When I first found out I was pregnant I knew nothing about the NICU besides the name. Throughout my pregnancy, I had some unforeseen road bumps along the way, and the term NICU came up in nearly every conversation.
At 32 weeks via emergency c-section, our daughter Ellie came into this world, weighing 3 pounds and ¼ of an ounce. After seeing her for just a few moments after she was born, she was whisked away to the NICU. Little did we know the next 41 days would be the hardest days we have ever gone through. Knowing nearly nothing about the NICU, what happens there, what to expect, we went in not knowing much. Our NICU experience inspired me to create this list of things I wish I knew before we started our NICU journey.
1. Seeing your baby in the NICU for the first time will be scary
When seeing your baby for the first time in the NICU they will be connected to all kinds of wires, tubes, and machines. It can be overwhelming and terrifying at first. Depending on their needs they may be connected to an IV, ventilator/breathing tube, feeding tube, and connections that monitor their vitals. However, each one of them does a very important job to help support your baby. As your baby starts to grow and thrive the majority of them will be taken away, but some such as the connections to monitor their vitals will stay connected until they are discharged.
2. Not many people will understand what you’re going through.
So many of your loving family members and friends will be there to support you through this journey. However, they may not completely understand what you’re going through. Some things they may ask or say might come across as very hurtful to you, such as “Well at least you can get some good sleep”. You will get asked many of the same questions over and over, by far the most common question everyone asked us was, “When is she going to come home?” My response was always.” When she decides she’s ready.”
They won’t understand how much this journey has affected you not only emotionally but mentally. Always know that it’s okay to ask for help or support if you need it. The NICU has many different resources available to help you get the support and help you need. Such as access to onsite social workers who can get you connected with the right resources. Many NICUs also hold weekly support groups both in person and/or online as well. Never be afraid to ask for extra support!
3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions
The NICU at first is information overload from the moment you see your baby for the first time. There are so many different terms and acronyms that are used and it’s hard to keep everything straight; sometimes just hard to understand what’s going on in general. Never be afraid to ask questions, especially if you don’t understand something that’s going on or a term that is being used. The NICU doctors and nurses are always willing to take the time to explain and answer any questions or concerns you have.
4. Leaving the hospital without your baby is the hardest part
During my pregnancy, I was so blessed to have a friend who had been through the NICU with her daughter and gave me some of the best advice. She told me the hardest part to get through was leaving the hospital without your baby. At that time I didn’t think it was going to be as hard as it actually was. Leaving my daughter at the end of every night to go home was the hardest part of every day.
The first night we went home without our daughter was the absolute hardest night of all the nights. I’ll admit that night I was a wreck, I felt so guilty for leaving and all I thought about was going back to see her. There were so many nights while leaving that I barely made it just down the hall from her room and went back because I just couldn’t leave her.
As the days went on it was still hard to leave but it became somewhat easier knowing that my daughter was in excellent hands of care by nurses who treated her and loved her like she was their own. Always know that it’s okay to leave and take some time for yourself and your mental health. Your baby is in excellent hands. It won’t be easy but you can do it!
5. Take things day by day.
When in the NICU, the nurses and doctors will always tell you that you should expect your baby to be in the NICU until at least their due date. But every parent wants their baby to come home as fast as possible, however, it’s very important that NICU babies do things at their own pace and when they are ready.
Don’t focus on discharge day. Take things day by day at the pace of your baby. Always remember that every baby is different. Don’t get discouraged when your baby doesn’t pick up things like bottle feeding or taking a pacifier right away. One day your baby will just take off and pick up all those things they weren’t able to do before. Enjoy every moment and celebrate every achievement no matter how small.
Now as I’m writing this nearly a year after my daughter was born, looking back at our NICU journey I’m so blessed to have been able to go through such an amazing journey with my daughter. Even though this was the hardest thing we have ever had to go through, full of many ups and downs, I can finally reflect on this journey with a smile and say I wouldn’t change any single moment of it.
To all you NICU mamas out there, you can do this! It’s not an easy journey, there will be many obstacles to overcome, with many good days and unfortunately bad days too. Always remember to take things day by day and celebrate every achievement no matter how small. Cherish every moment and always know you are not alone. You can do this!