At just 20 weeks, I went in for what I believed was a routine anatomy ultrasound for my baby. My son has always been a goofball, even in the womb, so at this particular scan, he hid all of the important structures the doctor needed to see, and I was ordered to come back at around 24 weeks for a repeat scan. Great. This was my first pregnancy, and I could not stand ultrasounds! The pushing on my belly was nauseating and it seemed to go on forever, but I still loved seeing my little bub, so I was more than happy to come back and get to see him again.
Four weeks later, I headed out for what I thought would be a routine scan. I remember being so excited because Labor Day weekend was coming up and my husband promised me the fish sandwich I had been craving after my appointment.
After the scan, the doctor came into the room, took my blood pressure and immediately sent me to the hospital. Within two hours of being checked in, I was diagnosed with severe preeclampsia. I was told that my baby was small for his gestational age and that blood flow to the placenta was poor.
Five days later, at 24 weeks and 6 days, I delivered my son by an emergency c-section at a hospital that I did not originally plan to give birth in, at a time earlier than I planned. Talk about a shocking chain of events.
In a matter of days, I went from not knowing what a NICU was to being one of its newest guests.
Getting used to life in the NICU was not an easy task for me. Going from being pregnant to suddenly giving birth before you expected can be traumatic. I went from working full time to not working at all in order to be with my son. I felt scared, confused and alone. There was no one in my life who could truly relate to my situation except my husband, and he had to return to work not too long after our son was born. All the circumstances at the time made me feel vulnerable and sad, but as I visited each day, I soon found out that I wasn’t alone at all. Not only did I have awesome doctors and nurses watching over my son, but there were many forms of NICU support that made my experience a lot smoother.
I’ll never forget on one of the first few days of being in the NICU, I looked up and happened to catch the parents of the baby across the hall coming into their baby’s room. They smiled at me, and it felt warm and comforting, almost as if they were welcoming me to the club while letting me know that everything will be okay at the same time. Over the course of the next six months in the NICU, we would always smile at each other, and they even left us a NICU memories book before their baby was discharged. I highly recommend getting to know some of the parents you see around if all parties are comfortable. It feels good knowing and even talking to someone who can relate to your situation.
Another form of NICU support that really helped me was the support elders in the hospital. They would come around almost every morning with a smile and such kind words. I still have the angel pin one of them gave my son after they prayed over us. Along with watching my son fight valiantly, it was moments and people like them that kept me strong at my weakest moments.
A social worker also visited my room from time to time to provide me with different resources and information about the NICU and prematurity and just to check in on baby and me. They provided me with information about how to join a few specialized NICU support groups on social media. Once I did this, I became connected with mothers and fathers all over the country and even the world who had their own NICU experiences that I could relate to. If I had a question about something, I could run to the groups to ask, and I would be met with warmth and answers.
I didn’t find out about organizations like Hand to Hold until after discharge, but I wish I would have known sooner. It would have made navigating the NICU and life with a preemie much easier in the beginning. I’m truly grateful for these organizations and individuals who provide support and information to NICU families. It’s easy to feel isolated, so it’s important to stay connected and supported however you can while you’re in the NICU. Please don’t hesitate to take advantage of the resources surrounding you!
Get support from a peer mentor today at handtohold.org/support.
About the author
Nico Shanel is a debut children’s book author and the mother to two preemies. She runs a blog at woahneli.com where she discusses topics relevant to prematurity among other things. To find a copy of her book, SUPREEMIE, and other cute preemie-related items, visit her website.