Hats off to the NICU Moms and Dads-What is REALLY different about having a baby in NICU vs. The Usual?

With lots of my friends and family having babies on the way and with my baby turning three, I have been reflecting on Ethan’s first days with us which were in NICU.I’ve already written about our experience a little, but I got to thinking about how different it really is to have a baby in NICU besides the obvious things. I am happy for those who get to have a normal experience because they will never know how “normal” it really is. I know it’s never easy to have a baby and adjust to that and let your body heal, but the moms and dads in NICU deal with so much more. (We were there only 3 weeks since it was for surgery recovery after birth, but I know n spend MUCH more time there!)

Ethan in his pod with his ear protectors for the helicopter ride to the children's hospital

Ethan in his pod with his ear protectors for the helicopter ride to the children’s hospital

To help share a laugh, an understanding, and to give others perspective into what that is like for parents, I give you this post. (and a lot of it will be what the moms go through since some is about postpartum stuff and this post is written by a mom-fair warning ). Also, while I appreciate all the NICU does to make parents feel welcome, there are just some things that are tough no matter how you look at it, so please NICU nurses and staff don’t take offense if I sound like I’m complaining.

As an NICU parent (mostly mom)

1) You most likely unexpectedly are going to an unfamiliar place or an unwanted place. (No one wants their kid in the hospital right away.)

2) You walk a TON (unless you wise up and get someone to wheel you around in a wheelchair.)

3) Speaking of chairs, instead of lying your newly post-partum self on a bed or couch to feed and enjoy snuggles with your new baby, you get an awkward spinney chair, wooden rocking chair, or some other sterile chair. Sterile usually=uncomfortable! (I assume that’s the reason for the less cushy chairs. Either way, it ain’t La-Z Boy.

4) Since you have to come to your baby, you have to get up and down off the said awkward chair with your quite possibly (A)sore lady parts (B) sore C section tummy or (C) just plain old tired postpartum self. Reasons for getting up super often in NICU include needing to go to the bathroom, needing to let someone else come back to see the baby (or letting them-needing is not really true), needing to go pump because there is a special room for pumping at the hospital and even if you somehow are allowed to use your own pump in the room, you still have to go label and put away your milk in a freezer outside the NICU. Also, I was just falling asleep while holding my son and simply had to leave for a little while. which stinks because if you don’t spend the night or can’t, you have to go back home or to a relative’s house to nap then its much more work to get to see your baby again than if you were just at home and could walk in and peek in on your sleeping baby.

5) Speaking of the practical difficulties of going back and forth while your child is in NICU, you also have the (probably more obvious) emotional baggage and disappointment after waiting so long for your child and then having such space between you and your child. The GOOD thing is, I just saw that our children’s hospital now has a way to view your child continuously via webcam or something similar. At first I was so jealous for the new NICU moms but then I wondered if that would have made me more hysterical to see my baby but not be with him. I don’t know.

6) You can’t always catch your baby awake. My kid was asleep allll day while I was there then woke up at night (I knew this because my parents would go by after they got off work.) Maybe he wondered where I was or something. Also he had slept. ALL. DAY.

7) You get to bring all that lovely postpartum stuff with you to the family locker room for NICU. Hot Dog! A “tear care” kit that takes you several minutes to get through that you put in a giant purse and use in a public restroom all day?!? Sign me up! :/ One of those things that’s not fun for any women postpartum, but you have no idea how nice you have it until you carry that “peri bottle” or whatever the heck people call it around with you into a public bathroom. (Where yes, you even have to wait your turn sometimes!)

8) Speaking to more postpartum stuff that is a special challenge in NICU is the fact that there are tons of faces in there-granted, mostly babies but often other parents and many nurses and doctors rounding. I’m sure some would think “hey, that would have been nice to have some help and guidance with our newborn. And you get to go home and take naps.” To those people I say…shut your filthy mouth haha okay kidding (kind of) but its no walk in the park to have one of the most emotional hormonal times in your existence to have an ongoing crowd of spectators. Not that they don’t mostly respect your space because generally they do.

But that’s not really the point. You don’t get the option to be alone with your child until they are discharged from the hospital. Even in a regular hospital stay after childbirth, nurses go in and out. I had to try to get over that and tell myself I wasn’t going to wait until my son was a month old to sing to him. Luckily I can carry a tune okay but even if I couldn’t, I would have said “forget it” and sung off-key for my baby anyways!

9) Another thing about the crowd of spectators: If and when you get to practice breastfeeding, they bring out a partition and I felt I was expected to cover up ( I mean, they brought a partition. Which is fine, I already felt awkward doing this in the wide open room.) I even had a visitor (female relation but still) back and ended up getting frustrated and taking my cover off for practicing once. The last night we got to room in with a private room (to make sure we felt comfortable caring for Ethan and that he didn’t require extra nursing care, etc.) I was not about to leave the room to go use the hospital breast pump room since I had my own from home. (As you guessed, the breastfeeding didn’t work out. Ethan maybe could have done it, but he had a heart defect, etc. and it was just complex so we decided I would pump) Anyways, I wasn’t about to leave the room when I FINALLY got to have a night with my 3 week old child, so I was pumping with a blanket covering me and this doctor looked at me all puzzled like “what is that sound?” I don’t know if he disapproved or was just plain confused, but he kept glancing at me and I just gave him a “I’m an NICU mama bear-don’t even try to tell me to leave this room or remind me about the hospital pumps or I will rip your face off” look (ha kidding. I’m sure I looked awkward and all sweet.) But I didn’t care if I made him uncomfortable. I had been uncomfortable and nearly depressed for 3 weeks.

10) Yes, the NICU parents still are sleep-deprived so don’t even go there-thinking if the baby isn’t with you, you sleep more. Its called A)pumping and B)parent anxiety and depressed mood and C)special medical needs. Same goes for kids with special needs/heart defects. You get up often to feed on a doctor-regimented schedule until 6 months old/heart repair (heart baby like Ethan). okay, the last one doesn’t apply until the day you room in with them, but the first two offer PLENTY of sleep deprivation, just like with any parents who got to take their child home. Many times it can be worse because of all the anxiety and depressed mood; not getting great sleep even when you can sleep.

I hope I didn’t scare anyone who anticipates having children in NICU once they are born. There have been strides to make it more comfortable and home-like across the board. They let me change diapers, give sponge baths, etc. I had many happy moments, and the best you can do is enjoy your time with your child and make it like home wherever their home ends up being for the first few weeks. I also recommend keeping mementos from NICU as you will have mostly mixed feelings about it, but with those mixed feelings will be some fond memories simply because they were the first. Here is the shadow box I did for Ethan where we included some NICU mementos.

Share in the comment section anything you would add to this list-comical or serious-that makes NICU a special challenge. I haven’t experienced a typical trip home after birth, but I don’t feel like I have to know these really are some unique challenges! I have seen other people’s birth and homecoming experiences. Much different. I’m glad they didn’t have to go through it the way we did BUT hey those babies are worth it!

If you liked this, check out other links in the “hospitalized child” category!