But this time of year, and especially with the twyns turning 5, I look back constantly and wonder where the time has gone. It literally feels like two days ago, I was rocking their little doll-sized bodies tucked into my shirt during kangaroo-care in the NICU.
|One of our favorite nurses handing Baby A to me for Kangaroo Care|
This bit of nostalgia was inspired by a friend who is a NICU nurse posting about a hard time she was having at work. I tried to reassure her by posting this photo of my Thank You note I sent to our NICU ,along with a gift, at the end of our stay, for the staff there:
|Our Thank You's from A to Z|
Breast-feeding in the NICU
Yes I think the first memory that comes to mind is the many different nurses who gently (or not-so-gently) touched my breasts while helping me get those tiny mouths to latch on to a breast larger than their heads. Yes, I'm a bit well-endowed, but seriously, those babies are TINY. There's NO WAY they are going to breastfeed. But, lo and behold, with the right hold (small, skinny, lumbar-type pillow under their bodies, propped up on the arm of the chair so that they are higher up at an angle, not parallel to your lap like on a Boppy), and an eye on their little noses for clearance, and you've got a good head start. Thanks, nurses. Thanks especially to the ones who coached the children OUT LOUD and made me laugh and not take myself so seriously. Sometimes in a foreign language (D.C. is a very International area, and who knows what languages babies actually speak.) Thanks to the nurses who knew when I was starting out I would need the privacy screen to shield me from other patients. And then thanks to the nurses who knew I was "old hat" and didn't care about the effin screen and gave me a knowing wink to make me feel at home.
When breast-feeding was a long shot: holding and diapering
|Calming her through a difficult medical treatment for her PDA|
|This look says it all: gratitude, exhaustion, having hope while giving up control|
The tips, the chats, the notes
Just sitting there watching your baby breathe is fun, but the nurses are at their job, so they are chatting about all kinds of things. And most of them are mommies, too, so they now have, literally, a captive audience, prime for pieces of wisdom. I didn't remember ANYTHING they said at the time, but it came back to me through the YEARS, seriously! YEARS. One was a twin-mommy and she said one of her twins' favorite things to do was take off each other's diapers and play with the poop. Poop, poop, poop, everywhere. Sounded disgusting. But there I was, in poopville, about 16 months later, remembering she told me to PUT THEIR DIAPERS ON BACKWARDS, so they couldn't get them off as easily. Brilliant.
A lot of talks also turned into reassurance. That the preemie clothes wouldn't last long (it's true, we were out of them within two months), the heart monitors would be a thing of the past (lucky I didn't throw them out the window before returning them properly), and that the girls were always stronger than the boys (my little sweetheart was tinier and struggled with more ailments than the boy, and she was the first to walk, talk, and manipulate. She's now the girl in charge, naturally.)
The nurses, especially on night shift, would often leave us notes or phones messages letting us know how the babies did over night. I coveted these notes and messages SO SO much. You always worry someone is going to "Brady" [have a bradycardia, or cardiac event] overnight and prove to be a major setback in his/her progress. Circumstances can change in an instant in the NICU. We, unfortunately, bore witness to this fact a few times on the 'floor', and it is heartbreaking to watch. You hope for more 'ups' than downs in your roller coaster ride to that ever-gleaming goal: homecoming day.
Then there are the good stories. The inspirational moments. I remember the Nurse coordinator recommending I attend one of their monthly reunions, when "graduates" would come visit and the Nurses would get a chance to see the preemie babies "all grown up." A very enthusiastic man swung into the lobby that night with an infant seat dangling lightly from his arm. He visited the reception desk and started to tell his story. "LOOK AT HOW BIG!" I start to hear. He two-stepped down the hall into the meeting room, and I followed directly after him. He danced around the room, proudly displaying his little baby in her car seat and shouting to the rafters, "15 POUNDS! MY. BABY. GIRL!" He took her out of her seat and talked to everyone and anyone there about his "BIG" girl. His smile was as big as she was, and I was instantly renewed.
|Two babies in two cribs instead of Isolettes! A double reason to celebrate.|
During the first two weeks, there were a lot of critical care issues and things were touch-and-go. I would not have made it through without some very powerful friendships, and family. Never have I ever leaned on them so so much, and thankfully they were strong enough to bear the burden.
After the first two weeks, it was New Years, vacation was over, so my husband started commuting from D.C. to Philly again, and I hit a routine. Every morning I would pump at home while staring at photos of my babies, and drive to the hospital. This was a large maternity ward, so I would often see a new mommy in a wheelchair, holding her newborn baby, waiting to be picked up at the front entrance to go home. I will never be able to not cry when I think or see this. My jealousy will always get the best of me. I just wanted, at that very moment, and every moment of everyday, to get my babies home. I will always wonder what it must be like to take your baby straight home, and I will never forget the feeling of *not.*
[Don't get me wrong; we are intensely lucky with our infertility and birth story. But it's still something I'd love every healthy woman of every healthy baby to not take for granted!]
I would cheer myself on the way upstairs to the NICU by getting one latte and one piece of bread pudding. I say 'piece' because it was like a cake. It was delicious. It was exactly what I needed to give me strength to get through the next feeding, hold back tears and lactation, and head straight to the hospital pump room for emotional and physical release.
I'd return to the babies and read a book by their bedsides until the next holding/feeding sequence (no smartphones back then!). Sometimes, if someone was off-schedule, I would miss one of them at this mid-day time. I'd have to wait until the 3:00 feeding to be able to hold that baby. You wouldn't want to wake them and have them getting cold before a feeding and affect their strength; so the best time to hold them was after a feeding.
|Our first 'family photo'.|
And so started another day...in three-hour-intervals...with various milestones (clothes! bottles! maintaining body temp! cribs! breastfeeding!) peppered in our lives until our favorite new holidays: Homecoming Days.
|The day we put them back together again|
Their Homecoming Days are something we hope to celebrate further down the line, when they can understand them, and when they may want their 'own' days, rather than a shared birthday, (especially one so close to Christmastime).
So with those stories recounted, I try to give you tips, if you are there in the NICU right now:
- Listen to the nurses (and doctors), they are the experienced ones in this surreal world; only they speak the language; they want what's best for you and baby. Don't be afraid to ask questions.
- Get comfortable. You will be here a while. It may only be a week, but it will still be way longer than you ever anticipated. Use tricks & trinkets to help you stay calm and centered, like accepting gifts of blankets and buying a comfy kangaroo-care-friendly shirt.
- Know you are not alone. Especially moms of multiples, many have been in your shoes. Reach out to your networks, because there is likely a friend-of-friend who can have a kind ear during this time. Some NICU's also offer mentoring.
- Don't expect to be super-mom yet. This is not reality. There is no way to 'prove' your worth or skill. Pumping breastmilk, if you can, does make you feel like you are 'contributing' something, but honestly just being present with your child is the most important thing you can do.
- Go out while you can! Shop for those last few baby items you will need; get a mani with a friend before night-feedings at home begin; shop for birthday cards for the year if you have to! Keep yourself busy outside the hospital so you remember what real life is like, because you will be back there soon. If you want to or are able to go back to work for these few weeks before maternity leave, I say go for it. I was not emotionally capable but I applaud those women who are.
Love, Hugs, Patience and Peace be with you.
Also, hopefully, a friend and a latte.
Email me at twynmawrmom [at] gmail [dot] com if you want to lean on me.