not the start we’d imagined

I’ve been going back and forth on whether or not to share this with you guys, mostly because I didn’t want it to seem as if I was complaining. I think that writing and sharing this is not only good for my own processing and working through it, but it also gives me a unique ability to connect with those of you who may have gone through something similar.

I hate to even say gone through because I feel like that makes it sound like we were facing life and death. And we weren’t. The last thing I want to do is make it sound worse than it was, because the fact is there are many babies and families who are dealing with way worse things every single day.

But you can’t always compare your mess to someone else’s. At the end of the day, this was our mess. And it was tough. And it was scary. And thank God it’s over. But I wanted to tell you a little about how our NICU stay changed me… and how our start to babies wasn’t quite what we had imagined.

Surviving The NICU + Preterm Delivery

We knew ahead of time that some time in the NICU was likely. If we had made it to our goal of 36+ weeks, we may have gotten by without it. But when I went into labor at 33 weeks, a longer time in the NICU became a scary and sudden reality.

One of our wonderful nurses explained to us before delivery that we would be looking at a one week minimum, longer if there were any big struggles. That was the first glimpse of understanding we had going into delivery. It was the first minute of our three day labor + delivery that I felt like I had a little bit of control. It was also the first minute that I realized how afraid I actually was. I now understood and feared the moment that I had these babies, knowing they would be taken away. I knew they were going to be well cared for and looked after, but I also knew that babies are supposed to be with mom, and I wanted my babies to be with me.

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When they arrived, I was met with my exact fears. I tried really hard to be understanding, to trust the doctors, and to listen to my sweet nurses who reassured me every chance they got. But it didn’t change this awful feeling deep in my gut that this was all wrong. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.

I did get about a minute with both babies on my chest before the doctors took them down to the NICU. One doctor, bless her, got right in my face and said  they have all ten fingers, all ten toes, and they are breathing totally on their own. Don’t you worry about a thing, I’ve got them. Then she took them one by one and put them in their bassinets, and they left. Marshall went with them, and that helped, but it still wasn’t right. This was another one of the million moments that I was so incredibly thankful to have gotten Dr. J for delivery, and the sweetest nurses on earth. As much as I knew they couldn’t fix it, they were the perfect people to have around me in that moment. They were sweet, and patient, and understanding, and calm. Everything I needed.

Back in my room, I was overwhelmed with on and off anxiety. I think I was distracted here and there by falling in and out of sleep, and finally getting to eat for the first time in three days. Marshall came back after a while and showed me pictures of our sweet babes, and told me that they were all settled, and waiting to see their mom. I still had to get moved to recovery, so it was going to be a bit, but it helped to see a picture and know that Marshall was with them while everything got started.

I was moved to recovery, did rounds with my new nurses, and then, I finally got to go to them. I was dealing with extreme swelling from my ribs down, from all the fluid and medicines I was given through labor and delivery. You can read more about that here. So, Marshall pushed me in the wheelchair, which I ended up using for three days, until I was able to start walking again.

Our babies were both born breathing room air. This is a huge head start when it comes to NICU babies!! They each had an IV in their little hand, a feeding tube in their nose taped to their face, 3 monitors attached to their chest/belly, a blood pressure cuff on their leg, and an oxygen monitor on their foot. While all normal, there was a lot of beeping, a lot of machines, a lot of people, and no sense of calm. The bassinets were gone and they were in big plastic boxes that had circles that opened on the side so we could reach in and touch them. I could hold them too, with help from the nurses. It looked a lot worse than it was. But as a new mom, all I saw was my babies not in my arms. Though minimal, there were wires. Feeding tubes. It was overwhelming. It wasn’t normal. And it didn’t feel good.

I was thankful every minute of every day for the doctors and nurses that felt hand picked from God himself… not just for the babies, but for me. NICU staff don’t just tend to babies. They also have to take care of new moms just minutes to hours after delivery, and through some of the scariest days of their lives. They didn’t just take care of my twins. They actually 100% took care of me, too. And for that I’m incredibly thankful.

