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NICU stands for the neonatal intensive care unit in hospitals. It is where newborn babies go when something isn’t quite right after birth. This could be for a number of factors, and every story is different. But this is the story about my firstborn and me.
I was diagnosed with preeclampsia when I reached 32 weeks in my third trimester. Preeclampsia is a serious blood pressure condition that only occurs during pregnancy.
I was put on immediate bedrest, but two days later I was hospitalized. Though I was given a high dose of blood pressure medication, it was not working. Three days later, I woke up nauseous. The on-call doctor happened to walk in right when my body decided to spew my breakfast. He said, “Okay, to the operating room. Now!”
My darling daughter was forced into the world seven weeks early because of my traitorous body.
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Our NICU Experience Began
At just 33 weeks gestation, the doctors were concerned that my daughter’s lungs may not have fully developed. She was put on a CPAP machine for 24 hours. She was able to breathe on her own by the time I got to see her the following day.
After washing my hands for what felt like forever, I was wheeled over to her incubator. The nurses had made a cute little nametag for her incubator and put a colorful baby blanket on top. I appreciated that personal touch so much. Day and night shift nurses are assigned to each baby, and it gave me some reassurance to know that the same two nurses would be watching over my precious bundle.
My daughter remained in that clear plastic box, but I could reach in the armholes to hold her hand or change her diaper. She had a feeding tube in her nose and was given donor milk as I could not provide my own. There were a handful of other wires attached to her monitoring her heartbeat, oxygen levels, etc.
I was terrified of hurting her and ripping out a wire when the nurse first handed her to me. But that soft, itty-bitty baby felt wonderful in my arms.
A few days later she had a touch of jaundice. They set her up with some sweet shades, and a UV lamp beamed down on her for another 24 hours. She was back to normal color the next day. The doctors said we just had to wait for her to grow.
Car Seat Test
At the end of the second week, my baby had put on weight, so the nurses asked me to bring the car seat, so they could sit her in it for a test. If she could sit in the seat for two hours without her heart rate or oxygen saturation decreasing, we could take her home.
Unfortunately, the monitor revealed that her heart rate was not up to snuff so we had to wait for her to get bigger and stronger.
The following week, she was in an open-air bed, drinking bottles like a champ, and FINALLY weighed more than five pounds. She passed the car seat test with flying colors. We took her home the next day. Our NICU stay lasted three full weeks.
Rewind to the first week my daughter was born, I was discharged and had to go home without my baby. It was such an odd feeling to leave my baby behind. I felt like a terrible mother.
I wasn’t able to drive, so my mom took me to the hospital two to three times a day, every day, for those remaining two weeks. The hospital wasn’t close, so it took a toll to make that many trips. But my guilt and anxiety wouldn’t allow me to just rest at home. I share this because I know others can relate, and I want to reiterate that you’re not alone.
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Not every experience is the same. My heart goes out to all families that deal with stays in the NICU. Please know there is an organization right here in Fort Worth to help with the transition from hospital to home, as well as infant loss. It’s called NICU Helping Hands. It is a great organization for educational resources and financial assistance.
It also has a program that provides beautiful burial gowns, called Angel Gowns, created from donated wedding dresses. If you feel so inclined, it’s a wonderful place to donate your old wedding dress.
The NICU experience was life-changing. Worry was a constant feeling. I was fortunate though. I got to bring my daughter home, and nine years later she is a healthy, happy, strong girl. September is NICU Awareness Month. There are a few key dates you can observe. After all, once a NICU mom, always a NICU mom.