Birth Story [part II – NICU]

[cont from Part I]

Kyle went with P and suddenly I was alone in my room (with my mom at least) and no baby.  WTF?!?  Did that really just happen?  I felt like I was in a nightmare.  What was going on!?  Worst of all was that Kyle had my cell phone and his so I zero way to get a hold of anyone.  I was stuck in my room without my husband or son.  Can someone please update me!!!!!  I was so out of touch.

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The only photo I had of my baby (taken by Kyle in the NICU)

Eventually Kyle came back to my room to tell me what was going on.  P had been in respiratory distress and they were doing everything they could to keep him adequately oxygenated.  Kyle didn’t know much about the rest of the details because he’s not very medically inclined, but I managed to piece things together.

[I will say that at no point did actually fear for P's life.  He didn’t actually code despite the “code team” being there after his delivery.  Also, I trust the doctors and nurses at my hospital without reservation.  The staff at UCLA Ronald Reagan is 100% who I want providing care to me or my loved ones.  So I never doubted that he was getting the absolute best treatment available.  However.  Even though knowing he was in such capable hands did offer some comfort, the rational part of my brain was at odds with the emotional (and hormonal) part of my heart.]

I was in a sort of daze that first hour after delivering.  Or shock.  Everyone else seemed to want to move ahead as if things were normal (and I did too), but things weren’t normal.  I went through the motions.  I ordered breakfast.
Later an attending from the NICU came to talk to me.  Kyle brought her to my room in L&D because he wasn’t able to take in everything she was saying to him in the NICU.  She was optimistic that they wouldn’t need to intubate him, but wanted my permission.  I said do whatever you have to.

It seemed like both an eternity and no time at all that I was on the L&D unit, but as soon as my epidural wore off I was on my way to the maternity unit.  But not before testing out my sea legs with a short shuffle to the bathroom.  Oh man what a mess.  But I couldn’t even start to focus on that.  My mom and Marie brought all the crap from the room to my new room while Kyle pushed me in the wheelchair to meet my son in the NICU (up to this point I only had that one crappy iPhone photo of him that is shown above).  As soon as I scrubbed in and went to his crib I burst into tears.  I have no words.  It’s not something I can write about.  Not now, maybe never.

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First NICU visit

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Meeting P

It was weird (sad) to be on the maternity unit without a baby.  I’m really glad my family was there, with presents and a positive attitude, to distract me.  I was holding it together pretty well on the outside, but on the inside I was in turmoil.  The medical part of my brain was on overdrive.  Texting and talking to my dad and bestie Lauren was a huge help too since they are also in the medical field (especially Lauren since she’s an OB expert with MD friends in peds).

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Fake it ‘til you make it smile (nervous/freaking out on the inside but staying composed on the outside)

photo 2

New parents

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These are the only pics I had of him for a while.  I looked at them during breast feeding to remind me of what my little guy looked like.  It’s actually really hard to look at the NICU pics now.

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Because I was limited in my activity (and was required to take a wheelchair if I wanted to go anywhere in the hospital), Kyle would walk over to the NICU to deliver my pumped milk.  He got to see P way more than I did those first few days and it broke my heart.  He took lots of videos, which I also watched while breast feeding (and around the clock), that are hard to watch now.  They just remind me of that scary time.  It’s difficult to put into words.  I had so many emotions running through me, as a nurse and as a patient and as a mom.

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Kyle and PAC man

I pumped every 2 hours while I was on the maternity unit (during the day at least – during the night it was more like every 3-4 hours).  I wanted P to get my colostrum desperately and I realllllly didn’t want him getting the nasty* formula that the hospital used.  Whenever I could I visited the NICU to see him.  Kyle would push me over in the wheelchair, where we had to scrub in.  Even though he was the stud of the NICU (full term, no warmer, no incubator thing, etc) he still had oxygen, an OG tube, a central line, and the tele monitors attached to him.  So for the first day and a half I couldn’t even hold him.  It was one of the most tragic parts of my whole birth experience.  I always pictured myself getting to bond with my boy, him on my chest, breast feeding, and just being with him constantly after he was born. But what ended up happening was basically the opposite.  I’m actually more depressed thinking about it now than I was in the moment, but that’s probably because at the time I was just so focused on him being okay.  I couldn’t even think about the stuff I was missing out on (we were missing out on).  Fortunately, he was getting the absolute best care so I was really confident that whatever happened, he was in the best hands.

