Newborn Baby Care: Life in the NICU
I was still processing everything that happened earlier that day ... my emergency C-section, the birth of our baby eight weeks early and now her recovery in the NICU. It was all too much for me to absorb. I was a new mom and I had absolutely no experience with newborn baby care, especially a premature newborn. It was all so overwhelming.
That night, I couldn't sleep. I kept waking up in so much pain because the medication wore off too soon. Most of the night, I lay awake thinking about our baby. When we left her that night, she was attached to so many tubes and machines. She needed extra help breathing because her little lungs were still not fully developed. She had a plastic gold heart cutout that held her heart monitor in place on her rapidly heaving chest. Her small left hand had an I.V. taped down to it pumping antibiotics into her tiny body to prevent any infection from occurring. There was a feeding tube inserted into her nose that extended into her belly. And she also wore a protective covering over her eyes while her ultraviolet light shined above her incubator. We called them her "fancy shades" because they were pink and shaped like mini sunglasses.
I had to slowly take it all in. Seeing my daughter in this most fragile state just took my breath away. I thought back to when I was pregnant with her and I tried to recall if I did something to cause my early labor. My husband kept assuring me that we did everything we were supposed to do. But in the beginning, I still blamed myself and I secretly held in a lot of guilt.
The next morning, we visited our baby bright and early. The NICU was much busier than the night before. The doctors were doing their morning rounds updating the status of each tiny patient. We came in when they were in the middle of discussing our daughter's condition and treatment. Our little one didn't fair too well the evening before. Her blood work indicated that she might have had an infection. She also stopped breathing many times throughout the night. In fact, my husband witnessed our daughter's apnea episodes when they first brought her to the NICU. He usually has a calm and relaxed demeanor but seeing his new baby stop breathing was a frightening experience.
The news was worrisome and we felt helpless. We sat in front of her incubator very solemn and quiet. But then a nurse approached us and asked if we wanted to change her diaper. Initially, we said no because we didn't want to accidentally hurt her. But after a little encouragement, we were up for the challenge. It was a little difficult maneuvering around all the wires and tubes, but we easily mastered the diaper change. With high fives all around, we became much more comfortable handling our little one.
Day after day, we returned to the NICU. Our daughter was slowly improving and making progress in "baby steps" so to speak. We were told that in order for her to be released and sent home, she needed to pass three requirements. First, she had to breath on her own without the extra oxygen. Second, she needed to consistently increase in weight. And third, she had to eat on her own without the aid of a feeding tube. So these requirements became our immediate goals. We wanted to bring her home as soon as possible.
In the NICU, we were surrounded by other babies in various conditions of prematurity and delayed development. We saw other families in anguish. Their faces showed signs of exhaustion but, like us, their eyes revealed a different story. In that room, there was an overpowering feeling of hope. So strong ... it was almost tangible. Every time a baby was getting prepared to go home, we all shared in the joy along with the family. Of course the happiness was always bittersweet because we were still waiting for our turn to bring our daughter home.
The day finally arrived when our little one was able to breath on her own. The nurse said that she had an apnea episode that evening. Her respiration monitor was beeping to alert the nurse. But by the time she reached the incubator, our daughter fought her way back and started to take her first breath on her own. We were so proud that she was making progress.
Then the day came when she started to eat on her own. The first attempts to feed her were discouraging. She wasn't able to digest the milk right away. But we were persistent and we refused to give up on her. We tried every two hours ... every day ... until she was able to finally eat on her own. We had a quiet mini-celebration when our little one was able to drink up two ounces of breast milk. After mastering eating, she was well on her way to gain the weight that would send her home with us.
One morning, as we were getting ready to leave for the hospital, the phone rang. It was our NICU social worker surprising us with great news. The pediatrician felt that our daughter was stable and strong enough to come home! We were absolutely beside ourselves with elation to say the least. But we had to shift gears to overdrive and get the house ready for the baby to arrive. Nothing was ready because we were told to expect a lengthy stay for the baby in the NICU. My husband dropped me off at the hospital to take care of all the discharge paperwork while he got everything ready at home. With my family's help, the house was super squeaky clean, the crib was set up, the car seat was in place and we were ready for the big homecoming and our newborn baby's care.
At the hospital, I dressed our daughter in a light green onesie with matching socks, mittens, and a hat. I received a quick lesson on breast milk feeding specialized for preemies and I finished off signing a mountain of discharge paperwork. Afterwards, I held my baby in my arms and sat quietly waiting for my husband to arrive.
As I sat with my daughter, it felt like we were the only ones in the room. I remember it being a very busy day at the NICU. So many people were walking about, talking, and passing us by. But for that moment, I blocked out everything and everyone around us. I found myself humming a little song to her as she gazed up at me with her big eyes. At that moment, I realized that I was holding my world in my arms. She was the beginning of my happiness and my peace. Our daughter was coming home and all was good in the world.
When my husband arrived, our nurse brought out and old fashioned blue baby buggy. It was the hospital's discharge "wheelchair" for the little ones. We gently placed her inside and tucked her in. Then we took one last tour of the NICU, saying our goodbyes and wishing all the families well. The nurse escorted us to our truck to ensure that we placed her properly in the car seat. We said our final goodbye to our caring nurse and waved with smiles brimming from ear to ear.
Off we went on our slow and relaxing long-awaited drive home as a family. Our prayers were answered and our daughter was finally going home with us. Reflecting back, I realized how fortunate we were because our baby's hospital stay could have been much longer and the agony of leaving her everyday prolonged. But we tried to stay positive everyday and we always hoped for the best.
So as we drove away from the hospital, I looked back once more. With my eyes welling up with tears, I softly whispered a final thank-you to the wonderful people that helped with our newborn baby's care in the NICU.