My NICU Experience
So in sticking with the theme of sharing openly and authentically to support the moms in our happy mom community, I wanted to share a very personal story that I've talked a little bit about on the blog before, but not as candidly. And it involves Ryan's birth story.
NICU AWARENESS MONTH
In honor of NICU Awareness Month, I want to go a little deeper into my experience with Ryan’s birth, specifically with him being taken away to the NICU right after he was born.
When you’re pregnant for the first time, you’re already nervous about anything and everything that could possibly go wrong. You Google everything beforehand, listen to advice from family and friends, and seek expert advice from Lactation Consultants, doulas, doctors, and more! I’m very much a type-A personality, so I did my best to prepare before birth. I worked on a birth plan and discussed it with my doctor, went to labor and delivery classes with my husband, and although I tried to prepare for a healthy, natural vaginal delivery, I was open to the possibility of an epidural (which I did end up needing). Everything went according to plan, except for the part that I didn’t and couldn’t plan for: the part after birth. I was prepared for lots of the different obstacles that may come up during labor, and I was able to respond to those, but I did not prepare for Ryan being taken away from me, and I think no mother does prepare for it and no mother should experience that pain.
MY NICU EXPERIENCE
I know my NICU experience was milder than some other parents who have their children taken to the NICU for much longer periods of time, or who go into emergency births and have their babies way in advance of their due date. I know those situations are a lot scarier, but I don’t want to take away from my experience either. Not only did I feel guilty about Ryan going to the NICU, I also felt guilty for feeling guilty because I was like, “Well, there are other parents here that have it way worse. Why am I crying? Why am I so emotional about it? I should be stronger.” So everyone’s experience is their own and is valid.
Ryan was taken to the NICU because I had a high temperature during labor, so as a precautionary measure the doctor that delivered Ryan (who was not my OBGYN, who was away at a business conference, just to take even more out of my control) had him sent away in case my fever was because of infection which could have been passed on to Ryan, in which case he needed to go to the NICU to be treated with antibiotics.
As you can imagine, I was crushed and I still get very emotional when I talk about this. I’m still very sad about it. I had goals of breastfeeding right away and that couldn’t happen because he had to leave. I wasn’t allowed to see him close up, I was only allowed to see him from behind the glass super far away for the first 24 hours of his life. I wasn’t allowed to touch him or hold him, and I could still cry right now thinking about it. I immediately went into feelings of “What did I do wrong for this to happen? Was I too adamant about my labor goals? Should I have done something different?”
I kept blaming myself for Ryan going to the NICU, thinking maybe I should have opted for a c-section or for one of the other interventions they were offering during labor to speed things along since it took so long and maybe that was why I got the fever. I worried I had tried too hard to make it natural, and because of that I put my baby in danger. I thought, “This is my fault. I did something wrong during labor.” I didn’t want to tell anybody that he was born because I felt so ashamed. I just didn’t have it in me to even share with anyone that he was born.
WHAT IT’S LIKE IN THE NICU
Ryan was in the NICU for six nights and seven days. Once you go into the NICU, they start to know your child. No matter what they went in there for, they’re monitored very closely. I always call the nurses who work there the NICU Angels because they’re just amazing souls to be able to work in that space. I saw some heavy, heavy things and met some parents going through super unimaginably difficult times with their newborns, including some cases where their child was not going to make it and the parents knew it. Just being in that environment already is so tough when you’ve just had a baby. Being around some of those families brought more guilt to me, feeling like I didn’t deserve to be crying like I was, but I couldn’t control my emotions of how I felt seeing Ryan tied up to tubes and having antibiotics pumped into his little body just minutes after he was born.
On Ryan’s last day, we tried our best to bring food and treats and gifts for the NICU nurses that took care of him. Taryn, his main nurse, took such good care of him and she got so attached to him in just the six nights that he was there. She bought him a beautiful gift spelling his name RYAN to put up on a shelf. I was amazed at the thoughtfulness of that knowing she had so much else going on as a NICU nurse, and she was telling us how much she loved him and got attached to him. So the nurses definitely are angels and we need to remember to honor them and the work they do to help us parents and our little ones through such difficult times!
WHY I’M SHARING THIS WITH YOU
I know a lot of our readers and followers are expecting mamas or moms who have experienced the NICU themselves, and I want you all to know that you’re not alone. I also hope that knowing about my situation helps you expecting mamas to know what kinds of things “may or may not” happen and that families do go through these things and overcome them successfully in a lot of cases. As long as you pick a doctor and a hospital or birthing center that you trust, hopefully, everything will go as close to plan as it can. But the main reason why I want to share this story is so that if any other mom in our community is experiencing something like this, you know not to feel shame. Don’t blame yourself in any way. It’s not your fault. You’re more than enough as a mom and you did your best and it’s not your fault if your baby goes to the NICU.
Now having three babies and looking back on the experience with Ryan, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was at the time. That’s sort of how I look at a lot of obstacles in motherhood. They seem really tough when you’re in the thick of it, but when you get passed it you realize that it was just a small step in your journey and it doesn’t define you.
In those first few months of Ryan’s life, I couldn’t forget that NICU experience and I almost felt like this was going to set the tone for the type of life my little Ryan was going to have and it’s not true at all! Ryan is the most amazing, sweet, caring, smart boy and I’m so proud of who he is. The NICU experience is just a distant memory now, but it is part of his journey and our journey, and it was a learning experience for sure.
TRUST YOUR GUT, MAMA!
I held Ryan for about 30 seconds or so before they took him, and I knew in my heart he was a healthy baby boy, and even when they were ready to take him I questioned it. My mama gut wondered why they were taking him. I asked about it but ultimately trusted the doctor to do what was best for my baby, even though I felt like it wasn’t right.
I did speak to my OBGYN afterward because I did feel in my gut that Ryan should never have gone to the NICU, and she did confirm that if she was there she would have done additional testing with me before making that decision to send him over, because ultimately tests confirmed that I didn’t have an infection so he went over there for no reason at all. That made me feel even more guilty because I felt like I should have fought for him a little bit harder when they said that they were taking him, but ultimately I had just trusted the doctor that was caring for me at the time. But you know, everything in motherhood is a learning experience and that one definitely taught me to trust myself and to push through the difficult situations as a family.
Have you overcome a NICU experience? Share in comments.