Early Motherhood: NICU
This post follows on from my post about my first day of motherhood, here.
The next day, a Wednesday, continued much as the previous one had: I wandered about in a daze, NICU nurses came down every three hours to feed S for me, visitors came and went.
I eventually started using the pump, and hated it. It hurt and made a lot of noise, and it was really quite disheartening to sit there for twenty minutes and produce nothing. I started to think perhaps all the comments the ex had made were right, and I really just wasn’t meant to be a mother – I’d already almost killed her while giving birth, hadn’t I? He would encourage me to pump while he was there, and turn the dial up as far as it would go so that the pump was working really hard. It hurt so much I wanted to cry, and still nothing was coming out. I was failing at being a mother already.
Someone brought me some flowers, but the ex refused to go and find me a vase for them. He put them under my bed instead, and they just sat there and died. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t have flowers; the lady opposite me had a massive helium balloon with “It’s a boy!” on it in big letters, and he was her fourth child. I felt like I wanted someone to make a fuss of me, but nobody did.
At some point on the second day, one of the NICU nurses made a comment that she thought S looked a little jaundiced, and would get it checked. To do this they make a little prick on the baby’s heel, and then squeeze blood out of it into a little test tube. S had already had it done a couple of times by this stage, and I hated it. On the Thursday, mid-afternoon, a young female doctor came into my bay and told us that they had tested S’s blood, and she was indeed jaundiced, and so would need to go under lights. She said she wasn’t sure whether they could do that here on the ward, or if she would need to go up to NICU, but would speak to her consultant and find out. She came back five minutes later and told us that because S was already being tube-fed by NICU nurses, the consultant felt it would be better if she went up to NICU for treatment.
I don’t know what I expected to happen, but it was a shock to find that they wanted to take her right then. The nice lady who had helped me with the pump went and got a heated crib, and I had to get S dressed and put her in it. My bed was right at the far end of the ward, and as we followed her, the nurse and the doctor out of the ward I could feel everyone staring at us. I imagined they must think I’d done something wrong, made my child ill, and now she was being taken away. We walked up the corridor to the temporary NICU; they were in the process of having a fantastic new ward built, but in the meantime we had to go through an old ward, out the back and into another building. It was a long walk and I felt sick for all of it. It sounds stupid now, but until we got to the door of NICU and saw the words “Neonatal Intensive Care Unit” it hadn’t occurred to me what the letters stood for. When I saw the sign, all I could think was “my baby is in intensive care…” I started crying and couldn’t stop. It got worse as we walked in, and I looked around me: all these tiny, poorly babies, all these monitors and wires.
The NICU staff were lovely. They took S’s clothes off and put protective goggles over her eyes (this made me cry even more – the fact they were blindfolding my little girl) and turned the lights on. The consultant came in to explain what was going on, and how long he thought we’d need the lights for. There was one under her, and two above. It was very hot. He asked if we had any questions and I asked him, what do I do now? He told me to make use of the excellent babysitting services, and go out to dinner. I don’t think he understood quite what I meant. As soon as the consultant had left, the ex left too. I walked out to the ward entrance with him, crying all the time. He told me to stop, that one of his other kids had been kept in hospital with jaundice, it was nothing and everything would be fine. After he’d left I went back to NICU and sat in a chair next to S, watching her. They had put an apnoea monitor on her, and it beeped every time she breathed. Sometimes she wriggled though, and the monitor fell off and an alarm went. One of the nurses came in and asked if I was ok; I said I was fine. She told me to maybe go for a little walk and get some air. I got as far as the hospital cafe, and felt like I’d gone too far, been away for too long; what if something happened. I bought a drink from the machine and hurried back.
The shift changed over at 8 and a lady called Leigh came in to say hello. She told me she would be looking after the babies in S’s room overnight. One of the babies was almost ready to go home, and was having a trial night with his mother, so it was just S and one other, super-tiny baby in a massive incubator on the other side of the room. Because of the heat of the lights on her, S’s temperature was getting dangerously high and it was worrying us. Leigh showed me how to sponge her down with tepid water to cool her off a little, and we put a fan next to her too. I felt better now that I had something to do. Later she asked me what I planned to do and I looked at her with a blank expression. I replied, “I don’t know, stay here until they let me take her home?” She tutted at me and told me that would get me nowhere. She looked at the paperwork and said “right, we’re tube feeding her every 3 hours, and you need to pump when she’s fed, right? Well you’ll get on better with the pumping if she’s next to you, and we can try and get her to feed straight from you too… but you also need to rest.” she pulled a hand towel out of the dispenser and wrote out what she called a “magic tissue” – she told me she did this for all the mums who were a bit bewildered. She told me to go back to the ward and get some sleep, and not to come back until the early morning feed.
