Not much can compare to the excitement of having a baby. Bringing new life into the world, getting to hold this little human and cuddle them close, watch them grow and develop into their own people. From the moment we find out we’re pregnant, we’re soaring on a wave of emotions and feelings. We’re terrified of what could go wrong, but overwhelmed with excitement for our new little baby. We do everything we can to insure they’re healthy and safe, trying our best to keep them protected while they grow and develop. Some things are out of our hands, however, and we can’t predict what will happen when we have our babies, what to expect even if the pregnancy has been perfect.
Sometimes a completely healthy pregnancy will still have complications at or after birth. Sometimes our babies aren’t born perfectly healthy like we expect, and in a whirlwind of action they’re swept away from our eager hands and placed in the NICU- Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. There’s nothing we can do to stop it, things happen sometimes and we often have no way to prepare for it. A pregnancy without any issues can still result in a NICU trip, we can do everything right and still have to find a way to cope with our babies in a special area for unwell newborns.
24 There’s Still Time To Start The Bond With Your Baby
When we see our tiny little new babies lying in their incubators, or if we’re lucky in a small crib, we wonder if we’ll ever be able to form a bond with them. A lot of time, we can’t even get skin time with them, an important part of bonding. A lot of the time, we can’t hold them to feed, we can’t rock them, we can just sit next to them and watch them sleep peacefully. But our bond with our babies started long before birth! And we can continue to form that bond with, sometimes, touching their little hands or stroking their little cheeks.
Sometimes we can’t hold them, but we can talk to them, sing to them, and let them know we’re there for them. We do what we can, and it might not feel like enough, but it is. That bond will still be there, just talk to them, sing and if you can, touch their hands lightly, their little faces. Just be with them and it’ll all be great.
23 Holding Your Baby Happens Very Sparingly, If At All
Sometimes, our babies are well enough we can hold them, even with all the wires and such attached to them – but it doesn’t happen as much as we'd like. They have to be in their incubators or their cribs, and we can’t hold them. We can’t rock them and keep them close like we’d enjoy. We have to watch them from a little distance, sitting beside their beds and watching them sleep. They have wires or tubes or IVs, and all we can do is observe them, but that’s alright, we know we’ll get to hold them close soon. It might feel like it’s an eternity away, but we’ll get the chance to hold them and make up for lost time.
22 It Can Be A Very Scary Place
The truth is, the NICU is a pretty frightening place. The lights are bright and there’s all kinds of people in various stages of grief over having their babies in the NICU and nurses all bustling around to do various tasks. We can’t hold our babies or do any of the normal things with them, we don’t know what the next day will bring – sometimes even what the next hour will bring. All we know is our baby is unwell and we have to stay in this too bright of place, with all these people we don’t know who have things going on with their own babies. It’s frightening, weird, and we just want to pick our babies up and go home. But it won’t be forever, it won’t last long. It’s so difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s alright, we’ll get to enjoy our babies soon.
21 You’ll Get Jealous Of The Nurses
It sounds silly, but you’ll get so very jealous of the hospital staff. They get to be with your baby all the time, they get to move them, hold them, tend to their needs. While you sit there, just watching, waiting for your chance to hold them. They get many feedings with your baby, and they get to do many of the firsts. First diaper, first burping, first everything's like that. It’s another thing that’ll end one day and you’ll get the chance to have your own firsts with them. Even if all you can do is watch as the nurses get these wonderful moments, you’ll get your own moments with them, too.
20 Nothing seems to make sense
They whisk your baby away in a hurry, usually moments after birth, and you’re left wondering what is wrong. What you could’ve done differently. Why this is happening. The doctors tell you your beautiful little baby has to stay in the hospital, that they’re ill and you have to wait around next to them until they’re well enough to go home. You start to go over everything that’s happened, agonizing over every detail of what you did or didn’t do. You feel endlessly guilty over failing to help your baby. The truth is, there’s nothing at all you could’ve done differently. Things happen, terrible or sad things, and it’s no one’s fault. We just have to take a deep breath and try to enjoy as much as we can of our babies, even if it feels like we can’t.
19 You will wash your hands more than ever before
It’s always a good and important idea to wash your hands before holding a baby, even your own. They’re so susceptible to germs and getting sick, we need to protect them from everything. It’s even more important to do this when your baby is in the NICU. Being tiny and unwell, they’re especially at risk of getting sick. Most if not all hospitals have a rule that you can’t even go sit next to your baby without washing your hands first. You’ll scrub your hands over and over again until you feel like the skin will come off your fingers. But it’s so worth it, to be near our babies and keep close to them. It’s a small price to pay, repeatedly washing our hands, so we can see them and maybe even get to hold them.
18 Pumping is an awkward group event
If you decide to pump instead of bottle feed, be ready to share the experience with other mothers. With a thin curtain that doesn’t reach the floor, you’ll herd into a room every few hours with other moms, sit on an uncomfortable chair or stool, and use your own pumping cups with the hospital’s pump. You’ll hear the busy hum of all the machines working hard, hear the uncomfortable sighs of the moms, sit and wait while you hope your milk will keep coming if you pump enough. Sometimes it doesn’t. The lack of contact with your baby can make your milk stop, which is very frustrating as you try to get even a few drops. You’re not alone, which can also be frustrating, but at least you’re not the only one facing this hardship.