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Another NICU visit

My little guy proved his resilience right away (maybe he just wanted to create some buzz around his arrival).  There was some question over whether or not he aspirated meconium during delivery or if the respiratory distress was retained fetal fluid or pneumonia, but in the end his x-rays cleared up and he was was weaned off oxygen by his second day of life.  So I was able to pick him up!!

Next step was removing the OG tube (it was in place because infants swallow a lot of air when on high flow oxygen, so it was there to remove the air from his stomach).  That meant he would (finally) be able to get my breast milk (and we could start trying to breast feed).  All the colostrum that I’d previously pumped was being stored in the NICU freezer.  I’m lucky that my supply was pretty solid from the start.  I had enough that they didn’t even need to supplement with formula the entire first day.

*I know formula isn’t the enemy.  I don’t want to get into a debate about it.  I don’t mean to make it sound awful, it’s just not what I wanted for my son.  I ate organic veggie hippie food my entire pregnancy, so the idea of non-organic dairy based processed stuff going into him before my breast milk was…frustrating.  That said, I quickly realized the ticket out of the NICU involved formula.  You have to pick your battles.

The thing about breast milk is it doesn’t have as much sugar as the TPN he had been getting through his central line.  Obviously he couldn’t eat while he had the OG tube, so he was getting vitamins & minerals via IV.  Weaning him off that was the next step after the oxygen (aka ensuring his blood sugar didn’t plummet from the change in source of nutrition).  My goal was to get him home asap.  Hospitals are for sick people and my baby was healthy.  The longer you’re a patient, the more you’re at risk for getting sick(er).  I think it’s the result of being a nurse, but the hospital grosses me out.  Maybe everyone feels that way.  Maybe not.  I’ve seen too much though.  The behind the scenes.  But back to the story.  As badly as I wanted him to get exclusively breast milk, my priority was getting him home, which meant I had to compromise on how I felt about formula.

Initially, I was very clear in communicating to the staff that I didn’t want P getting formula without my permission (my breast milk supply in the freezer was more than adequate to feed him via syringe since I couldn’t be there around the clock to know when he wanted food).  So the nurses were feeding him my breast milk.  I’m so so happy the NICU staff was behind me.  They were (are) wonderful.  They also wanted me to give him breast milk and encouraged me to bring the pumped milk every 2 hours; and in the end they used every last drop.  They never made me feel like I was a nuisance.  Or that I was an anal new mom.  They also wanted the best for P.

However, at a certain point it became clear that my breast milk wasn’t going to be quite enough.  So that’s when I had to decide which was more important – supplementing my milk with some formula to get him off the TPN to get him home vs. feeding him my breast milk only.  Well, obviously I chose the first one.  I wanted my baby home, in my arms, free of lines and tubes and monitors.

Once again, my little boy showed his ability to overcome.  He was off TPN by the end of the second day and the NICU team decided to send him to the step down.  Hooray!  No more central line!

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Look ma, no tubes!

I didn’t really know what I had in store for me at the step down, but I did know he got his own room and we could continue to work on breastfeeding.  The step down unit was called the “growers & feeders”.  The bummer about the whole thing was that I was about to be discharged (but he had to stay another night).  Kyle and I figured that him having his own room would be okay though, so we quickly went home, showered (in my own bathroom!! hallelujah!!), re-packed, and returned to the hospital.

FYI, it’s super hard to part with your infant.  Leaving the hospital to go home without him was the most bizarre thing ever.  It’s definitely not what I ever anticipated.  But again, I was just focusing on the most important thing of all, my healthy boy.

