My first son was born at 34 weeks and 3 days. He spent the first ten days of his life in the NICU which is not really something that any parent is prepared for. It was a quick choice that he was going to be delivered that day via c-section and was before the time of most smart phones, so I didn’t Google anything about the NICU, nor had I read anything beforehand because it just wasn’t something that you think you will experience as a first time mom. Although they tell you to expect for your baby to stay in there until their due date, they rarely do and I ended up with a baby whose gestational age was 35 weeks and 6 days home with me. The NICU comes with many ups and downs and there were a couple of days that were better than others, but for the most part the entire experience was wonderful.
The nurses are literally the best in the hospital. They all have fantastic personalities, most have a great sense of humor and they have the patience of saints because they deal with nervous parents and unpredictable infants all day long. I felt very confident when Chase came home because he was on a set schedule, could sleep through alarms dinging day and night and I knew more about a newborn’s respiratory and heart rates than most parents could imagine.
There was a very tiny part of me that would have been sad had any of my other children not gone for a visit to the NICU. Not for them, but more for me. Although I would have loved for my newborn to sleep in my room and to know what it feels like to discharge from the hospital with an infant, the NICU kind of cheats you out of the first week (or weeks) of parenthood. You can sleep in your own bed, don’t have to attend to a baby every three hours, or even really wake up in the middle of the night, and you can get everything ready for when the baby actually does come home.
So imagine my surprise when I was told that my baby was going to be born at 32 weeks and 4 days. I had a nurse practitioner visit from the NICU, and unlike the first visit, this time I knew what to expect. I knew it would be a roller coaster, one step forward and two steps back. I knew what each and every alarm meant and which ones to worry about. I was much calmer this time because the nurses had done such a fantastic time helping me deal the first time. I would say 90% of those nurses that Chase had are still in the NICU. One of them greeted me at the door on Ryder’s second day there to give me a hug. In fact, she saw when I was admitted the Friday before Ryder was born and didn’t come see me that day because she knew she would see me early the next week when she was working.
The hospital where women deliver was moved three years ago and the NICU in the old hospital was a large open room, this one has small, private rooms. The old NICU was about a half mile away from my parents’ house, the new one is three miles down the road from our new house. There were several nurses that remembered us from when Chase was in the NICU, and there were several new faces, but I did not meet a nurse that I didn’t care for. They literally are the best.
Ryder’s NICU experience was different from Chase’s. While Chase was briefly on a ventilator to help him with his breathing, Ryder never was, despite the fact that he was born two weeks earlier. In fact, Chase was considered the sickest baby in the NICU for days, that was never the case for Ryder. Chase’s biggest issue aside from his breathing difficulties was the fact that he would forget to breath while he ate. That was not a problem for Ryder. But he was not without his own issues. He was on oxygen much longer than Chase was, he wasn’t as good of a digester of food that Chase was. But his 32 week gestation slowed him down more than Chase. I knew that we would be in the NICU for weeks with Ryder, and we were. We ended up spending 25 days there, but it could have been way worse. I thought he would be in there for four weeks at the very least, and he was actually supposed to leave after 20 days, but had a bit of a setback. I was super depressed after he had his hiccup, but I honestly wasn’t ready to have him home yet.
The twenty five days was great because we had time to get the nursery together (up until the weekend after I got home from the hospital, that room was still an office), to bring down clothes and accessories from the attic to figure out what we needed to buy, to get caught up on sleep, to prepare Chase for his brother to come home and to prepare myself for the reality that I actually did have a baby and that he was eventually going to come home.
Was it hard? Yes. Did I hate every single minute that I wasn’t with my new baby? Yes. Was I so over having to get in my car to drive up to the hospital to find a parking space to walk to Labor & Delivery to check in to walk to the NICU to scrub in to walk to my child’s room, which meant that I needed to leave my house approximately 25 minutes before he ate in order to feed him? Umm, yes. But I got to catch up with my pals from four years ago, make some new friends, learn more about my baby and how he eats and what he tolerates, he was able to get healthier and then we came home, which made homecoming even sweeter than it already was.