Life in the NICU begins

Malena Lola’s sign on her pod at the NICU.

After lying for an hour in the post op area I was able to go see my baby girl, Malena Lola. It felt like the longest hour ever.

I still couldn’t move so I had to be taken on a wheel chair me on the post op bed. One of the nurses helped him open the doors through the hospital corridors. We started making our way over to the NICU – Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.


I had heard the doctors and the nurses say this word many times in the last few hours. It was a new word for me. I had never really thought about the NICU before. I had never really thought about preemie babies either.

As I was being rolled down the hospital halls, I wondered what the NICU would be like. My body was still feeling numb from the epidural but my mind was clear and anxious. I needed to see my baby girl.

I remember arriving at the NICU entrance and seeing signs everywhere.
Signs indicating we had to wash our hands for 2 minutes.
Signs indicating we had to put on a gown before entering.
Signs indicating you were not allowed into the NICU if you had any symptoms of illness.

It was all very daunting.

There was a big sink with several taps, and a special soap and scrubbing brushes.
I couldn’t reach the sink as I was laying on the post op bed still, so I sanitized my hands. I remember using a lot of it sanitizer. I was scared of bringing any germs to my baby girl.

I could feel the anxiety and desire building up. I was so excited to see her.

What would she look like?
Would she look like a normal baby?
Would she have any neurological problems?

I had no idea what to expect. I remember we used to lovingly and jokingly call her our little alien after we saw her in the first ultrasound.

Would she look like in the ultrasound, like a cute little alien?
Would I be able to hold her?

There was a big reception desk where they told us she was in isolette 36. I later learned that isolette is another term for incubator.

The receptionist buzzed the door open. So many thoughts rushing through my mind as I entered the NICU.

I was surprised to see how big it was. There was a long hall to both sides and many areas called pods, each with 4 incubators with babies in them. Nurses and doctors walking around. Other parents by the incubators. I kept looking around trying to find incubator 36. That is all I wanted. My baby girl.

I could see a sign that said 36. My heart started racing.

Brad rolled my bed right next to her incubator so I could see her. The incubator had a special cover, as they were keeping baby girl in the dark. I remember the cover had little giraffes on it. Brad lifted the covers and I saw her.

At that moment, I completely forgot about my c-section stitches, about being in the NICU, about her being born way too early. I forgot about everything that had just happened. All of my being was in awe of my baby girl.

She was absolutely perfect. I was amazed at her perfect little hands. Perfect little feet. And she had so much hair! Dark hair. Like me.

Malena Lola is all set up in her new home outside mommy’s belly – the incubator.

 I felt so much love. More love than I ever knew possible.

I could feel the emotion bubbling up inside, but I was determined not to cry. I remember I only wanted to share love, positivity and hope. It wasn’t an intellectual decision. It was just natural instinct. I had the certainty that she could feel everything I felt.

I told her how beautiful she was. How grateful I was that she was in my life. How proud I was of her strength and desire to live. I told her how much I loved her. I told her mommy was here. I told her everything was going to be alright.

When I look back at that moment, I am surprised at how calm I was.

I was not so shocked at how tiny she was. I was not so freaked out by how skinny she was by the many tubes, IVs or cables attached to her. I was only focused on loving her and making sure she felt safe. Making sure she felt our positive energy. Our belief in her.

I can touch my little angel’s perfect little feet for the first time.

When I look these pictures now, a year and a half later, I always cry. Now I can let myself feel the emotion. I can see just how fragile and tiny she was.

Tiny but mighty, as I used to call her.

I asked the nurse if I could touch her. I had to put my hands through special side openings on the incubator and held my hands over her. I wanted to touch her so much but I was afraid. I was told I shouldn’t caress her skin but pat it instead, as it is very sensitive and a caress would feel like being stroked while sunburned.

I kept my hands floating close to her. She was the size of the palm of my hand. I gently held her hand. I could feel her energy. I was overwhelmed with love.

Holding her hand for the first time.

It was hard to contain the desire to hold her in my arms, to kiss her, to cuddle her. But I knew that she needed to be in the incubator. That was now her “warm belly”.

As I looked at my baby girl, I started thinking about breastfeeding. I could see she was receiving intravenous nutrients and lipids. She also had a feeding tube through her nose that went straight into her tummy.

