After those first few days, as a new parent in the NICU and if you’re very lucky, you settle in to a somewhat uneasy routine. Your baby is stable, growing slowly, and you just show up every day and wait…and wait….and wait…
V had his umbilical line removed, was being fed lipids through his regular IV and had stopped receiving jaundice treatments. Basically we were just sitting by his bedside and watching him sleep. Preemies sleep a lot, more than regular newborns, and V would be awake for maybe 2 hrs a day. He was still on his ventilator, although the sprints were getting longer, and holding was kept to a couple of times a day to help minimize disturbances to the growing boy. To keep myself occupied I napped (sitting on a stool and leaning my head on my arms on top of a bedside table…thank you boring university classes for teaching me how to uncomfortably catnap anywhere!), read many trashy magazines since my mental capacities weren’t up for any extended or intellectual masterpieces, and just sat and stared at the baby. I made small talk with the nurses when they stopped in to check on V but the isolation made for some long, stressful days and I was always happy to see Andrew when he showed up after work.
Luckily that week we were thrust into the unofficial NICU parent support system when V got his first of many roommates. A little girl in a ‘big girl’ crib (picture an ugly, white metal institutional type thing) took up the back corner of the front room and, although her parents were very quiet, it was nice to see other babies who were getting bigger and thriving under the nurses’ care.
The real surprise came the next day when I arrived in the NICU and received one heck of a shock. There was a baby in a plexiglass bassinet in the bay in the middle of the room! His tiny head was covered in the standard newborn cap and he was sleeping peacefully. Brand new mother that I was, I did a double take, was that my kiddo?? He looked an awful lot like him and so I actually had to check the name plate attached to the bassinet. Nope…not mine! Another new roommate for V! I guess swaddled and covered up babies all look pretty similar especially when they’re all about 3 lbs, wrinkly and sleeping. V was still in his full-on isolette next door, sleeping like a log.
The new baby’s name was Lucas and I had the pleasure of meeting his Mommy, Nicola, later that day. Suddenly my days in the NICU became a little more relaxed as we struck up a friendship based on our shared experiences with our boys. Nothing helps new Momma bonding like sharing birth stories, breastfeeding and sleep deprivation!
Actually, I had ‘heard’ about Nicola when I’d been admitted to Antenatal during the drama of my pregnancy. I had brought the book ‘Outlander’ with me to read and had struck up a conversation with my day nurse about it when she’d seen it in my bag. She had told me she’d recommended that very book to the Scottish lady in the room next door. Well, now I was on a first name basis with that same ‘Scottish lady’ and wishing I’d made her acquaintance earlier! We still keep in touch to this day and this past winter she has been doubly blessed as a Mommy with the birth of a healthy, full term baby girl!
Lucas was and still is an adorable and sweet-natured boy who was also dealt a rough hand in the beginning. He’s an incredible trooper and if I can convince his busy Mama (hint hint Nicola!) to share his story I will definitely put it as a separate entry. Their whole family continues to inspire me and I really hope they are able to share it with you!!
Talking with Nicola was a great stress-relief for me and helped us stay grounded throughout our time in the NICU. V and L kept to very similar milestones/sleeping and feeding patterns during their stay in the NICU which I think helped settle both of our minds that they were staying on the right curve. In the NICU you never want your kiddo to be the ‘special’ one….usually it’s not a good thing when they’re that fragile!
Even thought we haven’t been able to meet up as much as we’d like (or at least I’d like!) V and L are both thriving and adventurous little guys who still have remarkably similar taste in toys and food (if Facebook pics are anything to go by!). As horrible as the NICU experience was I do feel that it enriched our lives with the addition of a first buddy for V and a lasting friendship for a couple of first-time Mommies.
Now to wrap up this posting, Preemie Mommas everywhere can attest that, as soon as you start developing a support system of other NICU parents, your days get a little better. As nice as it is to talk to family and friends, unless they’ve been where you are it’s hard to really get a handle on what’s going on. I always got ‘So he’s just small?’ as the reply when explaining to others where V was. Ugh!
What those other NICU Mommies understood was that being a preemie encompasses so much more than size…it covers poor lung development, inability to regulate body temperature and oxygen levels, jaundice, susceptibility to life-threatening infections, hearing/sight/development delays, as well as the inability to summon enough energy to feed themselves. Each of these presents a world of possible complications and talking them over with other parents who know where your head is at makes them a little less scary. Think about it as similar to talking about a nightmare after you wake up in a cold sweat, it slays a few of the demons and lets you get back to sleep. Getting my frustrations and worries out to people who understood let me sit back and enjoy more of the time spent with my son, rather than spending my time thinking about all of the ‘what ifs’ that circle in your head. I can never thank those other Mommas enough for all of the generous support and giggles the provided during our experience even when their own little ones took up so much of their thoughts.