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Remembering the NICU Days

In a few short days, Haven will be nine months old. Nine months of joy, sleep deprivation, laughs, changing diapers, and watching her grow.

Oatmeal 8 Months

I knew it would feel bittersweet to see her grow and change, and I love seeing how she is discovering the world around her and getting stronger.  But, I also fiercely miss the days when she was five pounds and some ounces, barely staying awake to eat, and snuggles for dayssssss.

And, strangely enough, I also sometimes miss our days in the NICU.  These are our first memories with her, and even though it was Hard with a capital H to have her in the hospital, I understand why I look back so fondly on them.

I left off on her birth story at the first time I got to hold her in the NICU.  If you haven’t read them, you can read Part One and Part Two.

After holding her for a while, I gave her back to the nurse to place her back in the crib.  She wasn’t in an incubator yet, and she looked so little and helpless with wires everywhere.  I asked my Mom to take a picture of me, Josh, and Haven-our first family photo.  It’s not the one I was expecting-in the hospital bed, minutes after birth, with the baby sleeping peacefully on my chest-but it was our first picture, and part of our story, and I love it for that.

First Family Photo

The nurse explained to me that I could come down and see her anytime I wanted, with the exception of 6:45 to 7:45 pm and am, while the nurses changed shifts.  We headed back down to my room, and I tried to settle in and get some sleep, a difficult task while on an emotional high off of getting to see and hold her.

For the first few nights, while I was still admitted in the hospital, I would get up to pump in the middle of the night.  I was only getting a few drops at most, but I knew any little bit would help her.  I would walk down the hall, even at 4 in the morning to go see her and drop off the tiny bit of milk I had.

I couldn’t try to nurse her for several days, until she was off of oxygen machines.  Until then, she was receiving IV fluids for nourishment, as well as IV antibiotics for her suspected case of pneumonia.  Because she couldn’t nurse, the NICU nurse would take a q-tip, dip it in the drops of milk, and swab it in her mouth.  She said it was called oral care, and it gives her a taste of the “liquid gold”.

After the first night, Haven was moved to an incubator in the spot right in front of the desk.  She was the first baby you saw as you came in the doors to the NICU.

After two and a half days, I was released from the hospital.  Before we left, we went down to the NICU to say goodbye.  When the nurse learned that I was being released, she took Haven’s CPAP off so I could see her face while I held her.  She could breathe without it, it was just labored breathing.  “Momma needs to be able to see her baby,” she said with a smile.

First Time No CPAP

She handed her to me, and I started crying.  This was the moment I had waited for-to hold my baby and to gaze into her face.  I still mourn that I didn’t get this moment right after delivery, but it was maybe even more special because I had anticipated it so much.  The moment only lasted a minute or so, and then she needed to be put back on the CPAP.

Before we left the hospital, we stopped at the in-hospital pharmacy to pick up my prescription, and I remember sitting in the waiting area, with my It’s a Girl! balloon, boppy pillow, and suitcase, and feeling like people were looking at us and wondering where the baby was.  While loading everything into the car, my eyes filled with tears as I thought, we should be driving home with a baby.  As we drove away, I realized it was the first time I would really be apart from her, with miles between us, and she was only 36 hours old.

When we got home, some friends and family had graciously cleaned our house for us.  Josh’s parents had finished up painting in Haven’s room, and my father-in-law had put her crib together.  It was wonderful to be home, but of course it didn’t feel quite right.  It felt normal, but abnormal within the context of my new reality.  How could I sit and watch TV while my baby is in the hospital?  Shouldn’t I be doing something because my baby is in the hospital?  I should be breastfeeding instead of pumping but I can’t because my baby is in the freaking hospital.

The next week and a half is hard to separate by day in my mind, because every day turned out to be mostly the same.  I would get up in the middle of the night, every 2-3 hours and pump.  I had the pump set up next to my bed, and I would sit on the edge of the bed while I pumped.  Bleary-eyed, I would label the bottle, put it in the freezer, wash my pump parts, and crawl back into bed.

In the mornings, I would wake up, shower, and get ready to go.  My Mom and I would ride in her car, and Josh would drive ours so he could leave for work from the hospital.  As we pulled up and parked at the hospital, I would feel so giddy that I was about to go see Haven.  The ride up to the sixth floor, down and around the halls, and the scrubbing in process couldn’t happen fast enough.

As the nurse buzzed me in through the doors, I was greeted with the familiar beeps of the monitors, low lighting to create a relaxed atmosphere for the babies, and the smell of soap and hand sanitizer.  I would find my nurse and get updates from the last few hours.

She had to wear the CPAP for the first three days (the specifics are fuzzy now), then she had cannulas in for a day, then she was on room air.  The last day she was on cannulas, I arrived and saw that they were taped to her face, but not actually in her nose.  I found our nurse, who was tending to another baby, and she said that Haven had actually been pulling them out all morning, and her oxygen levels were staying up without them in, so she was just keeping an eye on her.  She kept her levels up for several hours, so we got to take them off that day!

No More Oxygen

After she was off of oxygen machines, I was able to try to nurse her.  Because she was a preemie, it was a struggle.  I’ll go into more detail in a blog about our breastfeeding journey (I have a ton to say about that), but the short version is this: in the beginning, because she was so little and so sleepy, I would latch her on, and she would just sit there.  For the days that she was still receiving IV fluids, this was okay because she was getting her nutrition there.  As soon as she finished the fluids, though, if she wouldn’t nurse after 20 minutes of trying, we would have to give her a bottle of pumped milk.  Although it was a “slow flow” nipple, the milk dripped out and poured out of the sides of her tiny mouth.  There were times when I was able to get her to nurse for a few minutes, but it was always very weak nursing.