I asked the nurse if she would be able to drink my breast milk and she said yes. That made me feel very happy. But I also started wondering about my body after such a premature birth.

Would I have any milk for her?
Would my body know to make milk even if she was so early?

I knew I had to start pumping immediately.

I made it my mission to have milk for my baby girl. As soon as I went back to my room, I asked for a pump and started pumping every 3 hours, day and night.

I think the fact that I felt I was doing something to help nurture my baby girl, even though she was no longer in my womb, made me relieve some of the anguish of not being able to hold her and be with her all the time.

As I lay in my room, I couldn’t help feel sad that I couldn’t breast feed her.

That was another image I had to let go off. I forced myself not to think about that and to keep focusing on the pumping.

Every 3 hours I would pump a few drops of colostrum and slowly make my way to the NICU to drop it off. I wanted to do this myself. I didn’t want the nurses taking it. I wanted to feel I was doing something for her. It made me feel good. It gave me comfort.

There was a fridge inside the NICU and many tray’s with each baby’s name on it. I would carry my little bit of colostrum and leave it in Malena Lola’s tray, and then I would go see her.

I felt a sense of purpose and pride doing this. I felt I was following my natural instinct.

I did this without exception every 3 hours, day and night. I had instructed the nurses to wake me up every 3 hours to pump. Looking back, I don’t know how I managed to do this with a recent c-section. But I did. I can only say that at the time it felt like there was a force inside me It was bigger than me. It energized me. It guided me. It kept me connected to my baby girl. It made me feel useful. It helped me stay positive. It dissipated the fear and the guilt.

It made it less painful to have to leave my baby girl in the NICU and go back to my room when all I really wanted to do was hold her close to me.

But having to leave her in the NICU was always hard. Really hard.

That first night was tough to get through.

I remember watching her sleep in her isolette.
I wanted to crawl in there and cuddle her.

Malena Lola cozy and safe in her isolette.

 I asked her nurse when I would be able to hold her and she said in a couple of days if she remained stable, we would start kangaroo care – which is skin to skin contact.

The thought of being able to hold my baby girl in my arms felt amazing. I couldn’t wait to start kangaroo care!

Sweet dreams my tiny mighty warrior.

Mommy would dream of kangaroos that night.








Hello miracle baby!

On April 25, 2011 at 5:55 am, our baby girl Malena Lola was born.

Up until then I had enjoyed a normal pregnancy.
I were excited to find out I was expecting a baby girl and I had already chosen the name Malena Lola for her.
I was 2 months away from moving into a house with a backyard for the first time. I was planning to visit my grandparents in Argentina during my mat leave so that they could meet their new great granddaughter.
I had it all perfectly planned. During my mat leave, baby girl, our dog Rio and I would spend three months at my grandparents in a small beach town in Argentina. It would have been summer down there and we would have gotten to escape the long and harsh Canadian winter.

That was what I had planned…

What actually happened was different. Very different.

It all began on a Thursday April 21, 2011, at around 10 pm.

I was getting ready to go to bed. I had my bag packed as I was heading out to Canmore for the Easter long weekend. I had my pajamas on and as I was brushing my teeth, I felt it.

I started hemorrhaging. I rushed to emergency. It’s hard to describe the feeling of fear I felt at that moment. I felt like my body was doing something I didn’t want it to do but I couldn’t control it. I was so scared that I couldn’t even cry because I thought that might make it worse and cause more bleeding. In the back of my mind I tried to keep calm and told myself that the doctors would help. They would fix it, do something to make sure my baby girl was safe.

Once at the Rockyview hospital, I started experienced the shocking and frightening reality of a possibly premature labor. I was 24 weeks at the time, so the idea of giving birth so early was terrifying.

Was my baby girl safe?
Why was I  bleeding?
What was wrong with my body?

I had never been hospitalized so I started to feel like I was watching a movie. Like this was an episode of ER or something. At times I could see myself from outside and I couldn’t believe this was happening.

A part of me was trying to stay calm and positive, thinking that the doctors would surely help, make it all better. Another part of me was in agony and struggling with deep fear and feelings of failure…I couldn’t help thinking of the miscarriage I had had and how hard it had been getting pregnant after that…

Thoughts of my body not being good enough shot through my mind. Being a strong believer in the power of positive thinking and affirmations, I forced myself to stay positive. I was determined to keep my baby girl safe. But the fear was still there.

