Our Journey in the NICU

 

This article was written by mama and guest contributor Candice Crystal.

 

I pictured a quintessential birth for my first child. I would labor and push for a reasonable amount of time for a first-time mother and then my child would come into this world, healthy and strong. She would be placed on my chest and she would be breastfed right away. We hired a doula and friend, Amanda, to guide us through the amazing journey. We knew Amanda would help us navigate the wonderful and scary road that is pregnancy and labor. We created a birth plan which we were willing to deviate from if needed. In the end, Amanda was called upon to offer more than guidance but comfort in a time of extreme need.

Like most birth plans go, ours detoured from our envisioned “perfect” labor.  My water broke in an uber on the way to the hospital. I labored hours without an epidural and finally opted for one at hour six of an eighteen-hour labor. I got an infection during labor and spiked a fever. Amanda sponge bathed my swollen body as my temperature rose. An oxygen mask was draped over me as the baby’s heart rate dropped and required monitoring. During one of the medical checks, the doctor discovered meconium. At the time, my husband and I had very little understanding of what that meant and how dangerous it could be. (Meconium is the baby’s first stool. Unlike later bowel movements, meconium is made up of materials ingested during the baby’s time in the uterus.) Meconium in the lungs can cause inflammation and infection in a newborn baby.

When it came time to push, the white walled labor room seemed eerily quiet. There was only one doctor and two nurses present. With the help of my husband and Amanda I was able to push my 8 lb. 2 oz. daughter into the world. The doctor pulled the baby out and showed her to me. She looked limp, lifeless and ashen. I stretched out my hand to touch her and was quickly told by a nurse not to, for fear that stimulating her with my touch would cause her to aspirate the meconium. 

After my daughter was born, it felt like an explosion of medical professionals sprang into action. Unbeknownst to us an entire pediatrics team is assembled and waiting outside our labor room. While I was pushing, I imagine they were patiently waiting outside our door knowing more than we did of what was to come. My daughter was whisked away to an adjoining room and the doors were shut behind her. My husband watches as they try to intubate her several times without success. His earliest memories of becoming a father will always be of him standing in that room crying and trying to figure out what he will tell me.

Time stood still, finally broken by a baby’s sharp cry. My daughter begins to fill her lungs with air on her own and her skin begins to pinken. We were so lucky.

There is a calmness to the room despite the chaos. A nurse hands me my daughter for the first time. I hold her, and we take our first photo as a family of three, but this idyllic moment is cut short. I don’t have time to caress her or memorize her facial details. They tell me she needs to go to the NICU and I hand her over to the nurse. My husband goes with her so that she is not alone.

The moment seems surreal in that I am alone after giving birth. There is no child on my chest to clutch and nothing for my hands to stroke. My mind is unable to process the sequence of events. Thankfully, Amanda is with me and offers me a sense of comfort and solace that every woman should feel in her first hours of motherhood. 

Several hours pass and I finally get to re-meet my daughter in the NICU. My husband wheels me in on a wheelchair and I hear the quiet hum of the room. I can barely see my daughters face as wires encircle her tiny body. A CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine is in her nose to ensure the air sacs in her lungs stay open and clear of any fluid. I touch her little body with such great fear that she will break. The touch of her skin against mine opens the flood gates and the tears stream down my face with relief and sadness.

As first-time parents we are overwhelmed, and our strength is tested again and again. We stay up-to-date on her care, patient rounds and medical tests performed. Several friends and family visit us in the NICU, bringing with them love, support and nourishment. But how could they know on the inside we felt like we were falling apart at the seams. We did a stellar job at appearing ‘normal’ to everyone on the outside.

Truthfully, sometimes I feel like I should not be as traumatized by what happened. There were so many babies in the NICU who faced a lot more challenges than my daughter. We were so lucky. We got to take our baby girl home from the NICU. Not everyone gets to do that. Everyone’s birth experience is so different, and I have learned over time to embrace this as part of our story – part of how we began as a family.

Parenthood doesn’t always begin the way you want it to. Birth plans don’t always go the way you pictured. But it is important to know, however it begins for each family, you learn to create your new normal out of it.

 

Candice Crystal is a native New Yorker who has a passion for poetry, writing, traveling, and food. She attended Cornell University where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Communication. Candice is an emerging new writer and runs the website Kosher Couple, a kosher traveling website. She currently resides in Los Angeles where she works for a global consulting firm and lives with her husband and two children. You can follow her on Instagram at @realkoshercouple.