Being in the NICU sucks. Don’t ever doubt it. All these people that have happy, healthy, normal pregnancies and deliveries have a serious blessing. They get to experience holding their child right after they are born. They get to attempt breast feeding. They get discharged from the hospital together where they can control the type of diapers, clothing, feeding supplies, laundry detergent, and welcome family and friends to see their precious addition (You can have four on the list of visitors, and that’s it!). When my delivery involved phrases like “emergency” and “life saving,” my dreams of having a natural, organic delivery and home for my little baby died a slow, painful death in exchange for the hope of keeping my little girl alive and growing so that someday I could take her home.
I really admired how my sister had done things for her babies. She used chlorine free diapers, and that was something that I really wanted to do as well. There is research that shows chlorine has a contributing factor to the increase of cancers in the reproductive organs. Also, many disposable diapers are bad for the environment. I had my heart set on getting chlorine free diapers for my daughter. Alas, with her early arrival, she received the diapers available at her NICU, which are Pampers and Huggies. While the itty, bitty diapers are cute, they are not the organic, chlorine free diapers that I had envisioned for my little girl.
Since my pregnancy was really crappy, I was really looking forward to the bonding time that takes place right after birth. I was anticipating the endorphin rush and the gift of providing colostrum to my little girl right after I delivered her. Because my actual delivery took place in a cold, sterile room while I was in a medically induced sleep, I did not get this. Not only was my breast not the first thing in her mouth, but also, the first thing in her mouth was an intubation tube providing medication and oxygen for her to breathe. The coups de gras of this for me was when the occupational therapist offered her a pacifier without even asking me if I wanted her to have one or what brand I would want her to use if I wanted her to have one.
I did not get to see my baby for almost two days after she was delivered because my medical stats prevented me from standing, walking, and eating. Let me tell you, the turkey sandwich I ate after 48 hours without food was the most delicious thing I’ve had in my life. The hospital sent me a lactation consultant to help me hand express the colostrum from my breasts to send over to my daughter in the NICU. She received it on a cotton swab that was almost as big as her mouth. The first thing to get milk from my boobs was not my baby. It was a Medela breast pump. I was excited that I had milk to give her at all, seeing as she still had 12 weeks before she was supposed to be breathing the same air as the rest of us. I got placed on a grueling pumping schedule to save my milk from drying up. If I wanted to preserve the chance of breast feeding my daughter, I had to religiously wake up at all hours of the night to express milk out of my breasts. If I didn’t do it in a regular fashion, my milk would be gone and with it the best form of nourishment for my extremely premature daughter.
I began to deliver my breast milk to the hospital, and the NICU team began to feed it to my daughter about a week after she was born and had resolved her blood pressure issue. They fed it to her through an OG or feeding tube. At some point (unknown to me) they began to put what is known as “human milk fortifier” in my breast milk for her. When I found out about this, I was LIVID. They were putting FORMULA in MY breast milk that I had excruciatingly pumped at all hours of the night. I felt so betrayed. I had expressly stated on our paperwork that she was to be BREASTFED. However, since she was a premature baby in the care of the NICU, my opinion (while heard…) was moot. The neonatologists explained that she needed the calories to develop, but that did not make me feel better about her being placed on formula in addition to my breast milk without even talking to me about it.
After getting discharged from the hospital (which was a giant boo hoo fest… hardest thing… God that was hard), I made it my mission no matter how much pain I was in and no matter how much of a pain in the butt it was for my family that I was going to see my daughter every day in the NICU. Turns out the NICU had a shortlist for people allowed to go through the heavy, double doors. Four pre-registered and cleared people in addition to the parents are allowed in. Therefore, any visitors that came to see me not on the permanent pre-cleared list had to meet with me in the waiting area of the hospital. It was for her best interest – she has basically no immune system. It just made me feel that much more controlled, though.
All of this has left me with a sense of grief. My mom tries to tell me that I can “parent” her the way I want to once I bring her home, but all of her “firsts” are taking place in an environment that is not what I wanted for her at all. As much as it has hurt, I have had to swallow these jagged pills, knowing that it is all for her interest. I have had to just accept that it is all beyond my control right now, and that I have to try to enjoy the opportunities given to me to “parent” my child. Depending on her nurse, I can assist in changing her diaper, calming her down through methods approved by her occupation therapist, hold her during a pre-determined time called Kangaroo Time, and listen to her doctors and nurses talk to me about what medicines and treatments she has prescribed to help her.
For a planner (self admitted control freak) and natural person, this experience has been a nightmare. Even so – I’m thankful that she is in their care, as without them and their expertise, she wouldn’t be here. This nurse practitioner’s blog really stated it best to help me swallow these pills:
Breastmilk is best. It is the best nutrition that nature intended for full term, healthy babies. However, nature did not intend for premature babies to live. That is why breast milk must be supplemented with fortifiers to provide them the nutrition they missed during the third trimester of pregnancy.