No parent enters pregnancy expecting their child(ren) to need a NICU stay.
But the truth is, if you have a high-risk pregnancy and especially if you are carrying multiples, you should do your do-diligence and at least read about what a NICU stay could entail. I say this very humbly, as I was the first time mother who was carrying twins and did not read a damn thing about the NICU and was then blinded sided when I found myself confronted with the reality of my situation.
Now, if you are a mother who is carrying multiples, please keep in mind that the following is intended merely to give you things to discuss with your partner, and as a starting point for conversations with your health care practitioner. The following points are taken from my experience at two NICU’s ( a level 4 and a level 2), and is not representative of all neonatal intensive care units or nurses.
Having the right conversations with your health care practitioner will reduce trauma.
Okay, so that’s out there. Even if you are completely prepared for a NICU stay, the process is still going to be a little traumatizing. Just being real. But, I believe, at least in my case, that the trauma could have been reduced some if I had prepared myself with what to expect before hand by asking the right questions.
- You might not get to see your baby right away. I had both experiences. My daughter was held up, wrapped in a blanket and I was able to hold her for two minutes before the nurses whisked her away. My son, on the other hand, was immediately taken from the room. My husband may remember it differently, but I have no memory of my son even being held up for me to see. The first time I was able to see my son was six hours later.
- You may not have any privacy. Here we also experienced both sides of the spectrum. In one NICU my twins each had their own private room, in the other we were in a large room filled with roughly twenty incubators lined in rows. Both has its pros and cons. There was a quiet sense of camaraderie in the large NICU, but equally during the exceptionally hard or scary moments there was zero privacy. That being said, there wasn’t the guilt of having to choose whose room to sit in at that moment (and always having to leave one baby alone), and even the three days we spent in those rooms felt terribly isolating.
- There will be LOTS of tubes and wires. And beeping. And you will quickly learn what all those numbers on the machines mean and will stare at them obsessively all day long.
- Your child may need extra assistance beyond the standard wires and tubes. In our case, my son needed a c-pap machine to assist with his breathing for the first 24 or so hours. I’ve since learned that this is common, and most always short-term.
- You may not get to breastfeed. Or personally feed your child at all for the first little bit. If your health care practitioner is preparing you for a possible NICU stay, lower your expectations in this area and be happy with whatever happens.
- There are two types of NICU nurses. One who supports the parents and the one who works only for the baby. Both are doing their jobs correctly and both are providing exceptional care for the patient. However, only one of them makes life easier and less traumatic. I actually had one nurse “yell” at me because I changed my sons poopy bum outside of her schedule, and was messing with her routine. But I also had other nurses who were loving, who remembered I was the mother who needed to be with her children. If you have nurses you click with, request with the head nurse that they be assigned to your child during their shifts.
- If your child is born prematurely, expect your NICU exit date to be the original due date. If your child comes home sooner than this, awesome! But the nurses and doctors will tell you not to expect it.
- Every NICU has a different set of guidelines and rules that they follow for parents and visitors. Give your local NICU’s guidelines a little glance if your are a high-risk pregnancy. This would have saved me TONS of trauma if I had known ahead of time that I wouldn’t be able to touch my children without latex gloves and a surgical gown on for the first couple of days at our second NICU.
- There’s always a parent who has it worse than you. The NICU is an extremely humbling experience where you witness the extreme fragility of life. At the time, I remember my husband and I saying to each other, “at least its just breathing and eating problems”. As if, that was no big deal. And at the time, compared to some of the things we had seen, it really wasn’t a big deal.
The NICU is going to suck regardless of what hospital or NICU level you are in. It’s just not a happy place. But I truly believe it doesn’t have to be all scary and full of unnecessary trauma. Talk with your health practitioner about what (if anything) could prompt a NICU stay for your child(ren). Arm yourself with knowledge!
Have NICU questions or twin delivery questions? Ask me in the comments!