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Surviving Life in the NICU

Surviving Life in the NICU


With Pure, we've always been really open about the fact we are not only vendors, but we are photographers, moms, and human beings.  I never felt like all of those worlds collided more than when little Henry was in the NICU.  It felt like everything was pulling on me, and I was so needed in so many different directions.

On April 30th, 2013, Henry was born.  He was 5 weeks early because I was getting preeclampsia.  I had enjoyed a pretty calm pregnancy and had been able to shoot multiple weddings and sessions, do some workshops, release new action sets and even travel to Hawaii to shoot a beautiful destination wedding.  But at 33 weeks things went south and at the end of the 34th week I was being sent in for an induction.

I'd had preemies before and they had all done pretty well in the breathing department, except for my first, but he didn't have any steroid shots since his delivery was a surprise.  With Henry getting two doses of Betamethazone, I felt like he'd be fine.  All the doctors and nurses agreed with me.

But Henry had other ideas.  He struggled to breathe and was sent down to the NICU immediately after birth and stayed on the CPAP for days.  Weaning him down to just O2 was a bit of a struggle, as was getting him off antibiotics and into a good feeding schedule.  So we were there for what seemed like forever.

It was so hard to see my baby attached to so many machines and tubes and cords, and I am pretty sure that all of those post-partum hormones didn't help matters.   Things slowly got better and Henry got stronger.  Days and weeks passed, and life, as crazy as it was, started to feel a little normal, because there was a lot of routine.  I wanted to share my thoughts for this I did to make the NICU experience easier and things I WISH I would have done.

Right after Henry was born, he was whisked away.  I'll be straight.  That was so hard for me.  Everyone had told me that he would be fine and so I was mentally ready to hold and cuddle and nurse my baby after a long labor.  I took a little time to get cleaned up, but then I was able to go visit with Henry and REALLY look at him in the nursery.  If you are able, this is such a good thing.  It helped me to really mentally and emotionally connect the fact that my pregnancy was over, labor was done, and this new little guy was mine.  It was a very important thing for me.

When I got back to my room, it was hard to be alone a lot.  My husband was like a ping-pong ball, bouncing between me, the NICU, and home with our 6 older kids.  Since Max was a few months past his 2nd birthday, he needed dad and we knew the road ahead would be hard on the little guy.  Big changes for him and the kids and mom would be back and forth from the hospital a lot.  I wish I would have called people a little more or been more encouraging of visitors.  I think a lot of people were nervous to bother me, since things had not gone as planned, but I did feel a little lonely.

I tried to spend as much time in the NICU as possible, and overall that was good, but I think I would have felt a lot stronger, a lot faster, if I would have been better about trying to rest a bit and eat more often.  I was a pumping fool and spent a lot of time mooning over my little guy, but my feet (already swollen badly from the preeclampsia) were done no favors by sitting in the rocking chairs of the NICU with my feet dangling down.  By the end of the 2nd day they looked like loaves of Wonder bread on steroids and the swelling had travelled up past my knees.  I am not saying I wish I would not have spent time with Henry, but I think a little self-care would have sped my healing along.  I still had to contend with blood pressure that was only barely starting to drop, and I think my body was tired.  So, I am passing along the fact I WISH I would have given myself permission to act like a human being and not a robot.

Another thing I want to put out there for other moms going though this is to let go of guilt and the idea of what you SHOULD be doing.  I brought my big girl SLR (a gripped 5D Mark III with a 50 1.2 and 24-70 2.8) to document the journey.  But I was emotionally and physically exhausted.  I would take a few pictures here and there, but more often than not, I would snap little images with my cell phone as I felt up to it.  Usually it would be Henry smiling while falling asleep with those sweet newborn grins, or capturing those first opening eyes and the cell phone was just there.  I felt guilty all the time that I was ruining the memories, but all of the images that I have shared in this post were from my phone.  (I admit to having run them through Lightroom and using my favorite presets though...)  The memories are saved and the guilt was really unnecessary.

Something else I learned was to bring snacks to the NICU.  Our hospital is smaller.  We almost got transferred to the bigger NICU a few cities away when it was proving very hard to wean Henry off of the CPAP.  They worried he might need a vent for a few days.  Staying at the local hospital was easier to travel between my kids in the morning and evening, and Henry for the daytime, but it meant that there was not as many amenities.  The cafeteria was only open for a few hours a day and often those times coincided with times that physicians rounded, and so quite often I found myself missing a lot of meals.  Being a new nursing/pumping mom, that was exhausting.  Snacks saved my life.  (Seriously, sometimes the NICU felt like New Mommy Survivor.)

It was so hard to leave my older kids in the morning, because they were missing me so badly, and it was so hard to leave my baby in the hospital.  I felt like a torn woman.  My kids got spring colds right about the time that Henry was born, so they could not go into the NICU to visit.  It was still so nice to have the kids come and look through the window and bond with their brother.  Skyping and Facetiming was another way for them to see what was going on with the baby.  I brought home cell phone pictures and videos and the kids all oohed and ahhed over those.  Max was especially unsure of who this mythical baby Henry was, but when Henry came home, Max was very eager to make his acquaintance, as he had heard so much about him.

One of the final things I learned was that the NICU nurses are angels and there to help in every way possible, and so if you are having issues, don't be afraid to let them know.  Henry was NOT conforming to the feeding schedule that the NICU required for release.  So he stayed.  And stayed.  And stayed.  Long after everyone assumed he'd be home, he stayed.  Which would make sense, except I was VERY away of whose feeding schedule he was adhering to.  It was the typical Rehart newborn feeding schedule.  I had experienced it with 6 other babies.  He wanted to eat on his own time, and not a pre-arranged schedule for a set amount.  I tried and tried to get him to change his mind, but he was as stubborn as could be.  I didn't want to be the squeaky wheel, so we stayed some more.  Finally, one day, in absolute despair, I cried to one of the nurses that we would be in the NICU on Henry's first birthday, because he was NEVER going to follow their schedule.  The nurse listened to my concerns and then started trying to help.  Within a few hours, she was advocating for me with my doctor and other nurses.  They set up a plan to see how much Henry would eat if he was given free reign to eat on his own schedule.  Within 3 days, we were home.  I wish I would have spoken up sooner.  Yes, I was polite, but I knew my baby and I know my family history, and they were glad for my participation in Henry's care, not only when it went along with their plans, but even when I had a different opinion.

I know this ended up being a HUGE long blog post, but in a lot of ways it was cathartic to me, and I hope it helps someone else out there.    

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