The NICU is an overwhelming place, especially when you give birth to twins two months ahead of schedule. There’s a lot to learn, and it all happens so fast.
I delivered Noah and Nikoh via emergency c-section on March 26, 2014 and spent five days in the hospital recovering from the surgery. The only “plus” to being hospitalized for so long was the NICU was down the hall from the hospital’s maternity ward. We visited with our babies every chance we had.
Immediately we learned the NICU was where dozens of babies were battling their own life-threatening situations. NICU babies are the strongest, most resilient babies you could ever imagine. They go through more pokes, prods, surgeries and procedures than most adults will ever have to endure. I was overcome with emotion every time I walked into the NICU. It was heartbreaking to see so many babies… many alone in their incubators, some babies with visitors, others who were sound asleep and those who were crying but had to wait their “turn” to be tended to by the busy nurses. As a mom, my first instinct was always wanting to rush over to the crying baby to offer he/she comfort, but I knew my babies needed me at that moment too.
Each time my husband and I would visit we would walk over to Noah and Nikoh’s incubators, he’d go to one baby and I’d go to the other. Their incubators were always positioned side-by-side so we could visit them both at the exact same time. We would stick our arms in their incubators, softly caress their little faces, cradle their tender heads, touch their tiny hands and feet and whisper to them how proud we were of their progress and perseverance. A minute or two later, my husband and I would “switch” so each of us could say hello and bond with our other baby. It would continue with the two of us going back and forth between Noah and Nikoh over and over throughout our visits, multiple times a day. For the first couple of days our babies were too “unstable” for us to take them out of the incubators, so the majority of those first visits really consisted of us gazing into their incubators, and imagining the moment we would get to hold them in our arms.
At the start of each visit we would get an update from the nurse who was taking care of our babies. Noah and Nikoh typically had two nurses per day, each worked a 12 hour shift and were assigned to care for two NICU babies. Most of the time one nurse was assigned to both Noah and Nikoh which made it
really convenient for us as opposed to having to get briefed by two nurses (less time getting updates and more time visiting!)
Typically the updates would include a rundown of several different areas of concern including if the babies had gained weight, were they tolerating their gavage feedings (which were done through a feeding tube inserted in their mouths and/or nose. *Their feedings started about five days after they were born, in the first few days they received IV fluids) had they been crying or uncomfortable, did their bilirubin levels rise or fall (which were monitored because they had pretty bad jaundice), were any episodes of Apnea detected ( which is common in premature babies and happens when the babies stop breathing) and had they experienced any Bradycardia or “bradys” which is a drop in the babies’ blood oxygen level as a result of apnea. We were also updated on how well the babies were breathing. Both Noah and Nikoh were placed on a CPAP at birth, a respiratory support machine which gave them constant air flow to help them breathe and keep their tiny lungs from collapsing. The CPAP is a clear, thick tube which was positioned tightly over each babies’ nose. It covered just about their entire faces and were very uncomfortable for them. It broke my heart to constantly see them try and tug on the CPAP mask. And although it was very faint, I often would hear them cry while they struggled to get comfortable with the CPAP covering their faces.
Alarm bells were a common sound in the NICU. Every time I would hear a monitor beep (which happened at least a dozen times an hour) my heart would sink and I’d quickly look at Noah and Nikoh’s monitor to check their blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, etc. The nurses explained what all the colors and numbers and sounds of the machines meant, that way when we heard the dreaded “ding, ding, ding” we knew what was happening. It was terrifying when the alarm was coming from one of our babies, and a relief when it wasn’t. Emotional roller coaster I tell ya! I swear we would hear those alarm bells in our sleep, and I can still hear them in my head as I type this blog.
It was a lot to learn, a lot to process and a lot to accept.
I often felt intimidated talking to the nurses and doctors because they would talk in medical terms, and it was up to us as the parents to ask countless questions in order for us to really understand what was happening with our babies’ and their developments. The one thing I have learned being a journalist is to be SUPER comfortable peppering people with questions, even if its about a subject I know close to nothing about. So there we were, constantly asking questions, sometimes the same question more than once and often to more than one nurse.
Each day brought different triumphs and pitfalls for both Noah and Nikoh, and it often seemed like when one of our babies had a really great day, the other baby was struggling in one area or another. Our emotions were often divided down the middle — happiness and sadness — because Noah and Nikoh were always on “different pages,” medically speaking. It was rare that they ever had good days at the same time.
We realized that no one could ever be a better advocate for our children than myself and my husband and that’s why it was essential for us to be in the NICU everyday and night, so much so that the nurses would often tell me I should probably take “a day off.” But not seeing my babies for more than a few hours was never an option for us. They were hospitalized in the NICU for a month and a half, and we were there all the time.
Every time we left the NICU, it felt like we left our hearts behind. To help ease the heartache, we taped prayer cards and a picture of us on the inside of Noah and Nikoh’s incubators so they knew we were always there with them. Overnight we would call their nurse and get our updates over the phone. It was heart-wrenching when we were separated. Trusting strangers with my under-developed, precious babies was the hardest thing I ever had to do. Looking back, I consider those NICU nurses our angels. They took care of Noah and Nikoh extremely well, and often spent time talking to us, parent to parent, to reassure us that one day we would be able to take our babies home.
A lot of NICU moms and dads tend to ask each other how often they should be visiting with their baby/babies, and it’s hard to say because the circumstances and logistics are different for everyone.
But if you want my opinion, I would say visit always and often. Make it work. Make the sacrifice. Call in reinforcement to help you tend to your other children and other obligations. Beg your boss for more time off. Do what it takes to be there by their side. NICU babies need their moms and dads. They know when you are there. They take comfort in your presence. Your love and devotion to them WILL make them strong.
XO~ Noah & Nikoh’s Mommy