Heartbreaking doesn’t even begin to describe that sinking feeling you get when you see your baby behind a door, in a glass box, in nothing but a diaper, with tubes shoved up her nose, a name tag on her wrist (so she doesn’t get mixed up with other babies — my biggest fear at the time) just lying there. Maybe she’s thinking “Where’s my mother?” “What are these scary beeping sounds?” “Why am I not in my warm cosy home anymore?”
My daughter was a preemie and was kept in the NICU as soon as she was born. After coming home, she was once again sent to the NICU for exaggerated physiological jaundice. It’s one place you absolutely don’t want to be — outside the NICU. But if you find yourself there for any reason, there’s a lot you can learn from the experience and I will attempt to show you the brighter side of things (even though there doesn’t seem to be a single ray of light, let alone an entire side that’s brighter).
It helps you bond with your baby.
It took me a while to fall in love with my daughter. I had a little case of the “baby blues” and was on a rollercoaster of the strangest emotions. When she was taken away to the NICU the second time, my hospital only allowed me to visit her twice a day for 15 minutes each. I began to miss her. I found myself getting dressed up to go see my one week old daughter. Watching her inside that room, through the double doors, broke my heart. I had this desire to scoop her up and hug her tight and whisper in her ear, “Don’t worry darling, Mumma’s here and you’ll be home soon.”
She would emerge from behind the doors, in the arms of a nurse, sleeping mostly, but sometimes crying. The moment I took the tiny bundle into my arms, she would stop crying, give a little purr like a kitten, and latch onto me. My heart burst in those moments. It made me feel like a mother. It deepened my bond with her. Since she’s gotten back from the NICU, I have valued her presence in my life every day, more than anything.
You’re at peace knowing your baby is being monitored 24/7.
There’s a reason it’s called the Neonatal INTENSIVE Care Unit — because it gives JUST that to your baby: 24-hour, intensive monitoring and care. You can be at peace knowing that your baby is in good hands and well taken care of at the hospital, with state of the art facilities, medicines, equipment, and round the clock staff.
It’s easier said than done; I know I hated not knowing what was happening every second of every day she was there. But it does you a world of good if you can take things in your stride and know that it’s in the best interest of your baby, and there can be no one better than the doctors and hospital staff to make sure your baby gets back home to you healthy and safe.
You can rest and prepare for the baby to get home.
It always helps to look ahead instead of wallow. Rest up while you have the chance since your baby, too, is resting it up nice in the NICU. Once the baby comes home, it’s showtime, and you’ll be on your toes. So take this time away to heal, build up your energy reserves, and plan well for when you’re reunited with your little one.
It makes you stronger.
Apart from strengthening the bond with your baby, it makes you stronger as a parent. It’s terrible to see your child get even a little scrape on the knee, leave alone see them in a hospital room, far away from yourself. Once you go through this phase, it will make you stronger as a mother; in turn, you can pass on this courage to your child. I clearly recall how initially I would cry whenever my daughter cried. During vaccines, blood tests or even when the doctor was only checking her reflexes. My little monkey now jumps off her bed, randomly falls and slips, and has bumped her head innumerable times and I know it will only make us stronger! This is also a time when partners grow closer and draw strength from each other. All in all, your family itself has the potential to become more close knit.
You meet other parents outside the NICU.
A beautiful thing that happened when we would wait outside to meet our daughter, twice a day, everyday, was that we met so many parents of little babies who were in similar situations. I was howling away like a wolf (I blame my hormone-induced state) for my daughter, who was getting treated for jaundice, even though I knew it was nothing serious. The other parents would gather around, console me, offer me hugs, encouraging words (and their food, too).
It was only later that I realized that each one of them was fighting such a scary battle. One of them had a child with multi organ failure and sepsis; another had a baby who was born in the 32nd week and whose lungs weren’t developed; the list of conditions went on. Watching their resolve and courage gave me a lot of support. We would inquire about each other’s babies, pray for each other, and console each other. We formed some very close friendships during these times. It’s a beautiful way to bond with other parents, and to be able to not only receive but also radiate positivity and prayers to fellow parents.
Having said all of this, I still believe that seeing your child, or rather ANY child, in the ICU is a nightmare. No matter what positive spin you put on it, it can only be in retrospect. While you are in the situation, it feels impossible to exist, even breathe. I have written this little piece with the faint hope that some mother — suffering because of their baby being in the NICU — will be able to look into the future through this tiny little window and feel hope.