To be continued…

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72 thoughts on “Birth Story [part II – NICU]

  1. Sarah

    I am really happy to know that you and your baby are doing well now. My niece was in the NICU for 3 months or something, and it was heart-wrenching for my sister and BIL. I think that, even as a nurse who rationally understood all the facts, it’s understandable that you still felt strong emotions. I only learned through the experience with my niece that some women experience post-traumatic stress after events like this, and I don’t know why I hadn’t considered it before. I hope writing out your story is helpful for you, and thank you for sharing! It sounds like things went the best they possibly could have; probably in large part due to your capable hospital.

  2. Abby

    Yes to what Sarah said. Like I mentioned, I have friends who just had twins last month and were finally able to bring them home three weeks later. They said leaving them was the hardest thing EVER, but they’re so grateful that the care they received will set them up for a smooth return to their forever home :)

    It sounds like despite the bumps and bruises, things really couldn’t have gone any better in terms of his care. You’re lucky you have such great staff and support and now, a healthy baby boy. He looks so big!!! And healthy!!!

    My heart is so happy for you and Kyle.

  3. Lori

    Thanks Elise – this was obviously hard to share in some parts but thank you for doing it anyway.

    X
    Cheers
    Lori

  4. Ammie

    This part was harder for me to read than the first. I can’t even imagine how you must have felt without your baby right next to you. You are one tough cookie and it appears that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Sending oceans of love to you and your little family. xo

  5. carol

    Oh my! This was a difficult read. My heart goes out to you and Kyle and little Patrick. It’s wonderful that he and mom and dad are doing well now. He’s beautiful!!! Congratulations!

  6. Kate

    What a terrifying time. It’s easier now, of course, knowing that everyone is happy and healthy and home, but thank you for sharing your experience so candidly.

  7. Robin

    Congrats on your beautiful baby boy! I’m so sorry you had to go through the experience you did. We also did NICU time-98 days. Obviously our situation was different because my daughter was born 14 weeks early but 1 day or 200 days….it doesn’t matter…no one should have to have their baby in the NICU and leave the hospital without their baby:-( Missing out on that birth experience is awful and it took me a long time to talk about it. Thank you for sharing your story and I’m so happy you are all home as a family now!!!

  8. Sharon

    Elise, I’m so happy for you. My firstborn was in the NICU for 17 days, so I understand. I think I had a mild case of PTSD after his birth. And after the birth of his sister (I was in more danger from that birth than she was, probably). But all is well that ends well!

  9. sarah w

    I had a similar experience and remember that same ‘fog’ feeling while you are in the moment and not really processing the whole thing til we got home. Our son was in the NICU for 5 days and we camped out there with him. I just wanted to be with him.
    You guys were really strong and it sounds like you have an awesome support system! And I have to say you look great in all your pics despite the circumstances. You are a glowing mama!

  10. Kori

    Congrats! Thanks for sharing! I’m glad you’re able to reflect & share not just the events, but the emotions as well. It was really hard read some of what you wrote, and I still haven’t written out my son’s whole birth story. He was born 56 days too early and we were in the NICU for well over a month (which was a blessing because he was predicted to be there for approximately 3 months). I was in & out of the hospital for weeks trying to prevent pre-term birth, but it didn’t work. I missed out on the natural water birth we had planned & we never were able to breast feed despite trying with lactation consultants for 21 straight days & trying numerous drugs & herbs, not to mention near round the clock pumping. No two people ever experience similar experiences the same way, but many of your emotions ring true to my experience, and I am so sorry you had to go through that. Despite how proud I am of you gor sharing, I have to say your judgement of “nasty hospital formula” hurt me deeply, as I still mourn missing out on breastfeeding what will now be my only biological child. For my son who I wasn’t able to hold for several days and once I was allowed, only for 30 min a day then incremental increases, TPN & that “nasty” formula are the only things that kept him alive since he was born before he developed the ability to suck, swallow & breathe, and was on a ventilator. I was judgy about breastfeeding & natural childbirth before I had been in my situation, and I hope that since you know how wrong things can go in an instant and how fragile life is so early on and how things don’t go as expected, I urge you not to fall into the judginess that I did pre-child. Formula as not what I wanted, and donor milk is not something I can afford. Please just know that a lot of those babies in that NICU your son was in were not able to get breastmilk for many reasons & formula made it possible for them to survive & thrive. That’s the end of my mini-rant about not judging formula moms because you just do not know their story;) I absolutely love your blog. I hope you’re settled & doing well now that your sweet boy is home. Thank you so so much for sharing.