Our stay in the NICU was largely based off of their inability to eat, with a short time of waiting for them to be able to regulate their own body temperature. Here and there we’d have alarms where their heart rates or oxygen would dip too low, but those were quickly resolved. Their early feedings were always through their tube, but slowly we started working on learning to eat from a bottle (taking all food from a bottle was our ticket home).

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I was a patient in the hospital for their first 4 days. We spent each day in their room, aside from every few hours going back to my own room so that my nurses could check on me. And, I slept in my own room each night. So, we only left them to go to bed. That is, until I was discharged.

There is absolutely nothing good about being discharged and having babies in the NICU. Not one thing. I had talked myself through it for days, trying to prepare for that moment. But there was absolutely nothing that could have prepared me for walking out of that hospital without my babies. I considered staying, but I knew that we had a few weeks to go, and that we would all be better off if I was well rested and able to be fully present with them each day. I shook and cried from their room, to the car, and the whole way home. I felt nauseous, spacy, and completely afraid.

My husband was with me, and I think I might have nearly broken his hands squeezing them so hard on our way out, but I wasn’t able to catch a breath until I ran into a nurse friend at the front door. Right when I was considering turning around, she reminded me that I needed sleep, I’d heal faster if I did. Babies needed sleep, and were spending every night in the very best hands. That was the final boost I needed to keep walking. To get in the car, and to go.

I don’t really even remember getting home. I remember crying to Marshall in the car, and then a big blur, and then crying to my mom at home. The only thing I remember saying the whole time was to my mom – this doesn’t feel ok. It doesn’t feel ok at all. Then another big blur, and I was in bed.

Speaking of blur, the whole 2.5 weeks of their NICU stay, was a blur. I remember a lot of moments, a lot of conversations, a lot of new friends, happy moments and scary moments. But as a whole, it was a blur. I went in each morning at 7am, and came home each night around 8-9 pm. Marshall was back to work the whole time, so he would arrive around 5 pm, and we’d go home together. We basically came home, ate, showered, and got in bed.

We never really had any super scary days. They were born at 34+1 weeks so overall they were very healthy. We had setbacks. After they had graduated back to open bassinets, Bentley was getting too cold again. So he had to go back into the heated crib until his temperatures came back up. It was only a few days. Our biggest struggle was getting them to move towards taking all food from a bottle. I swear this was only stressful for me. I had to remember that bottle or not, they would be fed (they had their feeding tubes).

The thing I try to remember every day, is that we came home. It was all temporary.

Halloween Costumes for Babies + Twins | The Salt Water Wife

Since we’ve been home, things have been so good. Don’t get me wrong, having two babies is the most insane thing I ever could have imagined. But so far we are all happy and healthy and ready to keep growing!

But this is where I sometimes feel crazy. I know we had an easy NICU stay. I met some families who had it a lot worse. I met some families who weren’t sure if their baby would ever go home. But I feel like at delivery, having them taken away in such crucial hours, really changed things for me. I didn’t get off to the start that most moms do. I missed a lot of time holding my babies. I spent the first hours after they were born scared beyond belief, rather than happy and calm and snuggling my babies. I then spent the next 2.5 weeks in complete chaos, rather than home with my husband and our new family.

I know things are good now. Things are normal now. And our babies are healthy. But this wasn’t the way I envisioned becoming a mom. I’m grateful for every second, and I am totally and completely in love. But I think the stress of it all has totally stuck with me.

Most nights I have at least one dream about being in the NICU. Sometimes I have nightmares that we’ve ended up back in the NICU with sick babies. I feel this intense need to go visit with our doctors and nurses, but I also can’t stand the thought of walking back into that hospital. Sometimes I swear I can hear those alarms going off on their monitors. I feel like I spent a ton of time away from them that I shouldn’t have, and so I feel like I’m constantly trying to make up for that now. It’s nuts, I know. And I bet there are plenty of moms who could have just dealt with it and moved on. But I’m an anxious, nervous person. I’m high stress. And this was the most stressful thing I’ve ever dealt with.

