I don’t like to call it a NICU stay because it’s not just to stay. When your time in the NICU has been completed, that experience, that memory, that emotional roller coaster never leaves you. It takes a while to gain control and understanding of your feelings. And for some, including me those memories haunt you for time to come.
I got pregnant with my daughter in January 2017. When I went for my 20 week check up at the hospital in perinatology, they discovered that I had a short cervix. I went back to the hospital every two weeks for a checkup to ensure that my cervix wasn’t funneling or shortening.
The doctors were able to determine that I had a short cervix and that it wasn’t incompetent, but that premature delivery was almost inevitable.
What I didn’t know then that I know now, is that when I was 21 years old I had the LEEP procedure, which shaved off abnormal cells in my uterus and cervix, which is what made it so short.
After that hospital visit I went directly to my OB for my weekly appointment and he, as well as the high-risk doctors at JFK hospital in Edison, New Jersey, felt it was time for me to leave my work as a preschool teacher.
After leaving work I was put on modified bedrest. I could go out and take a stroll, but I could not work. I could not lift things more than 10 pounds, and I had to keep any exercise to a minimum. I was also put on suppositories from 20 weeks through 30 weeks, that gave me added progesterone to help hold the baby as she got bigger and alleviate a lot of the pressure and pain I had been feeling.
At 33 weeks I began having contractions three minutes apart. I got sent to Somerset Hospital in Somerset, New Jersey. It wasn’t the hospital where I had planned to deliver, but my OB was there filling in for another doctor.
From the time I started contractions to the time I got to the hospital was a total of 30 to 45 minutes.
When I got to the hospital my contractions were a minute apart, and doctors feared they wouldn’t be able to stop the contractions. I feared I was going to deliver at 33 weeks in a hospital that was unfamiliar to me.
Luckily after four steroid shots and a prescription for a medication, the contractions stopped. I was able to go home on a medication to relax the uterus, which I was to take until I went into labor again on my own. At 35 weeks, the medication started to make me very ill, and my OB said I could stop taking them. A few days later my daughter was born.
My contractions started at 11:00 in the morning, I saw the doctor at 2 p.m., he admitted me to the hospital around 4:30 p.m., broke my water at 5:30 p.m., and she was born at 10:44 p.m.
When my daughter was born, she was struggling to breathe so they swaddled her, presented her to me and let me kiss her, and rushed her off to the NICU.
It was a few hours before I could see her, and I didn’t understand what was going on. I didn’t understand the special care she was under. I didn’t understand why, and no amount of explanation from a nurse or a doctor would help me comprehend what was going on.
Tears in my eyes, delirious from the pain of childbirth which was medication-free, and the fact that it was now after midnight, I was exhausted, scared and unaware of what any of this meant.
My daughter was unstable in the NICU, connected to oxygen and a feeding tube. I couldn’t hold her until four days later, when she was moved to an incubator.
The feeling when I was finally able to hold my daughter was indescribable. I was overcome with emotion. That day was the happiest day of my life, aside from the day I first laid eyes on her. But little did I know, it was all going to come crashing down
Around 10 p.m. that same night she came off the oxygen and I was able to hold her, I got a call from one of the doctors in the NICU. They said my daughter had too much residual formula when they fed her, and she was losing too much weight.
They said they needed to put a central line in her, and since the hospital was only a level II NICU, they were unequipped to do so. She needed an immediate ambulatory transfer to a level IV NICU nearby, and I needed to give permission over the phone right away.
I gave my consent, and my husband and I flew out of the house and rushed to the hospital.
I held my daughter and fed her as the transfer team from Beth Israel Hospital in Newark, New Jersey arrived and prepared to take her.
I was sobbing at this point, and even more heartbroken when I was told that, for insurance purposes, I wouldn’t be allowed to ride in the ambulance with her. My husband and I followed the ambulance to the hospital and waited until we could see her.
Within the first 24 hours they got her weight up a little bit, they were getting her to eat and they had already performed a successful central line. She would remain in that level IV NICU for three to four more days until she was able to maintain her own body temperature and I could take her home.
With both NICUs, I called every two hours to check on her and visited as often as I possibly could. I would sit for hours just being with her, even if I couldn’t hold her. And when I finally got the call from the last NICU that she was ready to be discharged, my heart was lightened, and I was overcome with joy.
Now at age two, she is thriving. She is my world and my life.
I stumbled across Hand to Hold online through one of the many prematurity and NICU groups I’m in. The articles were amazing, and I found the judgment-free zone for parents to speak their mind and support others invaluable. It’s been a wonderful support. I love learning the different journeys others have been on and offering my support for those that are going through the NICU.
I enjoyed hearing other stories and knowing that I’m not alone. So many people in my circle have diminished my experience because I made it to 35 weeks gestation and my daughter was only in the NICU for eight days. They felt that I should be happy about that. I felt I needed to hide my feelings and somehow get over it.
But Hand to Hold has taught me that I don’t have to let it go. I don’t have to hide it. I can scream my story and pain from the rooftops. Because although my experience might be minuscule compared to some, this was our journey.
Just because your child leaves the NICU doesn’t mean the NICU leaves you. It takes a while to gain control and understanding of your feelings. For some, including me, those memories haunt you for a long time.