Guest Blogger: My NICU Experience by Rebecca Trickey
When I tell people that my baby was in NICU when she was first born their usual response is; “oh no, was she premature?” Actually she was born by planned caesarean at full term, so it was completely unexpected. She was also a healthy birth weight and didn’t show any immediate problems.
I did try to prepare myself pre-birth for every outcome, including the less favourable ones. But I thought that with this being my second c section I knew roughly what to expect.
Following the successful surgery, our second born was eventually given to my husband to hold (she couldn’t be placed on my chest as I was shaking so uncontrollably with the anaesthetics). We were told the operation went well and the initial checks showed she was in good health. So when our baby was whisked off to NICU within an hour of being in the recovery room, “just to check her oxygen levels on a better machine” we were completely taken by surprise. I felt like my heart had left the room and totally helpless, but thought it wouldn’t take long.
Nothing could really prepare me for what I would feel over the next few days. Instead of meeting the other mums I’d met in the waiting room on the main ward where we’d vowed we’d see each other and share our baby news, I was taken to stay on my own in a side ward. Instead of holding my baby on her first night in the world we could only sit by her side and hold her hand, so not to disturb all the wires and tubes that were suddenly attached to her. Instead of establishing breastfeeding that I knew was so important to do at this early stage, I could only try to express tiny amounts of colostrum and she could only be formula fed through a tiny tube. Instead of dressing her in her first outfit I had carefully pre-planned, the nurses had dressed her in clothes belonging to the hospital.
As she took her first breaths assisted by machinery, nothing about this experience so far was what we had planned. That first night alone in my side room next to an empty cot and without my husband for comfort after visiting time will always haunt me.
However we were lucky and her stay in NICU would turn out to be relatively short compared to what some long term NICU parents experience. She recovered slowly over the next week and we patiently did what we could (which at the time felt like nothing) to comfort her whilst I tried to establish breastfeeding and give her as much skin to skin contact as I could.
My own recovery took a back seat and days later I found out that doctors couldn’t find me on my ward for postnatal care as I was spending every possible moment by my daughters side in intensive care. I got chatting with the porters who wheeled me there and back multiple times a day and found comfort in the fact that we could at some point be staying in the same ward, when she was well enough.
Once we were finally together in transitional care, she went from strength to strength, and after a minor setback we were discharged. After a rollercoaster of a week, we could finally go home and all be together. It was both surreal and anxiety inducing at the same time, but as we left the hospital into the warm spring sunshine, I was beyond happy that this was our story as it meant that she was safely here.
We are so grateful to the hospital and medical staff who are probably overworked, understaffed and underpaid, across maternity, NICU and transitional care. I hope that no one reading this has to go through an intensive care experience, but if you do I would recommend the charity Bliss (https://www.bliss.org.uk) who have information on what to expect when your baby is in NICU, what your rights are and what all the acronyms mean. Leaflets on their website with comments from other parents help you feel less alone and to see light at the end of the tunnel.
The whole process is traumatising and there isn’t much aftercare in place to handle the mental health aspects of having an infant in NICU.
I would recommend seeking help for you or your partner if you are struggling afterwards, from your midwife, health visitor or GP.
Remember that you are not alone - 1 out of every 7 babies born in the UK currently need to spend time in a neonatal unit, of which 62% are born at full term.