Funny, I remembered how just the day before I had had a routine ultrasound and my doctor said everything looked great. And actually commented, “Your chances of delivering before term practically zero”.

Not anymore.

The nurses and doctors told us there was now a 50/50 chance at this point that my body would go into labor or not. They gave me steroids and antibiotics in case I did go into early labor. Steroids help boost baby girl’s lung development, as at 24 weeks the lungs are quite underdeveloped. Antibiotics are to keep any infection away due to the hemorrhaging and possible c-section.

Again, I started feeling like I was in a movie…I remember looking at my IV and staring constantly at the monitor showing baby girl’s vital signs. I kept listening to her heartbeat and that gave me some hope and comfort. I tried to stay positive and kept talking to my baby girl, giving her strength and hope. Telling her how much we loved her and asking her to stay in my belly a little longer, that it wasn’t time for her to come out just yet.

The doctors sent me for an ultrasound, which to this day I regret doing. It was a trans-vaginal ultrasound that turned out to be painful and I believe aggravated my already fragile situation. It seems my membranes had ruptured and I was leaking amniotic fluid.
They had no clue why this was happening. I had to remain hospitalized, on complete bed rest and fully monitored at all times to ensure baby girl wasn’t under any distress.

Back in the room, I started having contractions so they quickly took me in an ambulance to Foothills hospital where they have a NICU for the most critical and premature babies.

Suddenly, I was laying on a stretcher in an ambulance with a stranger monitoring our vital signs. Again, that weird feeling of seeing myself from the outside. Feeling like in an episode of ER or House.

I wish it had been. It was real. This was really happening.
I remember feeling so alone, so afraid.

I am a very spiritual person but I am not a religious person, yet I found myself praying for my baby girl. Asking God to please keep her in my belly. Please keep her safe.

At this point we had been told that the chances of her surviving at 24 weeks weren’t good.

I remember holding my belly. I didn’t want to let go. It was critical that I kept her in my belly as long as possible. I felt so responsible, so guilty. I felt that it was up to me to make sure baby girl wasn’t born yet. It was too early. And even though the doctors kept telling me not to blame myself, that sometimes this happens and there is no reason, I still felt responsible for my baby girl’s life.

Why wasn’t I able to keep my baby girl safe in my belly?
Why was my body trying to get her out now?
Why did I let them do that stupid ultrasound?
Why was this happening?

Once at the Foothills hospital, they kept me closely monitored to make sure baby girl was not experiencing any distress. She was doing well. Her heartbeat was good. Suddenly, my contractions seemed to be becoming less strong. Then less frequent. The doctors told me they wanted to do another ultrasound but I told them I didn’t want a trans-vaginal ultrasound. They assured me they would do a regular ultrasound of my pelvic area in the morning.

After a sleepless couple of hours, early morning came and I felt a bit better as the contractions had stopped and the bleeding was much less.

Time for the ultrasound.  They told me that baby girl looks good but the amniotic liquid was less than before. They would monitor that to make sure I didn’t keep losing any more amniotic fluid as that would be dangerous for baby girl.

I was exhausted but relieved that things seemed to be stabilizing. I would stay at the hospital until the bleeding stopped completely and the docs confirmed that the amniotic fluid was stable. After that, I would be able to go home on complete bed rest until further notice.

I knew I would be at the hospital for a few more days, so I allowed myself to relax a bit and try to rest a bit. Baby girl was safe.

For the next couple of days, I stayed at the Foothills hospital and things were improving. The contractions were long gone and my bleeding was almost gone as well. The twice daily ultrasounds showed my amniotic fluid stable and baby girl continued to do well, showing no signs of distress at all, her vitals were great.

We saw baby girl floating cozy in my belly. I felt such relief.

I felt happy and grateful that she was alive and well.

On Easter Sunday, April 24th, 2011, after 48 hours of no contractions or bleeding, the doctors let me go home under strict bed rest orders. I was only allowed to stand up to go to the bathroom.

Baby girl and I were going home.

Once home, I went straight to bed. I had magazines, DVDs, a bed table, my laptop, a fan, a water bottle. I was set. I felt so happy to be home with baby girl safe in my belly. I  was happy to be home with my baby girl safe and cosy in my belly.

