Editor’s Note: September is Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Awareness Month, designed to honor families who have used these medical facilities (one in 10 babies spend some time in a NICU) and the health professionals who care for the them. Several contributors to the website Fathers of Multiples, where this article first appeared, recently wrote about their NICU experiences.
Most defining, stressing time of our lives
No words or experience can prepare you for the roller coaster of emotions of being a NICU parent. Our children are both NICU graduates. Born at 33 weeks gestation, they each had pulmonary and gustatory [tasting] issues. Both children were born and immediately placed on bubble CPAP machines. Each received doses of caffeine to prevent bradycardias (low heart rate) and both were being fed via oral gavage [tube]. Our son and daughter each had their own trajectory of milestones to reach. Fortunately, somehow, both were released on the same day.
That first month of parenting while in the NICU was perhaps one of the most defining and stressful times of our lives not only as new parents but also as people. We learned to truly appreciate the small things and celebrate each moment as it came to pass. The last, and arguably the most important, lesson we learned is that our children are fighters. They are strong beyond measure and our daily source of inspiration to be better parents.
– Jeffrey Bernstein
Longest three days
We had one twin in NICU and one twin with me in the ward. It was so difficult watching them take your baby away in a fish tank before you could even touch her. Worse, when you realize that [you and your spouse] aren’t even going to be able to talk about it because you need to split up so both your children have a parent.
But after the initial shock, and being told the one in NICU would be OK — just being assessed for infection — I just took advantage of learning what to do with one small baby and hoped those new skills would transfer when I had two!
Our hospital was so woefully understaffed. Nobody told me the procedures about feeding two babies in different places. My advice would be: Just ask! If their system doesn’t work for you, tell them what you need. They allowed me to have my dad come in and sit with one twin. This was so me and my husband could go to NICU. … [It was] the longest three days ever, but I knew both twins were receiving the care they needed.
– Kate Millerchip
Best neonatal care possible
One of our twins spent two weeks in the NICU, and the other one, almost two months. Now, 5 1/2 years later, I can still remember almost every detail. I can close my eyes, and still recall what it was like to deliver breast milk from my wife’s hospital room to the NICU. Late at night. Stocking-footed. Excited to see my new baby boys and bring photos back for their mother, who wasn’t medically ready to leave her room yet. One of the hardest things was being able to bring the older twin home home, and not his brother. Knowing that our younger son was in the hands of some amazing men and women, getting the best care possible, made the difficult transition a little easier.
– Kevin Zelenka
I’m forever grateful
As I understand it, our NICU experience was relatively unique. We had a private room and were able to room in with the kids 24/7 if we wanted. That aspect of it is a bit of a double-edged sword. While it’s great to get to know your kids and get involved with the care right away, you also see things that nothing can prepare you for.
Little Tori had some respiratory issues from the start and nothing quite prepares you for waking up at 3 a.m. with alarms going off and about 10 people swarming the room because your little girl was breathing so hard she popped her lung and her chest cavity was filling with air (pneumothorax). A few days with a chest tube and she’s fine now but that’s a memory I don’t think I’ll ever forget and I’m forever grateful to the NICU team for being there and taking care of the problem.
– Bill Boldman
Flood of emotions
Holding your NICU babies for the first time comes with a flood of emotions. They may be tiny, but they are the strongest fighters. Having them be together for the first time after delivery is a beautiful memory, guaranteed to bring tears and smiles.
– Becky Lynn