  11. Katie

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I have read both parts and I can honestly say you took a lot of my anxiety and worries Away i was having about labor. (I’m due in about 2 weeks) I hope you and family are doing well and I can’t wait to future posts :) Take Care!

  12. Elise Post author

    thats been my hope katie! as scary as things seem, let my happy ending be the encouragement to stay positive.

  13. Elise Post author

    hi kori. thanks so much for sharing your story. its so hard to reflect on such scary times. im truly truly sorry for what you went through and i definitely did not mean to hurt you with my formula comment. i never want to come across as judge-y because thats not at all how i feel – i am completely respectful of everyone’s personal choices and don’t think any less or different of a person who does formula feed. its a personal decision and each person has the right to whatever he/she wants. i was nervous about saying it because i definitely agree with you – its often necessary and life saving. in the end this blog is about me being true to myself and writing this story especially was a therapeutic thing for me so i wouldnt be honoring my real emotions if i didnt say exactly what i was feeling at the time. i totally acknowledge the legitimacy of formula and TPN and clearly in your case it was life saving. having an open dialogue like ours is so key in removing the judgement. in the end, the most important thing is the health of your baby. hugs to you and your little one.

  14. Elise Post author

    i know. its hard to write too. but the best news is that its a happy ending :)
    thanks so much for your supportive comment. its huge to have people offer such kind words.

  15. Elise Post author

    oh my gosh robin. im so sorry for what you went through. its so insane isnt it!?! im optimistic that sharing my story will help more people than just me. its hugely therapeutic either way.

  16. Elise Post author

    thanks for sharing sharon. its definitely important to honor your emotions… ive found such therapy in writing this story out. and if it helps others too, even better.

  17. Julia

    Thank you for sharing your story. I think it’s good for other parents to see that things don’t always work out as initially planned., and things can change in a second.I know how difficult it is having to leave the hospital without your baby. My son was born 5 weeks premature and only weighed 3 1/2 lbs with a severe heart defect and spent 5 weeks in the NICU. I didn’t even get the chance to see him after my emergency c-section because he needed to be placed on an IV and intubated immediately. It was very difficult leaving him in the NICU but I knew it was the only place he would survive. I also pumped every 2 hours but once he was able to have breast milk, they also had to supplement with formula because he needed the calories. It was not what I had invisioned things to be. After having to wait 2 weeks to hold him, I realized that feeding him formula along with breastmilk, was not the worst thing in the world.
    Good luck with your little man and i’m glad to hear that everything turned out ok.

  18. Elise Post author

    having supportive family and friends is huge. while i was in a fog they were a great distraction.
    in any event, im sorry you had to go through the nicu stuff too. :(

  19. Elise Post author

    hi julia! im glad you shared and so so sorry for your nicu experience. :( youre exactly right about sharing birth stories that arent ideal for others to hear and work through.
    even though our specific situations were different, in the end the (perceived) compromise we both gave in to was similar. i say perceived because while formula is not what we envisioned, its such a small thing when you look at the big picture.
    hugs!

  20. Meg

    So glad writing this all out is helping – and that there is a happy ending! Scary, scary stuff.

    Also, is Kyle wearing a pac-man shirt in those photos? Because that would just be the cutest thing ever.

  21. Katie

    This is hitting so close to home. I ended up with a fever in labor (assumed to be a uterine infection) so my babe spent three days in the NICU getting antibiotics and on oxygen. We’d actually planned a home birth so I was devastated to be separated from my son when we’d planned something so so different. It was such a lesson in how tough parenting can be.

    I’m a CNM/WHNP student and even with a ton of medical background it was still the most confusing, scary few days I’ve ever been though in my life. For me the emotional stuff about the loss of the experience got worse before it got better. But I will say that now that we are 9 months postpartum, I can *almost* look at our NICU pictures without tearing up. And my son is great!

    It’s rough being a mama!