I put on my comfy clothes and I laid in bed ready to watch the Sex and the City movie. Rio cuddled next to me as she always does. I pressed play and a few minutes later I started bleeding heavily again.
I screamed.

This time I went straight to the Foothills emergency.

I could feel that this time things were worse. The bleeding felt different. More intense. I realized I was losing amniotic fluid as well. I felt panic. My body was being bad again.

Did my water break?
Was I going into labor?
Why was this happening again?

As soon as we arrived, they put me on a stretcher type of bed and hooked me up to an IV and a monitor to check baby girl’s vital signs. I was in sheer agony until I heard her heart beat. Baby girl was doing well, no signs of distress. They doctor examined me and told us that I was dilated about 3 cm and that baby girls was in breech position – feet first. He also told us he thought my membrane may have ruptured, which is why I was bleeding and losing amniotic fluid.

We had managed to keep baby girl  in the womb for 3 days since it had all began, but now we were no longer sure how much longer we could keep her there. At this point we were hoping for a miracle to keep the labor from advancing.

At around 10 pm visiting hours were over. It was just baby girl and me again. I felt alone at times but I found her heartbeat soothing. I knew she was there. I didn’t want to cry but there in the dark I felt the tears roll down my face. I prayed to God again and asked him to please protect my baby girl. I kept telling baby girl that mommy was here, that mommy would be strong for her. That mommy’s love would keep her well.

At some point I fell asleep, only to be woken up by sharp contractions at around 4 :30 am. I called the nurse and the doctor came quickly to examine me. He said we would have to do an emergency c-section right away as baby girl was coming out. I phoned my sister Melisa, and told them they needed to hurry as we were going into the operating room for an emergency c-section.

In the meantime, they took me to the operating room and started prepping me for the epidural. I cannot describe the feeling of desperation and fright I felt at that moment. I kept thinking what would happen to my baby girl. She was just turning 25 weeks today.

As I lay in the operating room feeling my body go numb, I felt paralyzed. I couldn’t move. I could only watch all the nurses and doctors preparing everything in quick synchronicity.

I could see my sister watching me through the glass. She was waving at me and trying to smile. I could feel her love and comfort. I was grateful she was there.

Shortly after the doctor let us know that they were about to begin. That I would feel pressure. He was Irish and I told him my favorite band since I was 13 years old was U2. He laughed and told me about the time he had met Bono. It’s funny how our mind takes us places to get us through such critical moments.

Then all of a sudden I started thinking about the fact that I wouldn’t be able to hold my baby girl as soon as she was born, as I had dreamed of so many times. I had read how important that initial skin to skin contact was. I wouldn’t be able to give that to her. I felt guilty again.

This was definitely not the natural birth I had been wishing for. That I had been imagining.

Then I started to feel the pressure the doctor had mentioned. I could feel them digging around my insides. Then the doctor told us they are going to take baby girl out now.  I wanted to see her so badly. She was out. She was here. She was alive. I kept thinking that I would hear my baby girl cry but she was silent. She was too little to cry yet.

My sister saw her the minute they took her out. I still couldn’t see her. They told me she was well. I felt myself crying again. I was happy and grateful that she was alive, but I was also overwhelmed by a deep sadness because I couldn’t hold her. I couldn’t comfort her. Again the guilt creeping in.

After the doctor finished my stitches, I was taken to a room where I stayed for about an hour. Finally I was able to see pictures of my baby girl. She was wrapped in plastic to keep her body temperature from dropping and they had her all hooked up to cables and monitors and IVs. She was in an incubator. She was tiny and perfect. I fell in love with her more than ever. Our tiny mighty little warrior was a miracle. I cried. I felt so happy to have her in my life. Just looking at her eyes in the picture, I could feel her strong desire to live. I was dying to touch her, to hold her, to look into her eyes, to talk to her. But I had to wait until the epidural wore out so I could visit her.

On April 25, 2011 at 5:55 am, my baby girl Malena Lola was born through an emergency c-section at 25 weeks, weighing only 715 grams – 1.58 lbs. Just like that, as is always in life, we were suddenly thrown into an unknown and scary environment: the NICU – the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

As most newborn parents, I felt completely clueless about premature babies, in our case a “micro-preemie” because Malena Lola was born under 26 weeks and weighed less than 800 grams.

I had never heard of the term micro-preemie and we had never been to a NICU. Little did we know this would become our second home for 8 long months.