The NICU Mom Life and What I Wish I Knew by Kelly Calderon
Written by Kelly Calderon.
I was wrapping presents on Christmas Eve getting ready for Christmas and all of a sudden my stomach starts cramping. I was only 29 weeks pregnant, my heart started to beat out of my chest, I knew exactly what this meant… I was in labor. I had 4 miscarriages and a Still born and because I had an Incompetent Cervix and a Cerclage (a stitch put in place to keep my cervix closed). It was evident that I needed to get to the hospital as soon as possible. After 2 Amniocenteses, steroid shots every 6 hours for a week and not being able to stop my labor I became a NICU Mom on December 31st for the first time. I can tell you first hand that no books, or television shows had ever revealed what I and my family was up against and all the emotional ups and downs I was about to endure.
My daughter was 2 lbs 12 ounces when she was born and she had a bacterial infection all on her skin due to my water bag getting infected after not being able to stop my labor. My daughter had a blood transfusion, double hernia surgery, and was unable to breathe on her own at birth. She started on a ventilator and progressed to a CPAP and from there to a nasal cannula to room air all while being in the NICU.
Feeling Unprepared and Overwhelmed
When you have a baby early you don’t get that glamorous T.V. birth where the baby gets to lay on your chest and you get to hold them! You may get to glance at them while your baby is getting worked on by the team of doctors, weighed, Apgar scale measurements and then they are whisked off to the NICU. The doctors will tell you the worst case scenario and that maybe your baby will come home before your due date (mine was March 9th) and all of the slew of problems your child may encounter. They told me my child could be mentally retarded, blind, deaf, have water on the brain, and may never walk or talk. Now that is a lot to take in after being in labor for a week and finally having a living child at birth.
I had a team of doctors in my room along with nurses. I was about to meet a different group of doctors and some of the terms I had never heard of before like Neonatologist, and Pulmonologist. I had heard of Audiologist, Opthalmologist and Cardiologist. What I was about to learn is they all play a significant role in getting my daughter well enough to come home to me. I would also learn conversations from grams to pounds because they always give you your baby’s weight in grams, from milliliters to ounces again they would give you how many milliliters your baby drank in a day or couldn’t drink. I was shocked and surprised that they don’t start your baby off drinking milk, only sugar water.
There is nothing worse than being discharged from the hospital and going home looking in the rear view mirror to an empty back seat, the very place you thought your baby would be as you drove home. Driving home barely seeing the road because the tears keep streaming down your face. You step in your front door and pass the Nursery door and see where your baby should be and you pray that she will be there before your due date arrives. Knowing that I couldn’t even hold my baby girl, only touch her hand for the first seven days because her skin was so thin and fragile the doctors didn’t want her skin to tear. My milk only coming in my breasts on the drive back home from holding my daughter for the first time.
Being a NICU mom meant you had to keep your mommy band on and scrub in every day and put on a yellow gown and sometimes even a face mask, you could only be by your child’s isolette (a type of neonatal incubator) and the nurse would point you in the direction of your baby. Your baby has to be able to maintain their own temperature, be able to eat on their own, breathe on their own, be weened off caffeine and be a certain weight before they can come home.
There are also all the specialists that you will have to follow up with as well after your baby comes home from the hospital and not all babies come home machine free. Some babies can even come home on a heart monitor and you have to remember the black lead goes on the left and the white lead goes on the right. I had to make up a song that white is right so I didn’t forget the order. I can just tell you it is tough.
You will see other babies that are your babies neighbor and get to know those parents and then not see them at all. You will get to know the signs like a purple butterfly sticker on the incubator and know that family may have had a twin or multiples and only one or more survived.
The Lessons Continue…
I was feeling like a total failure when my milk dried up only after pumping every two hours on the hour and I could time myself because I had no baby home to distract me from the routine. My breasts were so cracked and even bled after putting on the cream that was recommended for cracking, that it looked as if I had strawberry milk. I was so conflicted about throwing it away because I knew my breast milk was the best thing for my baby and the nurses told me to bring whatever I could get , even if it had a little blood in it that it would be fine.
That is not all, my husband and I had to take infant CPR classes, Car seat safety classes and a separate parenting class before our daughter could come home as well. I had to pump my breast milk and take it to the hospital every time I visited and put the dates on them because that is the best option and the healthiest choice for them to gain weight and get all the nutrients possible for her to come home faster. I also opted to do Kangaroo care, that is where you put your baby skin to skin and hold them against you, this promotes them to gain weight faster as well. Another interesting fact is that when you have a preemie it is imperative that they don’t cry a lot, the more they cry, they can lose weight and that will set them back from coming home.
I was a NICU regular, the nurses saw me and just pointed to my daughters isolette. I visited 1st shift, 2nd shift and yes even 3rd shift. The only time I could not visit was when a preemie close to my daughters isolette was in distress, I just had to wait until after the issue was resolved. I can truly say anytime I called to check on my daughter the nurses and doctors would give me a full report on her breathing, how much she ate, weighed, if she list weight or gained weight if she was able to move up to the less severe nursery called the step down nursery, if she had any surgeries scheduled or how her jaundice was progressing under the lights.
My daughter spent a total of 44 days in the hospital before coming home on Feb 11 at 4lbs and 7 ounces. That was to say the least the greatest day for me as woman. I was finally in my eyes a Mom, being able to go home with a baby in the backseat and for me to finally bring my baby girl home to her Nursery that I had decorated and nested in, meticulously cleaned, helped put all the furniture together, ready for her to spend the rest of her years as a part of our little family.
The Second Time Around
Seven years later on Feb 25th when I had my son via emergency cesarean, he was not breathing on his own at 36 weeks. He was 4 weeks early after my Cerclage was taken out two days prior to me going into labor. I became a 2nd time NICU Mom. By then I was a pro and could handle just about anything that got thrown my way and above all I was mentally prepared and knew what was ahead of me.
My Words of Encouragement
You need a good support system and people in your corner to talk to or even vent to, sometimes all you can do is cry. Don’t let the Doctor’s report be a hindrance or a stumbling block to your faith. Worry about nothing and pray about everything. The Doctor’s told me my daughter wouldn’t be home before her due date of March 10th, and she came home on February 11th. But God!
During that time my verse to live by was Matthew 21:2. I always believed that you didn’t have to have big faith, just the faith of a mustard seed and know that when you ask for anything in prayer, believe that from the moment you ask it will be given to you! Put your burdens on the altar and leave them there. Don’t pick them back up to worry about them, leave them there and the Lord will provide in his perfect time.
If you haven’t already, check out Kelly’s empowering story: Surviving the Loss of My Stillborn Baby