The boys are two now. If you haven't lived with toddlers lately, let me tell you what that's like. It's a lot of emotional attempts at independence, rare occasions when our listening ears are actually working, new (and very strong) opinions, and more energy than those five monkeys who jump on the bed. Sounds fun, right?
So, naturally, I like to reminisce about the simpler times. Like when they were infants and couldn't tell me "no" 24/7, and the bliss of new motherhood was still covering me like a blanket, aka: the days right after they were born.
Our first fam pic
Jack and Nick made their debut after cooking for 35.5 weeks (and after making my legs swell to epic proportions and really ensuring their stretch marks were lasting and DEEP). And although they were each a healthy 6lbs and some change (could you imagine how big all three of us would have been if they stayed in for 38 weeks?!), they still spent almost two weeks in the NICU.
Throughout my pregnancy, the NICU was mentioned in several conversations for a variety of reasons. As much as I wanted to, I couldn't completely control when they would decide it was time to vacate, and twins are notorious for arriving early. At first, it was terrifying and ultimately disappointing, especially for a first timer (and classic perfectionist) like yours truly.
After all, I had a vision, people...I'd have pictures holding the boys on my chest in my hospital bed (perfect messy mom bun and that glowing "no makeup" look that's only achieved with actual makeup), basking in motherhood while I snuggled my two babies all day long. Then pictures of me and Ryan standing behind two carseats ready (and obviously super confident) to start our new adventure as a family of four.
Not the picture I had in my head, but it's still one of my favorites. Also, that's definitely not an "effortless no makeup," look...more like a true-no-make-up-glowing-from-not-showering-in-two-days look.
The NICU jams that up. And if you're anything like me, you may have a hard time coming to grips with your new reality. Because I was admitted to the hospital around 33 weeks, we knew at that point that 1. my hopes of lasting to 38 weeks were a pipe dream, and 2. the NICU was definite.
First, let's get the hard, honest truth out of the way:
Yes, not being able to really hold your baby (or babies) immediately after they enter the world is hard. You did your absolute best work to get them here, and all you want to do is gaze into their little eyes. They're whisked away almost immediately, while you're left laying on a table waiting to be put back together.
After Jack and Nick were born, the nurses graciously snapped a pic of us with each of them, and then took them to do the initial evaluations and get them settled in their new NICU digs. I didn't get to see them until hours later (this was more on me than them, as my time in recovery was longer than anticipated), and I couldn't hold either until the following afternoon. Although you remember, your babies will not (trust me, I asked the boys if they did and they told me "no," aka their standard response).
And yes, leaving the hospital without your baby is hard, too. Leaving with one baby while his brother stays a few extra days is even harder. Jack had to stay a few extra days than Nick, and we were devastated. For me, leaving one of my babies while he was so used to having his roomie in there with him was so much more difficult than when I was discharged. Any way you slice it, it sucks, right?
Roomies for life.
But you take comfort in the fact that NICU nurses are a very special breed of people who are incredibly caring, kind, and compassionate. The nurses encouraged us to call at any time if we wanted an update, or just needed a little peace of mind that the boys were still making strides. Even if the only update was "both boys had dirty diapers at the 4am feeding!" it was still comforting to hear.
And finally, there may be a few setbacks, and that's ok (remember, the pregnancy party line is "expect the unexpected"). Some days, you feel like you take one step forward only to take two steps back. And that's all part of the game here, my friends (well, at least the nurses told us it was normal).
Both boys had to drink at least 2oz from a bottle consistently on their own in order to bust out of the NICU. Now, 2oz seems like a drop to them. But two years ago, it was agonizing to watch them only be able to drink half, or even a few sips. And just because they did it once didn't mean they would do it at the next feeding. Oh, and bribing didn't work as well as it does now either.
A 2oz bottle seemed like our own personal Everest at the time.
We were so pumped to take our two new BFFs home that those minor delays were rough. As much as I wanted to do whatever I could to help the boys' progress, I couldn't control it (was that my first hint of maternal instinct kicking in?!). But somehow, you dig deep (I had to dig real deep and I'm still pretty impressed with myself) to find the patience to let things play out on their own. Because you remember, at the end of the day, it's for their own good. And isn't that what every mom wants for their baby?
While the NICU essentially squashes some of your picture-perfect new baby plans, there are so many bonuses that aren't mentioned in those pre-delivery convos with your doctor.
The biggest advantage is that you learn SO much. While I had this perfect picture in my head of the four of us walking out of the hospital together, I would have been panicking if that happened in real life. I didn't grow up babysitting or really around a ton of fresh infants, so my experience was severely limited. I had so many questions. How would I know when to feed them? How much formula are they supposed to have? How do I know when to change their diaper? How do I do this with two babies?
Like I said, NICU nurses are second to none, and ours were nothing short of amazing. They were patient, explained everything they were doing, answered all of our questions, and most importantly, encouraged us to do everything for the boys while we were there. I learned so much in that short time that I actually felt somewhat confident (or at least not completely clueless) when we were all home as our new family of four.
One of our nurses made these hand and footprints for us. They're still hanging in the boys' room.
The nurses take the guesswork out of figuring out your feeding schedule. Everyone knows I love a good schedule and this was like hitting the jackpot for me. The boys ate every four hours in the NICU, and it was so easy to continue that schedule at home. If the doctors would have told me that at the very beginning, I probably would have asked if there was some kind of NICU waitlist I could join.
Regardless of how you gave birth, the NICU gives you time to heal. That's crucial as a new mom, even though you probably won't realize it at the time because your sole focus will be on the fact you have to leave your baby each night. The nurses basically forced me to go home so I could get a decent night's rest. While it was heart wrenching to leave the boys each night, I was able to get a full night of uninterrupted sleep (something I hadn't had in what felt like months), and take my time recovering from surgery.
Here are a few insider tips:
Spend as much time as you can there. We were fortunate that we didn't have any other obligations at home that prevented us from spending the day at the hospital. The main reason we felt somewhat confident in our new role as mom and dad was because we basically spent two weeks practicing in the NICU before we were released out in the wild.
Ask if you are able to tour the NICU. COVID restrictions could easily get in the way of this, but as my dad always says, "never hurts to ask." Seeing the space, getting a feel for the environment, and meeting a few of the nurses and doctors is a game changer.
All in all, don't let the possibility of the NICU get ya down. Your first "new baby" experiences may be a little different than you imagined, but that's ok. Looking back, I'm so thankful for our experience there. We learned so much valuable information that really helped to make us feel comfortable, and make our first few days and weeks at home a lot calmer than I anticipated.
If this post happens to make its way to any of the higher-ups at the NICU...give me a call. I have a great idea: a new parent pamphlet that includes some of these secret NICU perks. I mean, really, it could be a genius marketing campaign and a win-win for everyone; it could break the stigma of the NICU being a little scary and help new parents embrace their new post-delivery reality.
This post is dedicated (albeit 2 years late) to all of our incredible NICU nurses who took care of Jack & Nick like their own, patiently answered all of our questions, eased our new-parent fears, and taught us more than we ever thought possible.