Being a NICU mum
When you find out that you are going to be a mum it is so exciting, if you're like me & love a list you start writing one or several. What you need to buy for the baby, lists for the hospital bags, your wishes for your ideal birth. Mine was a home water birth, I had a list of things we would need & everything ordered to be delivered at 36wks. We did not plan on being NICU parents for almost 6wks.
While on our way to Northumberland for our babymoon at 33wks my waters released. It is known as PPROM - Preterm Prelabour Rupture of Membranes. From then on our birth changed, our options changed, from then on there was not going to be a home water birth & I was ok with that. I used the affirmation "I focus on what I can control & let go of what I can't". It all happened very quickly as we had a code 1 emergency Caesarean Birth 3 days later. While being prepared for the birth of our girl the doctors from the neonatal ward spoke to me. They said she would most likely need help breathing when she was born & would need to spend some time in an incubator.
For some of you reading this blog you may have known from early on in your pregnancy that baby would need to be on the neonatal ward after birth, for others you may have been in a similar position as us & only found out later on or just before giving birth.
So our journey as NICU parents began. I got to properly meet our girl on the neonatal unit around 6hrs after she was born, she was tiny but doing well. Here was my baby girl, I could touch her but I couldn't hug her, I couldn't kiss her & I couldn't hold her close but all that would slowly come. I spent two nights on the postnatal ward which was full of emotions, there were mums there who had their babies with them, they would cry & the mums would bottle or breastfeed them. I wanted that too. I felt like an imposter at times, like I shouldn't be there as I didn't have my baby girl with me. When I went home, again it felt strange, we were part time parents, we kept saying to each other "we are now parents, but it doesn't feel real" & due to covid restrictions it was one parent per day. Though we were lucky as I have heard that some neonatal units were only allowing an hour or two which isn't enough at all for the parents or the babies. What about Kangaroo care!
For the first couple of weeks we were trying to establish breastfeeding which sadly was affected by an undiagnosed tongue tie, we were NG feeding with my breastmilk which thankfully I had a great supply of. We got into a routine of expressing every 3hrs, going to the unit every day from around 9am until 4/6pm. During the day when I was on the neonatal unit with baby I would do all her nappy changes, change of pyjamas, attempt to breastfeed then NG feed & express more breastmilk for her. We didn't do much skin to skin or kangaroo care as the chairs besides the cots were not conducive to this, however as part of the MVP (Maternity Voices Partnership) I am helping towards changing this & getting better chairs. The chairs also didn't allow for napping beside baby so a day on the ward I found really exhausting as there was no space to rest. What I did find revitalising was sitting in the garden with the sun on my face & listening to the bird song. It was a break for all the beeping machines & hospital lighting.
All was going well apart from the feeding until baby got really sick which was scary. I was there with her & realised something wasn't right, she was extremely sleepy & just wanted cuddles from me. Then she started going blue as her Oxygen stats started to drastically drop, the nurse in the Special Care Baby Unit pushed the emergency buzzer which was so frightening. I burst into tears & had to leave the room for a moment. Take a breather in the expressing room. She was then transferred to the High Dependency Unit & that night at 2am we were called to stay that they were going to ventilate her & she was in Neonatal Intensive Care. Going in the next day to see my baby girl in an induced coma & ventilated I realised how sick she was. At this point we didn't know what was wrong with her, they had taken bloods which were now at the lab & done some other tests. A couple of days later she was diagnosed with Group B Streptococcus also known as GBS which is very serious. After a few days she was doing better as the antibiotics were working so she was taken off the ventilator & put on CPAP for a bit. She then needed 21 days of antibiotics through a longline so we spent the rest of our time in the High Dependancy room.
She is now almost one & doing really well, crawling, babling away all day & growing. You wouldn't know looking at her the start she had.
Tips for being a NICU parent.
Make yourself or ask friends who want to do something for you to prepare healthy, filling & nutritious packed lunches. This will save you money, help your body heal after birth & give you much needed energy. Its also great if you are expressing milk for baby/babies.
I loved a breakfast jar made with over night oats & I would add different ingredients to mix it up a bit. Also different salads from noodles with broccoli to chicken & mango. Lots of snacks too which I could eat in the expressing room.
Get a drink bottle. Its very hot on the neonatal ward so hydration is important & they normally have a cold water station.
Wear summer clothing due to it being hot. If it's cold outside don't be tempted to wear warm clothing as you will overheat. Take a spare top for if you're breastfeeding or having postnatal hot flushes.
Rest when you can, if that means going to the parent lounge & napping on the sofa do it.
Go outside & take a moment in nature to sit, breathe & release the tension in your body.
I found taking a break to sit in the garden & watch the birds or close my eyes to enjoy the sunshine on my face really helped.
Sara Wickham has some amazing information & resources on GBS
Bliss is a charity which supports families with babies on the neonatal ward
NICUnatter is a instagram account for parents with NICU babies, you can read others stories and ask for advice there too.