Our NICU stay was just over 7 years ago. Incredible. Not incredible because of how fast time goes, but incredible because I remember it all, just like it was yesterday. After a week or so, I was really getting my feet wet and getting the hang of our routine. For those of you who have never spent time in the NICU, it's good to know that the nurses really do encourage Momma's to care for their baby as much as possible.
Daily care included taking her temperature multiple times (to ensure she was maintaining the correct body temperature outside of the incubator), weighing her (before & after every feed), changing her diaper, bathing her every few days, and learning how to breastfeed. There was this daily log chart that the nurses and I filled out everyday - here we logged her temperature, when she eliminated, her weight, and the time she ate. I started to notice, that at the end of each day on the daily log, there was "TC" written under my column (the nurses had their own column to show what they did, and I had a column to show what I did). I loved it when the nurses column was empty and mine was full - it meant that I did everything (and this helped me feel in control of my baby). So, this "TC" business, I needed to know what it meant. I asked, and a nurse told me it meant Total Care. Amazing! It's funny to write about this now, 7 years later, but I can't describe how happy something so small made me. Total care became my new goal. Total care meant I did everything to care for my baby throughout the day and the nurses were able to tend to other babies (there were usually 4 babies per nurse). I found strength knowing that other nurses and doctors would see 'Total Care' and this would let them know that Daisy's Momma knew what she was doing (always feeling like had I to prove myself)! So, I lived in the NICU from 11am - 9pm for 31 days.
We spent our time cuddling, she layed on my chest for hours. I would talk to her, tell her how strong she is, and tell her she needs to keep getting stronger because she needs to come home. I told her that Mommy misses her at night and that I hoped she wasn't sad that I wasn't there. I cried when I talked to her. The thought of her crying for me, and not being there to console her nearly killed me...I had to put it out of my mind or else I would go down a dark road. Imagine knowing your baby is crying for you and you can't help...it's just kind of better to not think about it, right? But I was getting stronger and she was getting stronger too. She learned to breastfeed at 34 weeks gestation and started to take more milk from my breast than my expressed (pumped) milk put in her NG tube. At 36.5 weeks, when she pulled out her NG tube for the zillion'th time (NICU Momma's get it!), the Doctor decided she could leave it out and be exclusively breastfeed. Hooray! I had to be uber-accurate when weighing her before and after every feed to ensure she was eating enough and gaining weight - other wise the NG tube would have to go back in. The NICU scales are so sensitive that, when you weigh your baby before and after a feed, it shows a difference in weight. So, I was always a little nervous weighing her after a feed because I did not want that NG tube put back in! I needed to get her home.
In the final days of her stay, I remember a well-meaning nurse said to me, "Well, enjoy your last few nights before Daisy is discharged because once she is home, there'll be no breaks and a lot less sleep." My reply was, "Being at home without my baby is too hard for me. I'll take all the sleepless nights if it means having her home. I'm tired of setting the alarm for 2am to pump, I want to nurse my baby in the middle of the night." She smiled and seemed a little surprised by my response. I thought that maybe I was a bit rude and quick to react, so I smiled and said, "It's just hard you know? Hard to leave my baby everyday, I need her home."
Our NICU stay was pivotal for me. It changed me and I learned how my consistent love, touch, warmth, and care was integral to Daisy getting stronger. I learned that I regulated her in every way - her emotions, her body temperature, and her heart rate. I learned how to have a voice and stay confident amidst the wires and beeping machines. I learned to not rely on the scary beeps to see what her body was doing. Instead, I learned to read her body language for signals of distress - there would be no machines to rely on at home, I needed to be the expert on my baby. And I did just that. I became her expert and she was discharged on February 17th 2010. I brought her home at a tiny 5.5lbs (born at 3lbs 12oz) and interestingly enough, hold our NICU stay dear to my heart. The saddest and scariest path of my life was the start of a journey to becoming the true Rebecca. The Rebecca that had been hiding. It is still a journey and I still hide a bit, but I can finally say that I am proud of myself.
For all my Momma's caring for their preemies in NICU's, you have all my love. This journey will change you ... let it change you. Never ever forget that you are your baby's expert. You are a gift to your baby - give them everything you have and they will give it back to you in ways you can't imagine.
The Original Breastfeeding Sleep Shirt
Facebook & Instagram @daisypopsbreastfeeding