When I was wheeled into the NICU, along the looooong hallway, which was filled with women who walked slumped over due to delivery via c-section, all with tired faces, I had no idea what to expect. I was about to meet my baby for the first time, over 24 hours after she was born. What would she look like? How small would she be? Would she be crying? Would she know I was there? Truth be told, she cried all day after she was born. I was in the ICU as my platelets were low and because I had been put under for the delivery. Do you know how hard that was for me to hear that she was crying? “Ahh yes, your baby is crying, in fact she has been crying all day.” I couldn’t do a damn thing about my little baby, who was still meant to be inside me, crying. Even if I could be beside her, I couldn’t hold her.
I was instructed on how to wash my hands, standing up out of that wheelchair after a c-section was almost as challenging as staring through a piece of glass that separated me from my baby. Only a NICU parent understands how much distance a pane of glass can create. After the hand washing, I was wheeled to her cot-side. I couldn’t see her face because of the the C-PAP. I was overcome with emotion but I also felt numb. This moment was not how I imagined it would be. Prior to this, I had been crying because a dear friend of mine, who I had shared a room with while I was in hospital (forever roomies!), had lost one of her wonderful little twins the morning Amaya was born. The emotional rollercoaster of the NICU had already begun (all my love to you Jodie 💙 💙)…
I stared at Amaya, fighting back the tears, covering my pain by cracking jokes and laughing with the nurses. Amaya was stable. What does that even mean? Can that change instantly? When I wasn’t cot-side, I was being taught how to express. Taking those first bags of milk down to the NICU was the first time I felt like I was helping Amaya. I would spend my days & nights going from my room where I would express, back down to the NICU where I would sit with my girl and chat to the nurses. Four days after having Amaya a midwife comes into my room & says “we are going to discharge you today, I am sorry, we can’t keep you if we don’t have a medical reason”, I almost happily packed my bags, as I was so excited to be getting out of the hospital after being in & out for two months. The nurses let Teina & I put my bags into a cupboard while we went down to say ‘see you later’ to Amaya….
Walking the hall down to her cot, Teina & I joked about who had had c-sections, as the women were all walking just like me. Slooooowly & hunched over. Teina kept talking to me as he knew if he stopped there would more likely be tears. We said see you later, told Amaya that we loved her and that we would be back the next day. As we went to collect my bags, I told Teina that I just wanted to make sure that she had enough milk. We both knew that she did, but I needed a moment alone with my girl. I stared at her through the glass, told her that I loved her & that I would be back first thing in the morning. Walking out of the room was the bravest thing I have ever done, fighting back the tears was almost impossible. You should never have to leave your baby so soon…
I was quiet the whole way home. I kept myself distracted that afternoon by hunting down an electric breast pump, I had no idea how often I would be attached to that thing. I called the NICU at least twice that night & couldn’t wait for the morning to come. The next day they removed some lines from Amaya’s tummy, my job was to hold her hands so she didn’t try to grab the lines and pull them. As I held her tiny, TINY hands I looked down at her little face. She was crying, as removing the lines is painful. Our eyes locked and the stare felt like it lasted forever. It’s like she was crying and looking at me to help her, to stop the pain. I had to look away before I burst into tears.
I spent a lot of my days sipping on coffee at the hospital cafe. I would sit there and watch the families go with their new babies, at first I would cry discreetly, but as the days went on, I didn’t care. I didn’t even try to hide it. This was one of the most difficult things to see on a daily basis. I had my moment and then I pulled myself together, cos I had to be strong for our girl.
A week went by and finally I had cuddles. Holding her for the first time was the best feeling, but it also reminded me of how small she was. Watching the nurses take her out of the isolette and Amaya coming towards me was crazy, she was so tiny. My first cuddle was for two hours, but I could have held her forever. As I sat there cuddling her, I would look around the room. There would be mother’s expressing milk and alarms going off. I had an oversupply of milk & ended up with Mastitis three flippin’ times. I wouldn’t wish that pain on anyone. But others were not so lucky. There was this one Mum, she would express for an hour and be lucky to get 20mls. One day one of the nurses asked her if she had any more bags of milk, she told them that she had been to the Doctor’s that morning about increasing her supply. The nurse said “Ok, well your baby is now on donor milk until we get some more of yours”, the Mother’s face showed her disappointment and pain. Providing your baby with YOUR breastmilk is the only thing you can do for them. That day, was one of the many days that I cried by Amaya’s cot.
We celebrated cracking a kilo, this was a big moment for me. Now she is almost six kilos, I never thought she would be that big. We celebrated graduating rooms and we celebrated going into an open cot. This meant I could pick her up as much as I wanted. The joy this brought me is impossible to explain. When you have a baby in the NICU you are robbed of so many things – changing their first nappy, giving them their first feed and eventually giving them their first bottle. You are so overjoyed for their progress, but it is a bittersweet moment.
I was always told that the babies knew when their parents were there, many nurses told me that the babies who do the best are usually the babies whose parents visit often. I read to Amaya and I sang to her all the time. Each night Teina & I would go up there and read her a bedtime story. I wanted her to hear my voice and to know that I was there. I still remember when my sister-in-law met Amaya for the first time, as we stood around her cot chatting, my sister-in-law all of a sudden burst into tears. Puzzled, I asked why she was crying – she responded “every time you talk, Amaya looks up towards you, she knows your voice.” I spoke and looked down and there were her big brown eyes, no lashes and no eyebrows, staring up at me. Once again, I fought back those tears…
For just over seven long weeks Amaya was in the NICU & SCN. Going back & forth each day and night was exhausting, but I would do anything for Amaya. Expressing is exhausting. The day I got to carry her out of the hospital, I walked past and gave a comforting smile to the NICU Mum’s at the cafe, I prayed it would be their turn soon. As the sunlight hit her face, I told her that this was the world and it is amazing just like her. I was filled with happiness that I had never felt before.
The NICU is an unstable world, you never know what each day will bring. I would walk in through the NICU doors each day, wearing my biggest smile, in hope to bring some joy to anyone who saw me. Those hallways could tell a million stories. I saw parents crying in theses hallways, which was really hard. I cried with parents and I chatted to parents, these people understood me and exactly how I was feeling. We comforted each other, we laughed and we shared our stories. The nurses would join in and for a brief moment, I would forget where I was and my laugh would be genuine & happy. There is a lot of sadness in the NICU, but there are some wonderful people and Amaya & I have made some lifelong friends from our journey in the NICU.