I folded my magic tissue, and put it in the back of my Kindle case, and wandered off to the ward. On my way there, the ex called to see how S was. I told him I had been sent back to the ward to sleep and he seemed cross – was I not staying with S in NICU? Who was going to look after her? I felt a bit put out at that, considering visiting in NICU is pretty much 24 hour access, and he had left as soon as we’d got there. I apologised to him though; I didn’t want to upset him in case he stopped coming to visit us. I went back to the postnatal ward and walked the entire length of it alone, past all these happy families with their new babies, right to my bed at the end of the ward. I pulled the curtain closed around the bed, sat down and cried. How did they expect me to go to sleep on a ward full of babies, when mine wasn’t here? After a couple of minutes one of the ward staff came to check on me. She said I’d missed dinner, but offered to get me some toast if I wanted. I said no thank you. She said if I wanted to put in my meal requests for the next day, I could go for the sandwich and fruit option and then it could just be left on my bed for me whenever I wanted to pop down. She also told me the times I needed to be on the ward to get my medication (I was still taking antibiotics, codeine and ibuprofen for a chest infection and bruised ribs), but not to worry if I missed it; I could just come and knock at the nurses’ station and someone would get it for me. The ward staff were so lovely to me, I felt so guilty having to get them to do extra trips to the medication room and things for me when they were clearly under-staffed and very busy.
On the Friday, S and B, who had been there when S was born, came to visit. While they were there, the ex made a comment to them that “every time I have a baby, I can’t stop staring at them, I hold them all the time and they’re the centre of my world… but then the next one comes along and I do the same with that one.” My friends suggested to him that perhaps he should stop having babies, and concentrate on the children he already had. By this point though, another girl was already 2 months pregnant with his next child. S and B took my house keys from me, and went and unpacked my house. They put together furniture, put clothes in wardrobes, cleaned and tidied. They put a frieze up in S’s bedroom to make it more like a bedroom, put the cot together, put her clothes into the chest of drawers, and baby toiletries lined up on top. They wired in my cooker, took stacks and stacks of rubbish out for me, everything it would normally take you a few weeks to sort out when you moved house. When they’d finished, the ex had already left for the day (he didn’t stay long – something about not liking to see S in NICU, and me so upset and drained, poor bloke). I sneaked out into the car park and they drove me home to see their work. I cried when I saw my house, which had looked awful the last time I’d seen it. There was still a lot of work to do, but now it looked more like a home. S’s room looked like a nursery. I had somewhere to bring her home to when they let us out, which I was sure would be any day now. I called the ex when I got back to the hospital and told him I’d been to see the flat. He told me I was stupid to have left the hospital; what if I’d haemmorhaged, and nobody knew where I was? My point that most women left hospital within 24 hours, and I was only still there because of S, fell on deaf ears. I was clearly an idiot. Oh well.
S spent two days in NICU. On the Saturday morning I went up to see her, and one of the lights had been taken away. The nurse told me that she had been getting too hot overnight again. They’d re-checked her blood again, and showed me where her levels were now on a graph where they’d been recording it. My poor little baby had no space left for more blood tests, both her heels were covered in little scars. The graph looked good though; her levels had gone right down below the dangerous point. They said they were waiting for the consultant to come round to see whether we could go back to the ward. Eventually a doctor came round, and they said it was ok for S to come back to the ward with me, but that she would still be under NICU care. I didn’t like the sound of that; it sounded like they could take her away again at any point. But for now, I was happy. We all paraded back down to the postnatal ward in a long line again, and back to our bay. I spent the afternoon with S down my top cuddling, determined that now my milk would come in, she would learn to feed, and we would get out of here!
I was in an incubator with jaundice when I was born, I never really thought before about what that meant or what it must have been like for my mum and you've made me wonder now. Sorry your experience in hospital wasn't great - and your ex putting the flowers under your bed? He sounds like one of the most unpleasant people I ever hope not to meet.
A lot of babies have jaundice, it's fairly common so I'm told. It doesn't make it any easier when it's your own child though. S's levels were dangerously high by the time she got treatment though, and if left untreated it can cause brain damage. Plus the lights they use are really hot and I was worried about her overheating - a big risk for cot death. It was very stressful but