17 You can’t stay with them the entire time
It’s hard enough to have your baby taken so quickly after you barely bring them into this world, then you can’t even hold them and do the “normal” newborn things with them much if at all. Now, you can’t even stay with them the whole time! There’s no staying overnight in the same room, there’s no bed for you to lie down on, there’s no forcing yourself to stay up every waking hour so you can be with them. Nurses change their shifts and you have to leave the room for privacy reasons, and you get tired and need to sleep no matter how much you want to fight it. There are hotels, sometimes there’s special volunteer housing, other places than right next to your baby that you’ll have to go to for sleep. Plus there’s usually no eating in the NICU, you have to leave to eat anything, and you can’t just not eat. It’s hard, and unfair, but it’ll pass soon.
16 They look impossibly small in the incubators
Babies look small already, when they scrunch up and snuggly. You take that tiny new baby and put it in the incubator or maybe the small crib, and they look even smaller. The have tubes and wires attached everywhere, things to monitor your baby and make sure they’re okay. Their small bodies snuggle in for warmth from their bed, and you can only watch them and wonder how they’re so impossibly small. They certainly didn’t seem that small when you had them a handful of hours before, but something about their beds make them seem so much smaller and more vulnerable than other babies.
15 It’s noisier than you’d expect
With everyone talking in hushed voices and trying to keep things calm and quiet, you would assume the NICU would be a super quiet place. But with all of the monitors beeping and nurses bustling around, and fussy babies who want more attention than they can get- it gets pretty loud. As you sit there watching your baby, you’ll find it crazy how loud it gets, how much noise the NICU produces. It’s a wonder how the babies can even get to sleep, maybe the constant noise helps lull them out. Or maybe it just seems louder, with how stressed you are, your nerves are stretched thin. Either way, thankfully, efforts are being made to help reduce this noise, as it can stress out the NICU babies.
14 There’s a lot of wires attached to your baby
You’re told they need to monitor the baby, keep an eye on their vitals and make sure they’re getting all of the best care they can get. So there’s wires everywhere, attached to any part of their body that needs to be watched. Their heart, their head, you’ll be surprised the places that the sticky circles get put. They’re usually cutesy little stickers, like it’ll make it easier if they have small teddy bears or balloons on them. It doesn’t. You’ll also be surprised with how many wires can get attached to them, too. With how small their little bodies are, it seems impossible for them to have so much attached.
13 And a lot of tubes
One of the worst things is knowing your baby needs an IV or feeding tube, seeing the tube pumping things into their sensitive little bodies. It’s pretty upsetting, and there’s nothing you can do to help them. All you can do is be careful of the wires, if you get to hold them or feed them, watch any tubes and carefully touch around them. It’s alright though, the tubes won’t be there forever. It can be frightening to see them with tubes or wires all over them, but the staff knows what they’re doing and they take care to make things safe and help your baby.
12 Sometimes they’re as blue as you
Many NICU babies need to be under light therapy, or phototherapy. It helps babies with jaundice, breaks up the bilirubin pigments in their bodies and works to make them normal colored. Sometimes called “bili lights”, these lights are usually blue and our tiny babies have to lie under them for hours or even days at a time. They can only have a diaper on, and what could almost pass as a cute set of goggles if the whole situation wasn’t so sad. But it’s a small price to pay for your little baby to get healthy so you can go home. Your little Smurf is entirely unaware of what’s happening, they’re just content to be warm and cozy.
11 The staff members are your friends
With all of the rules the NICU staff have, it might feel like none of them are your friends. You can’t do this, you have to do that, rule after rule dictates what you do even when you’re already struggling just having to see your little baby looking so frail while you can’t do anything to help. But they are your friend! They want to help your baby get better, they want to help you get your child safely home! It’s not just a job for them, it’s a passion. They do everything they can to help your child like they’re their own babies. They also want to help you, will offer you another blanket since it seems impossibly cold in the NICU, and pillows if you do get the chance to hold your baby. They want to help, they’re the good guys!
10 You still have to deal with everything that comes with birth
Not only do you have to deal with having your new baby pulled from you and put in a tiny bed where they get hooked up to endless wires and tubes, but you have to still deal with everything that comes after birth. You still have the mesh underwear, the afterbirth, the aches and pains. The hormones and mood swings that seem to hit one after the other without fail. You still have the pains and aches, and you still have every emotion from having a baby. Except it’s amplified. Everything is made worse by having to walk the halls of the special hospital to get to the NICU, you have to sit in uncomfortable chairs and fight back the endless tears. You get all the after birth situations, plus more. It might seem impossible, but you’ll get through it, honest.
9 Dressing your baby might not be possible
One of the most fun things when getting your hospital bag ready, is picking out what outfit to put your new baby in first. It’s their first clothes, after all! Except, if you have a NICU baby, they usually whisk the baby away moments after birth, which prevents you from using that outfit. Later, you think, later you’ll get to put them in those clothes. However, the chances of that are pretty slim, too. There might be a small chance you can dress them in certain clothes, bhe baby is hooked up to all kinds of equipment, and the nurses are constantly adjusting or added or removing things- clothes get in the way. You might not be able to put your baby in that special outfit until it’s time to go home, it’s bittersweet but the time will come you can play dress up with your little angel.