The reward is great! But I can definitely still feel the stress of the NICU, which I know will go away with time. Did any of you spend any time in the NICU? Was it easy for you as soon as you left? Does it still bother you? I’d love to connect with other NICU families here. Leave a comment below, let’s chat!

Surviving The NICU + Preterm Delivery

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6 Comments

  • Reply Chloe October 19, 2016 at 7:49 pm

    My daughter was born at 27 weeks so we spent 3 months in NICU. Since being discharged I have felt exactly the way you feel I also get the same dreams you have each night and I still get terrible anxiety even thinking about the NICU. I am so glad another NICU mother feels the same way.

    • Reply annaleethomasson@gmail.com October 19, 2016 at 7:52 pm

      Chloe – I’m so inspired by you! A 27 weeker must have been quite a ride – I’m so glad you’re here to share the journey with us! Please keep in touch!! I’d love to know how your little one is doing!

  • Reply Jackie October 24, 2016 at 3:24 pm

    The NICU is a tough place to be, no matter how long your stay. My daughter was born at 24 weeks, 3 days. Our stay was 113 days. I agree with everything you wrote. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, being discharged after delivery and leaving without my baby. And yes, those amazing nurses took care of me just as much as my baby. It’s a mixed blessing, having her home now. It’s great to be home as a family, but that hospital was our second home and the staff our second family. Luckily I don’t have the dreams at night like you do, but my thoughts often drift back to the sounds and smells of the NICU. One day at a time, and know that as mommas, we all do the very best we can for our babies and love them with everything we have.

  • Reply Kelly October 24, 2016 at 4:24 pm

    My daughter was born at 37w5d. Plenty big enough and plenty far along but very unexpectedly. I decided to call labor and delivery because I wasn’t feeling her move that day. I honestly figured they’d do a quick non-stress test and send me home. My grocery list was waiting for me in the car 😊
    The stress test was not making any of the nurses happy, so they sent me to get an ultrasound. That looked good but they were still worried about the stress test results. Baby was under some kind of stress, but we didn’t know why. An OBGYN came in and said she didn’t like what she was seeing. My obgyn was out of town so I was working with someone totally new. I rushed my husband to the hospital and called grandma to come watch my older daughter. I wasn’t going home.
    Once my frazzled husband arrived, we talked through my options. Induction- which posed risks. Baby probably wouldn’t handle the stress of a long labor. So c-section was the choice we made. I had the most perfect vaginal delivery with my first daughter so feeling like I had to choose a c-section to keep baby out of a high risk situation was really hard. I didn’t want it to end that way. I was mad at my body for giving up and I was so scared to go through major surgery.
    We went through the c-section and out came my tiny little baby. She was sick and came out just in time. I didn’t get her on my chest and I hardly got to see what she looked like. My husband went over to the table where they were working on her to take a picture to show me. She was whisked off to the hospitals NICU where she needed breathing help.
    The NICU of the hospital we delivered at was not able to keep up with the care she needed, so a team from our children’s hospital with a higher level NICU. I thought I had those bases covered… I wanted to deliver at a hospital that had a great NICU JUST IN CASE…but I never in a million years thought that would be our reality. Not us. Right?
    So my sweet baby that I wasn’t able to hold or snuggle or feed was taken away in something that looking like an incubator meshed with a spaceship 30 miles away to the higher level NICU. I had to stay two more days in the current hospital to recover. It was agonizing.
    After I was released, I spent every night sleeping in her NICU room. The beeps and sounds will always be with me. The NICU changes you. I’m only 7 weeks out from all of it so the emotions are still so raw. I’d love to connect. It’s an experience that binds anyone who has been there.

    • Reply annaleethomasson@gmail.com October 24, 2016 at 4:50 pm

      Kelly – thank you so much for sharing your story! I’m so thankful that you all are home now and moving forward!! I would love to connect with you! Feel free to find me on Facebook (Annalee thomasson) or email me any time!!!

  • Reply I Hate The New Mom Meal Train. – The Salt Water Wife May 15, 2017 at 8:34 pm

    […] I recognize that our bringing babies home was not typical, I think that even if we’d had the smoothest of deliveries, I would still feel […]

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