  22. Katie @ Peace Love & Oats

    oh my goodness, I can’t even imagine what that must have been like for you, to be there and having just given birth but not being able to see your baby very much at all. I don’t even know how I would have handled it. He is ridiculously adorable though :)

  23. Courtney

    Oh my goodness, he is beautiful, Elise! What a handsom little guy :-)

    I know that my sister has pictures of her babies in the hospital that she can’t look at without crying…I think it is amazing that you are sharing your experience with us and it will mean so much to your son when he is older to have your thoughts and emotions recorded like this!

    Courtney

  24. Robin

    Oh my. I can’t imagine what this was like for you. And he’s such a gem. He will be surrounded by love. You will be awesome parents!

  25. Lisa

    Ah, I can’t even imagine what it was like for you to go through, but am so thankful that he’s healthy and okay now!
    He is such a beautiful, precious bundle of joy. Thanks for letting us have a peak inside your story and this hard time in your life. I think it will help a lot of people. Especially since it won’t always be sunshine and rainbows when you give birth, I guess you always need to be prepared for other circumstances that could happen!
    That is amazing the staff was so supportive and helpful, it’s really amazing when you have good staff who are present and who obviously care! Makes a world of a different.
    Again, so happy for your family!:)

  26. Teri

    I found your blog because I Googled “quinoa granola”. Just read through your birth story and I just want to give you the biggest hug. You’re amazing. Keep breathing, mamabear. xoxo

  27. Nicole @ Fruit 'N' Fitness

    I can’t imagine how hard these P recaps have been for you to write, reliving all the fears you had during that scary time. He is so lucky to have such a good momma who wants nothing but the best for him and is willing to adjust your original plans (only breast milk) to do what was needed to get him out of the hospital.

  28. Lou

    Man Elsie – you are a superwoman! It sounds like you held up such a strong front for your little boy (how amazing is it that those natural mothering instincts instantly just KICK in, without any coaxing whatsoever!) I have barely held it together just reading what you went through ( I lie – I am crying) ALL of you – Kyle, yourself, P are legends – such a strong wee family from the word go…. everything else will be a breeze after this :)

    I know how you feel about formula – I had to start supplementing my breast milk with formula as I simply couldn’t produce enough (Misty was SO hungry) – it was either continue being a useless milk-cow (pumping/feeding basically 24-7 just to maintain supply) and watch my little boy starve, or supplement a few feeds with formula.

    Easy choice really. As soon as he got some formula, Misty started to thrive almost instantly – it was an internal battle for me after envisioning myself as a hippie earth-mama, with fountains of breast milk, ha. You do what you have to do, right? Hugs!

  29. Heather Eats Almond Butter

    I’m so happy you had so much support and love from friends and family, and that P was so well cared for in the NICU. Seriously, our NICU nurses have me hoping at least one of our kids will go to nursing school – they were so wonderful, and we felt like our babies were receiving the best care. I would love to see our children in that kind of career.

    Anyway, it’s good to read that as a nurse, hospitals freak you out. I’ve known one too many people go in for something minor, and it snowballs into something major. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for Western medicine, but I am not a fan of hospitals at all.

  30. Lisa @ The Valley Vegan

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. It’s heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time.

    It is frustrating, I’m sure, that your birth experience wasn’t exactly what you’d pictured, but whose is? I can’t say, though, that I had the same experience w/ formula being pushed on me because my breast milk wasn’t adequate. I had almost zero supply except for colostrum, for the first 10 days. In fact, I was starting to worry that I was never going make milk!

    My son lost half a pound between birth and leaving the hospital (2 days) which was unnerving, but the nurses never pushed formula. At least that was part of my birth plan that was honored…

    In the end, you have your baby home! You have control over the contents of your breastmilk, and you have an incredible little family unit now! Big hugs from “The Valley Vegan” and hubby over here in the valley. You & Kyle have something my husband will never have together, so it’s been a beautiful ride to be here during your pregnancy. Thank you.