8 Diaper changes are scary
Usually, at some point, you will get the chance to finally change a diaper while in the NICU. It’s already scary to change a newborn’s diaper the first few times, since they’re so little and their bodies are so fragile and wiggly. It’s even worse when they’re NICU babies, with their tiny bodies and impossibly small diapers. There’s wires and tubes all over the place, and nurses hovering nearby in case you need assistance. It’s a lot to handle while you’re trying to simply enjoy this first milestone for you and your baby together. Moving the baby while they have everything attached is scary, being observed is scary, the baby making a noise is scary- it’s all scary. But it gets easier, trust me.
7 Try to make it homier
One thing that really helped me, personally, when my daughter was in the NICU was to make it more homely. She was put in a small sort of crib, and I was unable to hold her for the first several days. It was all very standard looking and cold and impersonal. But a kind nurse suggested I try to make the place more personal. I added a teddy bear to the corner of her crib, got some of my personal blankets sanitized so they could swaddle her in them, and was even allowed to put a tiny little beanie on her bald little head. It wasn’t much, but seeing some items I picked out myself helped make it easier. I felt more comfortable and I’m sure that helped her feel more comfortable to.
6 You’ll be more exhausted than the normal mom
Having a baby is hard work already. Physically, mentally, and emotionally it’s incredibly draining on a person. When your newborn baby is in the NICU, it’s even worse. You don’t want to sleep at all, you want to stay awake and stay with them, be close and watch every second you can. You sit in an awkward and uncomfortable chair, surrounded by other parents fretting over their ill babies, and try to just find a way to bond with your child. You eat hospital food that costs a fortune, and you still have to deal with all the normal birth issues. It’s already exhausting having a new baby, being in the NICU adds so much more to that.
5 Older siblings might not be able to visit yet
Because so many babies in the NICU have compromised immune systems, other children are typically not allowed to visit the NICU. They could be the most healthy kid in history, however, it doesn’t matter. They have germs that, while adults and healthy children or babies are fine with, these NICU babies could easily get sick from. Getting sick while in the NICU could prove fatal, or at the very least prolong the visit by making them more ill than they already are. It’s hard when you want your older kids to meet their new sibling, and they don’t always understand why they can’t, but the day will come that they can be together soon enough. There is, at least, facetime or Skype that can allow them to see their new sibling!
4 In fact, many relatives can’t visit
Along with wanting to avoid introducing new germs from other kids to the room full of sick babies, there’s usually a rule against extra visitors, too. Too many people coming in and out put the babies at risk. Parents are one thing, but trudging in every grandparent and aunt or uncle under the sun only puts your baby, and everyone else’s baby, at risk. It might not seem fair, but it’s the safest thing to do for all of the babies. Before long, you’ll be able to show off your new little bundle of joy, and everyone will get to coo over how cute they are. Until then, photos or face time will have to do.
3 You don’t know when you’re going home
Because of how delicate new babies are, especially NICU babies, there’s no way of telling when exactly you can take them home. They might seem on the road to leaving one day, then have a major setback the next. This can be incredibly painful and frustrating, as we simply want to bring our babies home already. The hospital is uncomfortable and awkward and depressing, we just want the warmth of our home to enjoy time with your new baby. However, it’s better to stay as long as needed in the hospital. It’d be worse to get the greenlight to go home only to have to return to the hospital and go to the PICU (pediatric intensive care unit) because your baby wasn’t as well as you thought. It makes it last longer and puts your baby’s life at risk to leave too soon. Try to take it in stride, the day will come that you do get to go home and everything will go wonderfully.
2 Leaving your baby repeatedly is painful
As mentioned before, you can’t stay with your baby the whole time. Everything from having to leave to get a few hours of sleep to simply stepping out to go to the bathroom is painful. It feels like you’re not doing enough by leaving, even though you can’t take care of your baby if you’re not well, too. We need food, we need rest, we need to use the restroom, we have things we have to do even if we don’t want to leave our babies. But they’re in good hands, the staff will tend to them perfectly. And, thankfully, being so young, the baby won’t notice if you’re gone a few hours to rest or eat or anything. You have to take care of yourself too, don’t forget that.
1 It’ll be over before you know it
After days of seeing your baby in an incubator or tiny crib, after hours spent sitting at their bedside yearning to hold them close, after all of the hard and painful times of waiting; the day will come. The doctor will review everything, examine your beautiful baby, and give you the okay to go home. It’ll feel like a dream, like you’ll wake up and still be stuck in the NICU any second. The whole way out to your car will feel surreal, even once you’re safely home and settling in with your new baby, it won’t feel real for a good while. You’ll cherish every night time feeding, every poopy diaper, every exhausted sigh when you just want to sleep but baby wants to be awake. There’ll be the normal ups and downs, but you’ll be home and happy with your now healthy little baby, even if there are sometimes special care instructions since you were in the NICU.