December 11, 2017

What NICU Life Is Like

I won't pretend to be an expert, or that our stay was even that long. What I am, is a Mom who had to watch her baby fight a battle I would never wish on any child.

You can read all the articles, get all the stories, and fill your brain with tons of information on premature babies and what happens in the NICU. I'm first hand telling you that none of that will prepare you to watch your child with tubes in their nose, IV's in their skulls, alarms being triggered from breathing difficulties, and much much more.

I was very fortunate to hold Bella for a few minutes after she was born. That was something that I was not prepared to do- the doctors and nurses don't want to over promise and under deliver so I was told handfuls of times not to expect to hold her after delivery because we just didn't know what would happen. As I sit here writing our story, I realize that the first time Chuck held our baby was in NICU when she was hooked up with wires to several different machines. I can't imagine what he felt the day she was born and not getting to experience that. So many other parents have been through it too- unfortunately premature babies often require pretty immediate care after birth so the whole take a family picture in the delivery room and special family bonding moments don't always happen.

When Bella was born, luckily she only needed some oxygen support when she was admitted to NICU and after one day she was already off of that. We knew our girl was strong, but she was about to show us just how tough she was. The first time we visited after the whole day of her arrival I already realized what a monotonous procedure just getting to your baby was going to be. It's a long, long walk down the hall to reach the NICU area. You then have to pick up the phone and dial in and say, "Hi, it's the Lawrence's here to see Bella." I remember the first time I visited without Chuck,  and picked up the phone and said "It's Emelia, Bella's Mom...I'm here to see my baby" and breaking down crying walking in because I just wanted to walk in and see Bella without all this crap of introducing myself on the phone multiple times a day. 
After you are buzzed in, for obvious reasons you need to scrub down and wash your hands. Then it's another walk to her station...luckily, not too far. After only a few days, whoever was done washing first wouldn't even wait for the other person just want your baby. Bella was in an incubator at first, so we would enter her room and stand over her...she was usually asleep upon arrival, and we would just watch. There are little doors at the top and bottom on each side of the incubator, and we would open them and hold her hand or touch her to let her know we were there. Then, we would sit and wait. Wait for her to move or to wake up or for a nurse to come by or the doctors to do their rounds.

Of course, the first day we wanted to have all the answers- give it to us straight. How is she doing? How long do we think we will be here? What are the biggest challenges we're facing?
I know this isn't the norm, but our reports were always pretty good. Bella was doing great, she didn't need much and they thought we would be home well before her due date. To be honest, after the bedrest I don't know how I would have been able to mentally or physically deal with more of that hospital or this type of life in general if they told us it would be a while. I would do anything to keep her the safest she could be, but I was just sick of being anywhere near the hospital.
There were days that I could have made that walk from the parking lot to her room with my eyes closed, and most of them I wondered how I was going to make it there for the third or fourth time in a day because energy was severely lacking. I was living on caffeine, and kind of still am...but getting to her as quick as I could was what kept us going. On the walks to her room we usually said most of the same things "why is it so far?" and "hopefully only a few more days of this".
I remember the first time the nurse asked if we wanted to change a diaper and being scared. I didn't want to do something wrong with all the wires attached to her, and most of the time for the firsts I stood back and watched. Being nervous to hurt your baby or do something wrong is a really shitty feeling. I felt bad enough that I wasn't there 24/7 and then add saying no to interacting with your baby, and you feel like the worst parent in the world. I began to wonder if I would ever have that attachment to her...of feeling connected, because I really felt like not being able to hold her without being watched over or reminded not to move the chair too far to pull on an alarm...I didn't feel like her Mom. I felt like I was some lady who came and went, who was always racing against the clock to be there and not miss something, but also hate sitting in that chair just watching and wondering when we could resume a normal life.

We knew there was certain requirements she would have to meet in order to come home, and with each big check off the list I felt like throwing Bella a party. She moved from an incubator to an open crib fairly quickly, she was getting tubes removed left and right, she was growing and gaining weight, and the only thing really holding us back from home was her feedings. She would fall asleep easily and couldn't take a whole feeding on her own without use of her feeding tube and it killed me. At night I would pray for her strength to come, but for her not to be pushed because I didn't want any type of setbacks. The doctors and nurses told us it would just click one day, and they were right. Two days before she came home her feeding tube was removed and to see my baby's face without anything attached to her made me so freaking happy. I could see every little piece of her without obstruction and I just wanted to snuggle her non-stop.  The nurse that evening told us we should bring her car seat in and it was the one of the best things we had ever heard- Chuck and I looked at each other beaming.

The car seat test is pretty much the last check on the list before leaving NICU. Your baby is placed in their car seat for a timed test to see if they can sustain their breathing and function normally. The next morning I went in and saw the paper sitting on the counter. I immediately sent Chuck a picture and we knew it was game time. The doctors did their rounds that morning and usually they came right in her room, but that day they didn't. I heard them speaking to one another outside though, and they said there was no more need for Bella to be in NICU- just let her go home where she could thrive.
I sat there bawling my eyes out as quietly as I could until they came and told me directly. The words we had waited to hear were finally relayed "It's time to go home."

Our friend and wedding photographer, Rob had wanted to come take pictures of Bella in NICU. His daughter had spent some time there when she was born, and a friend of his had photographed them leaving, and he had always wanted to do it for another family. We are so grateful to have these pictures to tell our story of Bella's NICU graduation day.

I had journaled my entire time on bedrest in the hospital and debated doing the same thing for Bella. Most nights I was too exhausted to recap it all, and after a few days had passed they all kind of ran together in my mind. To be honest, looking back...I'm kind of glad I didn't. While I will want her to know how strong she was and what she overcame, I don't want to remember every little detail. It's not a fun place to be and the journey is something we will never forget no matter what. The important parts are the one engrained in my mind, and all the sad moments I don't want to relive past this post.
I wish I could give someone who ever has to go through this some advice...but I really can't. Every story is different and there is no right or wrong thing to think. It's rough, and the things you are feeling are OKAY.
We are so very thankful that Bella's NICU stay was short, in the grand scheme of things. 17 days is not 100- which is the stay some have to endure. Those walks to her nursery to change a diaper are so much better than the walk from the hospital parking lot to the NICU and not having a time limit to hold her is the greatest part of my days. There's so many times I look around my house and know I could be doing something else, but I'll set everything aside and just lay with her and look at all her features. The cute nose that needed oxygen on her first day of life, her little head that took an IV in it because she liked ripping it out of her hand, and her little lips that were once hidden in part due to a feeding tube. I will never forget where we started, but I am so happy to be where we are today.
The last walk down this hall, this time with our baby in our arms. There will never be enough words to describe this feeling.

Thank you for your support throughout our journey, we appreciate your kind words so much.

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