"Hotel Hospital" & a NICU Stay
September was NICU awareness month so I wanted to take the time to celebrate the babies who started their lives on earth in the NICU! Whether your little one’s stay was hours, days, weeks, or months, I commend the families for their strength! As a mama whose baby had a three day NICU stay, followed by a seven days hospital stay, I can say that it was the hardest part of being a parent thus far. It tested my relationship with my husband and my trust in the nurses and doctors.
I have not documented Avery’s Birth Story yet (put it on my do-to list) so I am going to try to stay laser focused on the NICU part, but there will be some overlap.
On Sunday April 8th, 2018 at 35.5 weeks pregnant my water broke. Within an hours’ time we had arrived at the hospital and were met by a nurse who on the elevator ride to the labor and delivery floor told me to prepare myself to change or scrap my entire birth plan. If you know me, I AM A PLANNER and this day was not going according to plan! I tried to stay calm and focus on the birthing experience instead of worrying about the unknown of what extra support she would need being that she was not fully developed.
At 12:24pm Avery Elizabeth was born, she was laid on my chest for about a minute and then was whisked away to the warmer due to her cry being weak and she wasn’t breathing efficiently. After she was cleaned off and before she was wheeled to the NICU I was given another few seconds to look at her from the nurse’s arms. About an hour later, Patrick wheeled me to the nursery to see her and I burst into tears. First off, HORMONES, and second, she was itty-bitty and in my biased opinion, gorgeous. We were able to hold her for about 10 minutes each while someone held the oxygen mask over her mouth/nose. Her lungs were not developed enough for room air to be sufficient so she had to have a mask. After our cuddle time, she was placed in a large “nest” that was the optimal temperature and had increased oxygen level circulation. Being premature, she was not able to breast feed or take food by mouth so she had an IV and a nasogastric feeding tube (in through her nose directly to her stomach). She was in the nest for two full days with only Patrick or I being allowed to place our hand inside to hold and touch her. At the end of day two, we were allowed to remove her from the nest for short periods of time (around 20 minute increments) to hold her and see if she could breathe on her own without any oxygen supplementation. She did pretty well but at around the 20 minute mark she would begin to struggle and would have to be put back in the incubator. I was technically discharged on day two, but was told to remain in my hospital room so I could visit her and breast pump for the day when she was able to start taking breast milk by bottle. I was so lucky to be allowed to remain at the hospital and even more grateful that Patrick stayed with me. I was pumping every 2-3 hours to get my supply going always dreaming of the day that she would get breast milk from a bottle. I knew that breastfeeding was going to be an uphill battle so I didn’t set my sights on that goal yet. We were told that she most likely wouldn’t be ready to breast feed until around her due date (May 8th.)
On day 3, she was tolerating being out of the “nest” on room air and we were told she was going to get to come “room in” with us!!! I was so excited! No more walks to the nursery to look in at her from the outside of the incubator, no more sitting beside her holding her hand because that was all we could hold, and less fear. Man, oh man, I was still scared and nervous about what was to come, but this felt like a huge milestone. When we placed her in a “normal” wheeled crib and took her back to our hospital room, I felt like I could exhale and I was really her mom. She still had a feeding tube and an IV in place in case it was needed and would be removed in the coming days if she was tolerating her tube feedings. Family flooded in to meet her once she was in our room and it was so exciting to show her off. We quickly learned how fragile she was due to being premature so we had all visitors wear a receiving blanket over their clothes to limit germs.
My little warrior, Avery, had many battles to win, but she had beat one: breathing. She was out of the incubator and in our hospital room able to breath without any oxygen supplementation.
Battle two: body temperature. Being that she was premature and weighing in at only 4 pounds 13 ounces, Patrick and I were now in charge of keeping her warm. Using our body heat, fleece swaddles, and extra blankets.
Battle three: eating. This one was going to be the longest of the three. She still had her IV in place in case she needed extra nourishment or was not tolerating tube feedings. She had a nasogastric tube and by day 2 was getting my breast milk with Neosure added for extra calories. She continued this until around day 5 when we introduced a bottle with this mixture. She didn’t have much interest in it and only took a few milliliters before she was asleep. With each passing day she would take a little more from the bottle which was a great sign that we were moving in the right direction. She was gaining weight which was the sign to the pediatrician that she was growing. Patrick and I heard this mantra daily “She is a feeder and a grower; those are her two jobs.” We were instructed to keep her warm and not to pressure her with trying to breast feed because it would be too much work for her and burn precious calories that she needed to grow.
We were very fortunate to have at least one visitor daily between the grandparents and our siblings. It helped the days go by faster, but it was still very difficult not knowing when we would get to take Avery home and start life as a family. I remember breaking down, at a not so convenient time, during our “Romantic and Fancy” hospital dinner. I was tired (emotionally and physically), hormonal, and struggling to keep my mind in a positive place. I just wanted to go home.
On day 9, her nasogastric tube was removed and I couldn’t contain my excitement! The tube was kept in place for a couple extra days even though she didn’t receive feedings through it because it can be stressing to a baby to reinsert one, but it doesn’t bother them to keep it in. This meant we were going to be going home! She was taking a bottle by mouth for all her feedings and gaining weight!
On Wednesday, April 18th we checked out of “Hotel OMC” and headed home. I went home the evening before to pack an outfit for coming home in and to just take a breath. I walked around the house and started to imagine her growing up in this house. I went into her nursery and bawled (from happy hormones though). I could put a face with the baby who would call this room hers. I stocked the “diaper cart” in the living room (with preemie diapers that we had bought a few days prior after realizing that a newborn size would fall off), started a load of laundry, and mentally prepared myself for the new journey that we were starting on.
In total, I left the hospital four times in the ten days Avery was in the nursery/hospital. And let me tell ya, it was heart wrenching! On day 3, when the pediatrician came into round on what the daily goals were for Avery she looked me dead in the eye and asked “Have you left the hospital yet?” After telling her no. She responded “You. Need. To. Leave. Go somewhere, anywhere, even if it’s for a half an hour. You need to get out, get fresh air and mentally regroup. The nurses are here and will care for her while you go.” In that moment, I knew that I needed to leave for my own sanity, but felt so guilty because my heart was telling me “You brought a beautiful baby into this world, now it is your job to care for her 100% of the time.” But, I listened to the doctors’ and nurses’ advice and left. The entire time I was gone, I just wanted to go back- I felt incomplete. But looking back it was the best advice I received and I would share it with any new parent as one of my most valued lessons.
Avery is now 6 months old weighing in at almost 13 pounds. She is a constant reminder that strength comes in a tiny package. My advice to families who are going through a NICU or extended hospital stay is: 1. Don’t be afraid or feel guilty for needing a break. 2. Lean on others, the nurses and doctors included. 3. See the positive in every bit of progress, no matter how small. 4. Do not let the setbacks break you, your baby is stronger than you will ever imagine and will surprise you in the best ways.
I would love to hear any stories you have about your hospital stay! Was your baby in the nursery/NICU at all?