Dear NICU Mama and Papa... I feel with you. I hear you!

 The loneliness that comes with the fears, helplessness and hope is significant. I cannot imagine going through it alone. It is not something I would wish for any parent. Sometimes they need a helping hand and NICU offers that, but it does not stop you from worrying as a parent. Having a baby is isolating enough, leave alone having one spend time in NICU and you are alone without family support and no support network either.

I ached when I had to walk away from her the first evening and had all the horror images flood through my head, I found myself run back inside the NICU, cuddled her and whispered in her ears 'be good here and don't cry too much, there are other babies to be taken care of also, otherwise only you will suffer, be good my baby', and she did because the nurses praised on how quiet and lady-like she was. One said 'oh my word, you little girl is a lady, she sneezes with her Pinky finger extended haha

I have gone through the sleepless nights when I had to leave my daughter in the hospital as i had to be discharged, there was nothing medical about me being kept in the hospital. So every day i would take the tram like everyone else with pumped milk in tow and sore breasts heading to the hospital to see my wee baby. I have gone through moments of anger when I met neighbours on the stairways congratulate me and I had nothing to show for it, I went through sleepless nights, waking up at 2am to go in her beautifully decorated room and cry my eyes out looking at the clean cot where she should have been sleeping in and she wasn't, I had moments where I would kneel down to pray and lack words, nights when I would call the NICU gone 1am to check how she was doing and if she was sleeping. I went through fear of walking back in NICU once and hearing that she succumbed, I had terrors, nightmares and loads of guilt those 8 days and they were the longest,. I felt guilty and questioned if it was my fault she had to come early, did I not eat something I should have,... I have been that NICU mama who boarded the tram with tears all the way home and slept through them. So i understand your journey, believe me, I hear you. 

When i was taken in to hospital 3 weeks before my due date for a normal check-up, they noticed I had more protein in my urine, severe oedema and something with my blood. I was booked in a room immediately and explained to, 'your baby has to be born and I think by tomorrow already as we suspect Pre-eclampsia on you'. My mind went in a haze, I had just immigrated to Holland, my mother's flight wasn't due for another 4 weeks, my stuff was still everywhere, I knew nobody other than my then boyfriend's family and friends and I found myself in a culture unknown to me.  And true, my daughter was born the following day after a failed induction led me to C-section. She weighed 1572grams, less than 2kgs packet of sugar. She was so tiny my heart ached for her. The positive thing was that all her organs were formed, and she was breathing by herself. Still she was classed Premature due to her gestational age and weight. And luckily by day 2 my milk came through and i became mother-goat. I got strong milk very soon too as my daughter added the recommended weight on and by the 9th day she was out to be monitored in the outpatient department. We were very grateful and i look back on those moments and remember how very lucky we were as the second cot to where my daughter laid, the little boy died 4 days in NICU. 

The 'trick' this particular NICU used was that the baby cots started their journey from the right side of the room, so the right side when you entered. Your hope as a NICU mama/Parent was that when the cots moved towards the left and towards the door you were heading out. Words were not shared as to when your child would be discharged for fear of giving you false hope, or hope that could be hindered by whatever reason, so that was the idea we went with. It was a nice way of communicating without having to doubt and ask numerous times too when your child was going to be discharged. 

This is not a journey to travel through by yourself. If you have no family members and no support, contact those you don't know also. Many of us Doulas would support a family going through all eventualities of birth. I mean it from the bottom of my heart. I would LOVE to give another parent the hope I wish I was given, the encouragement I was given, for many, questions run through your minds, many doubtful moments come by when your amazing paradise is suddenly jeopardised. 

NICU brings with it different aspects in the family. For us it was being careful where we took our daughter, asking people to come only if they were well, not taking her to day-care even as she grew up beautifully and the carefulness around her. We didn't even have babysitters for her, she was only ever babysat by her grandparents. For us the experience taught us how precious life truly is, for as a couple we were tested, I would snap at my boyfriend back then without care, for I was worn out, worried, helpless, fearful and he saw through me so with time learned to back off or approach me differently. For us the experience toughened us up, we started parenting practically and the need to be hands on geared us up to recognise when we needed to avoid exposing her to certain environments and not only were we protective, we were aware of her capabilities and weaknesses very early. Luckily for us, she progressed so well. She started sitting at 3 months, she spoke two languages and in sentences at 18months and was walking by her first birthday. Today she is a healthy 6 year old, very bubbly, knows what she wants and very caring to other children older and younger than herself. 

What i learned from my experience was, as a parent you hold on all the opportunites presented to you at that time

  1. Dont be too hard on yourself/yourselves
  2. Aknowledge what is going on and hold on to the little hope present to you
  3. Ask questions and ask some more for your own surety
  4. Communicate between yourselves. Men are very good at putting on a front, please share your worries to each other, its a journey for you both
  5. Be grateful for every little thing baby is able to achieve