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.

NICU. 

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.