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Challenge: NICU Parenting

'It was 7 days that changed me forever': My preemie, five years after our time in the NICU

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At 20 weeks pregnant with my first born, I was diagnosed with complete placenta previa. My gynecologist told me I’d likely have numerous bleeding episodes (horrifying,) be placed on hospitalized bed rest (monotonous,) and birth a preemie – all of which happened.

It’s kind of weird for me to mentally reminisce, as now my preemie is a thriving 5-year old. He's growing older every day, and in some ways, I miss his hectic arrival into the world, as emotional and stressful as it was.

Nicholas arrived the morning after my third bleed. This, after weeks of hospitalized bed rest. He was six weeks early – 4 pounds 11 ounces – skin and bones. Granted, not anything compared to micro-preemies, but in my mind, I had birthed a little doll.

Luckily, he was born healthy. A fighter. Didn’t have any major issues. Could breathe on his own. Clearly living up to his name, meaning, “victorious.” With that being said, he was still quite premature, and so began our stay in the NICU.

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I didn’t have a clue what to expect when they rolled my c-sectioned body into the NICU –I thought NICUs were for sick babies… Nicholas wasn’t sick. He was small, but fine. And like any new mom, I wanted to bring him home.

However, home wasn’t an option. As a preemie, Nicholas had to reside in the NICU for an undisclosed amount of time – or in other words, when doctors said it was okay to bring him home.

The NICU was much more welcoming and accommodating than I initially expected. Behind the secured double doors, was a whole new world, lined with pods of incubators, unsure parents and teeny babies.

Inside our pod, was a corner complete with a bassinet, changing station and rocker. Our compact area could be enclosed with a curtain, granting us privacy to bond with our newborn. There was also a whiteboard, documenting Nicholas’ information and screens with a handful of wires that were hooked up to Nicholas. The wires triggered beeps measuring his heart rate among other things.

That’s what I remember most. The beeping. Constant beeping. And when the beeping became irregular, my heart skipped a million beats.

Upon giving birth, every ounce inside me changed. Like most new moms, I was gifted true purpose – my heart was full – and life before my son was only life leading up to him. Yet, the element of his early arrival took quite an emotional toll on me. I didn’t leave that pod, surrendering my hospital room and the recommended sleeping recovery for a C-section. I also became obsessive-compulsive. I wouldn’t take my eyes off visiting friends and family, concerned Nicholas would break. Truly, I didn’t want anyone touching him.

Nicholas couldn’t keep his temperature up, so he was constantly bundled in clothing, hats and fleece sleep-sacks that he seemed to drown in. (The influx of “preemie fashion” hadn’t seem to hit the market.) I held him and sang to him as much as I could, but mostly sat in the rocker eyes glued to his bassinet, attached to wires and those UV lights that keep babies warm.

It wasn’t until day two (I think?) that a kind nurse asked me if I wanted to kangaroo. My first response was natural – WTF was kangarooing? But then she explained the common NICU term.

Kangarooing was skin-to-skin contact between parent and baby, and it scientifically helps soothe your newborn as he lays against your beating heart.

The nurse helped set me up, undressing Nicholas to his diaper. She handed me my nearly naked skin-and-bones doll, and closed the curtain. I laid Nicholas on my bare chest, covered us both, and started rocking. And that’s when the tears came. Unstoppable new mom tears. Tears that I prayed would reach any God to look after my baby. I was simply overcome by the magnitude of motherhood that it all overflowed.

That is the most vivid memory I have in the NICU.

We remained in the NICU for seven nights. We had up days and down days. Days when doctors were optimistic we’d be released, and days when doctors insisted we stay. It was an emotional roller-coaster, but even a bumpy journey can be a beautiful experience.

The nurses were amazing. It was as if I had a team of teachers showing me new baby how-to’s. They held my hand the whole way. They talked to me. And they genuinely cared for my son.

I never want to claim our story compares to the many preemie-NICU stories I hear so often. Babies born super early, fighting for their lives. Babies who can’t breathe on their own. Families who spend months in the NICU. Babies who don’t make it due to premature birth. In comparison, our story was a breeze. Just a quick stay in the NICU. But to me, it was seven days that changed me forever.

Nicholas is now a kind, compassionate soul. Sweet. Caring. Calm. Peaceful. The flurry of his arrival only resulted in the strong, yet sensitive little boy who ultimately stole my heart.

As I sit here, wrapping up this short recap of our stay in the NICU, I can’t help but wish I could spend one more quiet moment kangarooing with my four-pound first born. Even though I'm now a blessed boy mom times three, that memory of me and Nicholas will always be at heart, as he’s my first, and the person who made me a mother.

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