November is National Prematurity Awareness Month, a time when I often reminisce of my oldest son's arrival into the world.
It’s kind of weird for me to look back on his birth story, as Nicholas is now a thriving, active, handsome, healthy 8-year-old. I want to press pause. And to be honest, I kind of miss his hectic debut, as emotional and stressful as it was.
At 20 weeks pregnant with Nicholas, I was diagnosed with complete placenta previa. My gyno told me I’d likely have numerous bleeding episodes (horrifying), be placed on hospitalized bed rest (monotonous), and birth a preemie- all of which happened.
Nicholas arrived the morning after my third bleed. He was six weeks early, 4 pounds 11 ounces- skin and bones. Granted, not anything compared to micro-preemies born every day, but still, in my mind, I had birthed a little doll.
Luckily, he was born healthy. A fighter. Didn’t have major issues. Could breathe on his own. Clearly living up to his name, meaning “victorious.” Still, he was quite premature, and so began our stay in the NICU.
I didn’t have a clue what to expect when they rolled my c-sectioned body into the NICU- I thought NICUs were for sick babies…Nicholas wasn’t sick. He was small, but fine. And like any new mom, I wanted to bring him home.
However, home wasn’t an option. As a preemie, Nicholas had to reside in the NICU for an undisclosed amount of time- or in other words, when doctors said it was OK to bring him home.
The NICU was much more welcoming and accommodating than I anticipated. The area was lined with pods, and we joined a pod that was shared with another family.
We had our own corner complete with a bassinet, changing station and rocker. Our compact area could be enclosed with a screen, granting us privacy to bond with our newborn. There was also a whiteboard, documenting Nicholas’ information and screens with a handful of wires that were hooked up to Nicholas. The wires triggered beeps measuring his heart rate among other things.
That’s what I remember. The beeping. Constant beeping. And when the beeping became irregular, my heart would skip a beat.
Upon giving birth, every ounce inside of me changed. Like most new moms, I was gifted true purpose- my heart was full- and life before my son was only life leading up to him. Yet, the element of his early arrival took quite an emotional toll on me- I didn’t leave that pod, surrendering my hospital room and the recommended sleeping recovery of a C-section. I also became obsessive-compulsive. I wouldn’t take my eyes off visiting friends and family, concerned Nicholas would break. Truly, I didn’t want anyone breathing on him. That hasn’t changed…nearly eight years later (LOL).
Nicholas couldn’t keep his temperature normal, so he was constantly bundled in clothing, hats and fleece sleep-sacks that he seemed to drown in. (The influx of “preemie fashion” hadn’t seem to hit the market.) I held him and sang to him as much as I could, but mostly sat in the rocker glued to his bassinet, attached to wires and those UV lights that keep babies warm.
It wasn’t until day two (I think?) that a kind nurse asked me if I wanted to kangaroo. My first response was natural- WTF was kangarooing? But then she explained the common NICU term.
Kangarooing was skin-to-skin contact between mom and baby or dad and baby. While I snuggled him as much as I could, I truly hadn’t had that OMG bonding moment with my son, so I welcomed the idea.
The nurse helped set me up, undressing Nicholas to his diaper. She handed me my nearly naked skin-and-bones doll and closed the curtain. I laid Nicholas on my bare chest, covered us both, and started rocking. And that’s when the tears came. Unstoppable new mom tears. Tears that I prayed would reach any God to look after my baby. I was simply overcome by the magnitude of motherhood that it all overflowed.
That is the most vivid memory I have in the NICU.
We remained in the NICU for seven nights. We had up days and down days. Days when doctors were optimistic we’d be released, and days when doctors insisted we stay. It was an emotional roller-coaster, but even a bumpy journey can be a beautiful experience.
The nurses were amazing. It was as if I had a team of teachers showing me how to handle a new baby. They held my hand along the way. They talked to me. And they sincerely cared for my son.
I never want to claim our story compares to the many NICU stories I hear so often. Babies born super early, fighting for their lives. Babies who can’t breathe on their own. Families who spend months in the NICU. Babies who don’t make it due to premature birth. In comparison, our story was a breeze. Just a quick stay in the NICU. But to me, it was seven days that changed me forever.
Nicholas, now eight, is a kind, compassionate old soul. Sweet. Caring. Calm. Peaceful. The flurry of his arrival only resulted in the strong yet sensitive little boy who ultimately stole my heart.
As I sit here, wrapping up this short recap of our stay in the NICU, I can’t help but wish I could spend one more quiet moment kangarooing with my four-pound first born. Granted, I’m a mom of three amazing little boys now, but memory of me and Nicholas will always be at heart, as he’s my first, and the person who made me a mother.