It’s probably a bit late to be writing about our experience in the NICU with T but I do still think it’s important to share our story. My heart always went out to parents whose babies were admitted to the NICU but I never expected to be one of them. Having your baby admitted to the NICU is frightening. Very frightening. I feel a little bit like an imposter writing that because, while T was admitted with respiratory distress, we weren’t dealing with some of the extremely harrowing situations that some parents are forced to deal with in the NICU. We were very lucky that T’s situation wasn’t ever dire but it was still a scary experience for us.
T was born at 4:50 in the morning. His apgar scores were very nearly perfect. A couple of the nurses wanted to give him 10s because he was so healthy and vibrant but in the end he was given 9s because “they just don’t give 10s.” T was amazing. He seemed so healthy and just fantastic but as the day went on we noticed that he was breathing very rapidly. We asked the pediatrician about it when she came to visit him and she said it was a little fast but that it seemed pretty normal. As night came he seemed to be having more and more issues breathing and we asked one of my nurses about his breathing because we were becoming concerned again. The nurse took him to the nursery on the mother/baby floor for some testing and monitoring. They weren’t happy with how he was doing in the nursery, so they called one of the NICU doctors to come look at him. By 11 pm he was being admitted to the NICU with mild respiratory distress.
The doctor that admitted us was very concerned about infection because I was GBS positive when T was born but because he came so quickly I wasn’t able to get any antibiotics while in labor. It would be a very serious situation were he to get a group B strep infection because newborns do not have the blood-brain barrier that adults do, so the infection could easily travel to his brain and cause meningitis. It could also cause sepsis and pneumonia. Obviously that would be a very serious situation for a newborn. They started T on antibiotics immediately, put in a nose cannula for oxygen, put in an IV, and did a chest x-ray. It was extremely scary because they were talking about possibly needing CPAP and a feeding tube. I sat there stunned, trying not to cry (and failing a great deal) while they poked, prodded and x-rayed my newborn.
Thankfully his CBC from earlier in the day was good (there wasn’t yet any sign of infection) and the x-ray was also good but showed a little fluid in his lungs, likely because he was delivered so quickly. They decided at that point to just monitor his breathing and administer the antibiotics. I was so relieved because it meant I could still breastfeed. He was already being taken away from me and moved out of my room; I was so afraid of breastfeeding being taken away from us as well. Thank goodness it wasn’t. It was a very big deal to me that I be able to continue nursing him. Probably because it was the one thing I felt like I, and no one else, could still do for him. It made me feel needed and productive, part of the team.
It was very difficult to no longer have him in room with me and to see him hooked up to so many wires and that first night was very scary but then things started looking better. Because all his tests looked good and there were no signs of infection, they became less worried about it being GBS related. They tentatively diagnosed him with transient tachypnea of the newborn. (Which did end up being his formal diagnosis and basically means he had fluid in the lungs and he needed to be monitored until he was breathing better on his own.) The nurse that we had the first night (whom we loved) was very proactive and since he was doing well after they got him all set up in the NICU, she turned off the oxygen and kept him on forced room air all night. We were all really happy because his oxygen saturation levels were remaining good most of the time without the oxygen. Our first NICU day nurse was a little more cautious and ended up putting T on oxygen the next day because his saturation levels would fall when he was nursing or crying. It was disappointing because it felt like a step back but obviously we wanted to do everything that he needed.
Our second night in the NICU, we once again had our amazing, proactive nurse back and she managed to not only ease T off the oxygen and put him back on room air but she was also able to take down the amount of air that was being forced through the cannula from three liters to two and eventually even down to one. I can’t say enough good things about the nurse we had those first two nights. She was so compassionate and caring. She helped to make our NICU stay a bearable experience. A NICU stay, even at the best of times, is difficult and exhausting. I had just given birth but there wasn’t really any resting or recuperating. I was back and forth from my room to the NICU every 2-3 hours around the clock, catching an hour or two of sleep when possible. I was exhausted. Nursing the baby, attending to my own recovery, visiting with E when my mom brought her over to visit – it was a lot. I am so thankful that PB was by my side (and losing sleep) every step of the way. We did it together.
We had a different day time nurse the next day (two days after he was born) and she was probably our second favorite NICU nurse. She was just another compassionate, caring person.. That day was a big one for us. T’s nose cannula came off and they also removed his IV. We were so excited! It was so nice to hold him without all the wires and tubes. The end was in sight – or so we hoped. The doctors wanted to monitor T’s breathing for a while to make sure that he was doing well breathing on his own without any assistance. He was not going to be discharged that day but I was.
Thankfully the hospital I delivered at is amazing and super baby friendly. Even though I was being discharged, they allowed me to stay in my room for another night so that I could continue to breastfeed T every 2-3 hours. We were very worried about me being discharged before T and what we would do to not have that take a toll on our breastfeeding relationship. In the end the hospital completely removed that worry. My midwives, the nurses, and the other hospital staff worked together to get me the latest discharge possible that day and then simply let us stay on in my room on the mother/baby floor until the next day.
T did great that day and through the night. At rounds the next morning, his attending doctor said that she thought he was doing great and he was ready to go home. When she told us that, even though I was expecting it, I almost burst into tears. It was such a relief to know that our baby was healthy and we could take him home.
While it does seem like I should have written this post much sooner, it also feels somewhat timely as this weekend is the NICU reunion. We plan to go take part in the festivities as a family (Hopefully…. both kids are sick, so we’ll only be taking part in the festivities if they are markedly better.) but we also plan on donating some baby hats that I have knitted and crocheted to the babies of the NICU. While T was in the NICU one of the nurses mentioned that they love getting donations of handmade hats and small blankets to give to the babies that are admitted to the NICU and this is one way we can give back because we received such great care while we were there. This weekend T will be 20 weeks old, so I’ll be donating 20 hats. One hat for each week of life. And, yes, I plan to continue that trend. My ultimate goal is to make and donate one hat for each week of T’s first year of life but more on my NICU hat project later!