    <3

  31. Elizabeth

    I have been a long time follower but I have never actually commented. These babies though, they get to me:) I am a NICU nurse at an amazing hospital and I am so glad that your sweet boy was so well taken care of during his stay! Hearing and seeing stories like yours reaffirms what I already know to be true–that I love my job and wouldn’t trade it for the world! So glad that you and he are well:)

  32. Abby @ Sugar and Spice

    I’m new to your blog; a friend recommended your quinoa granola recipe. I made it last weekend, and my three little girls are consuming massive quantities of it as I type this. :) I’m always SO happy when I find a healthy food that they really like, so thank you!!!

    I’m enjoying reading your birth story too. It’s hard enough putting on a brave face as a new mom, even when your baby is not in the NICU. Kudos for being so brave!

  33. Lara

    I am so glad that you had your family and friends as a support system. Oh my gosh, reading all of this has made me so emotional! You are so strong, Elise! PAC man is so beautiful. I love how much you trusted your doctors and have such nice words about your care team.

  34. Katie

    Oh heavens, I can’t even IMAGINE going home without the babe. I’m just glad all is well now, and that we can start on this arranged marriage business asap.

    (oh, and the choosing your battles thing. That’s probably just God’s way of preparing you for the toddler years.)

  35. k

    I think you percieved the sentence in a way she didn’t mean it to mean- she was just stating the reality that formula isn’t the ideal source of nutrition for her individual baby, not a personal attack saying mothers who find it is best for their situation are not ideal. Glad it has all worked out for you both!! xxxxx

  36. Gauri

    Hi Elise – so sorry that you and Kyle had to go through such a tough time – I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to go through, much less write about! I’m so glad it had a happy ending and congrats on a beautiful baby! Come soon to India to visit :)

    Gauri

  37. Elise Post author

    hi gauri! it all worked out, fortunately. we are very lucky. congrats to you on your pregnancy! we would LOVE to visit you in india. :)

  38. Elise Post author

    oh my gosh elizabeth thank you so so SOOO much for what you do. youre truly a life saver. im glad this has reminded you of your invaluable role.

  39. Elise Post author

    thank you so so very much lisa (and fam). from what i understand its totally normal to lose that amount of weight. they expect it actually and even give babies 2 weeks just to return to their birth weight before addressing it as an issue. of course im sure every single mom (including me) still worries about their newborn getting enough despite knowing this ;)

  40. Elise Post author

    exactly! the scary thing is how often one thing snowballs into more significant things…even in the best hospitals.
    nicu nurses are saints i think.

  41. Elise Post author

    sadly, everyone (who doesnt know me) misreads my name and calls me elsie. its terribly annoying and makes me hate the name :P
    anyway, thank you so so much for your comments. the support and love i feel. it makes me so happy. i love hearing from fellow hippie mamas. especially because theres often compromise in life and to know that others have gone through it and the frustrating emotions too…its just nice to share in that.
    btw, it totally doesnt surprise me that all your moms group discussions return to birth stories. i never really cared about hearing them until now. and now i cant get enough of them. its just something you dont “get” until you go through it. and then its life altering so you want to know how everyone else handled it. so cool. such a miracle.

  42. Lou

    Ha, Elise is WAY nicer than Elsie, but totally annoying I get it – at least your name isn’t the same word most people use for toliet ;)

    Birth is SUCH a miracle, makes me feel so lucky to be a woman to have experienced it – most incredible thing I have ever done. The whole Motherhood thing is a wild ride – no one can prepare you for it, that’s for sure :)

  43. Elise Post author

    ha, well nobody calls the toilet that here, so you should move!
    i suspect the range of emotions that come w motherhood will be HUGE.

  44. Elise Post author

    thank you kate. i hope it helps others readjust their views of birth. and if nothing else, know that things can work out even when they seems scary bleak.

  45. Red Deception

    As a former NICU nurse, I am really happy to hear that your experience was met with kindness and compassion. So many Mom’s (and Dad’s) struggle with separation from their little ones when they are admitted, and we do our best to provide them with loving care when parents are not available. I’ve sung a lullaby and cuddled many babies in the middle of the night.

    He’s perfect. You look wonderful and so happy. Thank you for sharing <3

  46. Elise Post author

    i dont think i knew you were a nicu nurse. you are a saint. seriously. its such a relief that there are nurses like you for new parents who are going through scary stuff. thank you!!!

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