and view them as a blessing. Some of my best days were spent in the corner of that NICU. Just me and my girl.
My most appreciative thanks goes to Children’s Hospital of Cincinnati and our wonderful nurse Kourtney as well as the University of Cincinnati Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.