There is nothing natural about leaving your newborn at the hospital to be cared for by other people, and I’ve felt like a bit of a slow learner when it comes to adjusting to this situation. I want to feel like she’s mine. Instead I felt afraid to handle her, clueless as to how to be involved in her care. It is up to the nurses when I can hold her, for how long I can hold her, when she gets fed and changed. There were several points at which I felt I was doing everything wrong. I want to be there with her every minute, as any mother is with her newborn, but I can’t, and I feel guilty. Sometimes I simply cannot handle it all and the emotions well up into spontaneous tears.
Overall she’s doing very well, I have every reason to be grateful, and I am. Wednesday morning when I arrived at the NICU the doctor was attempting to reinsert her IV. They’ve been having a difficult time with her lines and going back and forth on whether or not to give her a PICC line for the next few days until she is up to “full feeds” (she receives my breast milk through a feeding tube every 3 hours.) . She has handled every feed increase without a problem, but unfortunately they can only increase them so much at a time and she still needs her TPN. Wednesday she was done with the bili light which meant I could hold her as much as I wanted (all day except for when I had to pump.) They also decided to try her off the CPAP and she breathed perfectly and calmly all day in my arms.
I got to stare at her beautiful face with only one little feeding tube attached, she looked so sweet and perfect resting on my chest, her face so peaceful, her little hand resting on her chin just how they position newborns in their fancy photo shoots. It was a wonderful day. Then after my second pumping session I came out to the news that they were about to attempt to put in a PICC line. I realize this routine for NICU nurses, but all sorts of emotions bubbled up as I watched them prep her, and then I had to leave for them to begin the procedure. I called back two hours later as instructed to learn that it hadn’t worked, she was put through all of that for nothing.
I know she’ll be okay. I know that in about 5 weeks she will be home, she will be mine, she will sleep on my chest every minute of the day. I hate to see my babies suffer. I hate not being able to comfort her. I’m only at the beginning of figuring out how to navigate all of this, the guilt of not being able to be with both my son and daughter every minute of the day, the pain of watching her suffer, however minimal that suffering may seem to experienced nurses. I have never been able to let my son cry and its breaking my heart that I have no choice with my daughter.
I’ve started telling myself a story about her, about how she kicked her way into this world and has kept fighting ever since. A little woman who knows what she wants. So far that has been my best coping mechanism. To see her as this little force to be reckoned with. In my eyes she is already far more independent and strong a creature than I ever imagined my son. I focus on her feisty little personality and sometimes it helps me to feel stronger too.
Besides that, so far I’ve figured out a few ways to help with the adjustment to life in the NICU:
I found this store, EVERY tinyTHING, for preemie gear.
I ordered these books: PREEMIES, The Preemie Parents Companion, and Ready For Air to better inform myself.
I decided to hold off on clothes, as it seems they are more of an unneccessary hassle for her at this point, but she wears hats so I picked out these: Bamboo Knot from Kickee Pants, Minky Hat from Itty Bitty Baby.
I also picked out these blankets to help make her feel like she’s ours: Aden + Anais Organic Cotton Swaddles.
and special touches like these Art Crib Cards, or ones you make yourself seem nice too.
As far as the practical things, I’ve needed: an extra bottle brush and soap for the NICU, a deep freezer, a pump (I’m using the one I recieved from insurance for Roman), pumping bra, Lansinoh storage bags, breastmilk storage organizer, extra storage boxes, button down/easy pull down shirts for pumping and skin to skin care, comfortable nursing bras, and Lansinoh nursing pads
I feel like the adjustment to the NICU has been a slow process in part because of the questions we didn’t know to ask. All of this is second nature to the nurses and staff, its easy for them to forget what’s it’s like for all of this to feel foreign…
As far as breast milk and pumping:
How much should I be putting in each bottle? When I started pumping at the hospital I received one complaint after the next from nurses. We had the wrong labels, the bottles they gave me were the wrong size, and I was filling the bottles when she was only receiving 3 ml every 3 hours and after the milk is defrosted it is only good for 24 hours. I wished someone had explained to me at the beginning the perfect amount to put in each bottle for her feeds, I didn’t know to ask. (Her feeds have now gone up and the nurses are beyond thrilled that I am filling up so many bottles!)
How much should I be bringing in to store at the NICU? After my first day home from the hospital I returned with everything I had pumped while away, and was informed that they didn’t have enough space for all of my milk. They managed to fit it, but told me not to bring anymore in until they asked for it. Now I just leave what I pump while I’m there and freeze the rest at home.
What is her care schedule? A few days into visits a nurse informed us that Iris was on a 8, 11, 2, 5 schedule. This meant that at those times she was fed and changed and we could help, until then we had no idea!
Can I change/ bathe/ feed her? I learned from other bloggers and message boards that I can get involved with her care. At first I felt so helpless, then I started noticing other moms sticking their hands in the isolates whenever they pleased, taking the babies out themselves, and realized I can be far more involved then It seemed.
When can I start kangaroo care? I kept being told that they encouraged this, but whenever I asked when I could start I received vague answers. Finally, Wednesday when I asked, the nurse said I could do it right then! I just had to keep asking.
What am I allowed to do vs when do I need to ask permission? At this point I feel like I need to just come out and ask this question. I want to feel like a normal mother, like she belongs to me, but I’m not trained to care for her and I have to entrust her to the care of these amazing nurses. At first I felt so nervous and hesitant. It seemed that holding her was a selfish disturbance. After our first skin to skin experience I feel its whats best for her, I feel that being cared for by me as much as possible is whats best for her, and I need to gain confidence in my ability to be involved.
The first time I felt really comfortable asking questions was at rounds. On each visit to the NICU we had been able to talk to a doctor, but I struggled on the spot to think of what to ask. During the meeting, throughout the conversation, so many questions came to mind. I was able to ask more specific questions about her goals for discharge, the tests has she had and will have, and get more in depth about each term and procedure being discussed. Each day I am more confident with being inquisitive and vocalizing my concerns and opinions.
Thursday she was one week old. She’s breathing on her own, tolerating feeds and gaining weight. I’ve been able to spend 5-9 hours a day with her, holding her as much as possible, studying her perfect face while she sleeps. The intense, unconscious emotions I’m experiencing feel like evidence that we’re bonding. Things really couldn’t be going any better. I’m learning. I’m wondering if I’ll manage to fully accept the situation before the time she comes home, and just hoping that it goes by quickly.