“It’s a girl!” I was so excited to hear those words when my second daughter was born. We never found out the baby’s sex ahead of time because we wanted the element of surprise. It turned out we got more of a surprise than we expected.
While my daughter looked perfect, that wasn’t really the case. When the nurse checked her weight, vitals, and all of the other things they do with newborns, they discovered she inhaled meconium. If you’re a mom, you know meconium is the first poop your baby does once they’re born. Unlike all the others, this one is black and tarry, which is completely normal. What isn’t normal is when your baby does it in utero and inhales it at some point during delivery. I soon found out that was the case with my daughter. When this happens it gets stuck in their lungs and can cause breathing problems.
I honestly never knew that could happen. They say it can be due to a stressful pregnancy or difficult delivery. In other cases, it just happens. Although her delivery was quick, it wasn’t deemed difficult. So, I guess we were a part of those “other cases.”
The nurse had come back into my room, without my baby, to tell us what was going on and that the baby was going to have to spend a few hours in the neonatal intensive care unit so they could try to clear her lungs.
NICU? What? My baby? No way.
I only got to hold her a short time. Little did I know I wasn’t going to be able to hold her again for another week.
If you’ve never been inside a NICU before, it’s one of those places you never forget. As you step in, you see the tired, worn faces of parents who are carrying around so much stress and sadness.
Then there are the nurses — or shall I say angels — who have a special gift to care for these little babies and soothe their parents’ worries at the same time.
Of course, there are the babies — rows and rows of babies in incubators with wires and tubes in and out of their fragile bodies. Each little one has their own story, one more painful than the next.
When the nurse first wheeled me to my little one, I thought she must have made a mistake. Not only was she in an incubator, but my daughter also had a device over her head which I later learned was an oxygen hood. This was to help her get more air into her lungs and clear the meconium out. There were so many other little wires connected to her body. I would have traded places with her in a heartbeat.
I couldn’t help but blame myself. Somehow this had to be my fault, right? After all, she grew inside me for nine months. I was supposed to protect her and I failed. Those feelings haunted me, but I knew I had to be strong for her and for my 2-year-old at home who couldn’t understand why she couldn’t see her sister.
But a big thing you learn about being a NICU mom is that you’re stronger than you think.
Make no mistake, being strong didn’t mean that I didn’t cry myself to sleep in my hospital room or cry every time I went down to see my daughter.
My heart broke when she needed more help to breathe, had more apparatuses around her, and needed a feeding tube.
My heart broke when all I could do was put my hand in the incubator to hold her tiny finger.
My heart broke when I couldn’t be there all night just to sit by her.
The most heartbreaking of all was being discharged and having to leave my baby in the NICU. I came to the hospital with a baby but was leaving without one. How was that fair?
Being home was torture because my husband and I were trying to split our time between the NICU and home where my 2-year-old constantly asked where the baby was. Thankfully, we had plenty of family around to help, but it was still the most difficult time of my life.
Not being able to sleep, my husband would go to the hospital in the middle of the night where he would send me videos of our baby. While this was comforting to see she was doing alright, it made me sad that she was still there.
Each morning I would call the nurse’s station after the doctor visited to see how she was progressing. Thankfully, each day she was getting stronger, but still not strong enough to come home. Each phone call ended with me crying — a cycle I, unfortunately, got used to.
Being a NICU mom is an experience that definitely changes you and makes you appreciate the little things, like being able to change your baby’s diaper. It sounds strange, I know! I remember when I was visiting one day and the nurse asked if I wanted to change the diaper. I was so excited! The nurse stood by to make sure I didn’t move any of the wires, but I was able to do it. I took these little victories and looked forward to the next one.
The most satisfying victory was when I was able to hold my daughter again. When she was seven days old, she wasn’t hooked up to so many machines anymore. She traded in her incubator for one of those little baby bins. That feeling when the nurse placed her in my arms is one I will never forget. I began to feel like things were going to be alright.
Three days later she was able to come home. Our family was finally going to be complete. Fast forward nearly eight years and my daughter is one bright, healthy, and fierce little girl. She’ll never realize how her strength not only helped her heal but also helped us all get through the experience.
Editor’s Note: Photos are for illustrative purposes only and do not depict the author or her family. (Photo credit:
metinkiyak / iStock)