Josh Feeding Haven

Because she was having so much trouble nursing, she went from her 5 lbs 10 ounces birth weight down to 5 lbs 3 ounces.  She was also jaundiced, and spent several days under the bilirubin lights.  Those days were hard, because she had to spend most of the day in the isolette instead of in my arms.

The nurses have the babies on three hour schedules, so every three hours, we would take her temperature, change her diaper, and the nurse would do an exam.  They always weighed her wet and dirty diapers to measure output, to make sure she was getting enough milk.  Then, we would carefully unhook the monitor wires, transfer her to the crib, and roll her to the pumping/nursing room.  After attempting to nurse, then bottle feeding, I would send her back out with Josh or my Mom, and I would stay in the room to pump.  If her bilirubin levels were good that day, and if she was keeping her body temperature well, we could hold her as long as we wanted.

I would usually stay at the NICU from 8 AM to 10 or 11 PM, only leaving during the shift changes, or to run home to eat or eat in the cafeteria.  Leaving at night was always hard.  I remember crying the whole way home one night, and when we walked in the door, my Mom (who had gone back to our house earlier) asked, “Is everything okay?” “It’s just so hard,” I told her.

I often called in the middle of the night for updates on Haven.  They would usually do a blood draw to check bilirubin levels over the midnight shift, so I would call to see if her levels would be good that day, or if she would be under the lights again.  Often, I just called because I wanted to be connected to her somehow.  The nurses were so great, and always reassured me with news on how well she was doing.  One nurse told me, with a laugh, about how she had just gotten done giving her a bottle, and she spit up the milk all over her, some of which had already curdled.

When she was getting close to the end of her stay, all she needed to do was to be able to regulate her own body temperature, and to get on a trend of weight gain instead of loss.  I remember that the day that she got to wear clothes for the first time (after finishing her IV fluids and only had the monitor wires to work around), and the day she moved to an open air crib (when she could regulate her temp) were both really exciting days.

During this time, they allowed us to stay in a room across the hall, so I could try to nurse her overnight.  It was great to have a place to land, and to take a nap if I needed.

On the 12th day, as I walked into the NICU, our nurse walked up to me and said, “You’re going home today!” “Really?!” I couldn’t believe that we were finally going to be able to bring her home.  Haven had passed her carseat test overnight-they must be able to sit in their carseat for 90 minutes without their stats dropping-and she was finally gaining weight.

We hadn’t had a chance to have the carseat base properly installed, so we called around to several fire stations to see if anyone could install it for us that day.  Josh took it to be installed, and I picked out an outfit for her to go home in.  We didn’t have any warm clothes that were small enough for her, so her going home outfit was super random-whatever I could roll up and layer.

The nurse brought her to our room, we strapped her into the carseat, and the nurse rolled her downstairs in a wagon.  The nurse we had had for several days was Filipino, so we talked about the Philippines and Filipino foods while Josh pulled the car up.  It was raining, so we covered her carseat with a blanket and loaded her in.

First Carseat Ride

Finally, we were home.  We brought her inside and set the carseat down on the living room floor for the cats to see.  While it felt amazing to be home, it also felt a little anticlimactic.  I always pictured bringing my first baby home to a house full of family members, but our family had all needed to go home before she came home from the hospital.

Nevertheless, we were home, and I was so thankful.  I was so excited to finally start our everyday lives as a family of three.

Two Weeks

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Birth Story Part 2…or, This Isn’t Too Bad

If you haven’t read Part 1 of my Birth Story yet, you can do so here.


After the doctor left the triage room and I had called my Mom so she could start the 4.5 hour drive, I looked over at Josh.

“How do you feel about this?”  I asked him.

“Well,” he said, “I don’t know.”  In true Josh form, he was outwardly calm, which was good for me.  I was excited, but nervous.  I couldn’t believe that it was going to be a matter of hours before we would meet our little girl.

I remember, a few years ago, during a friend’s pregnancy, I asked her if she was nervous about delivery.  She laughed and told me, “Well, it’s coming whether I like it or not, so I don’t really have a choice.”  I felt the same sentiment this night.  Labor and delivery were here, so the only thing to do was to do it.

Josh called his parents, and they decided to wait until the next morning to drive up, rather than driving through the night.

The nurses came back in and prepared me to be admitted and to move to a labor and delivery room.  They walked me down and around the hallway, and brought me into the room.  As we walked in, I thought, this is where she will be born.  Strange to be here and see it.  Life was going to change in a few hours, and it was exciting and strange to see the environment that it would happen in.

After settling into the bed, they placed an IV, and began to ask me questions about what I would like for the labor process.

“Will you be wanting an epidural?”

“I’m 99% sure no, but I might change my mind.”  They advised me that even if I was pretty sure I did not want one, it was a good idea to go ahead and talk to the anesthesiologist so he could get his spiel out of the way, rather than trying to listen and sign paperwork while I was in hard labor.  I consented, knowing that was probably a good idea.

My friend Kayla arrived, and my sister would be getting there soon.  The plan had been for my sister to be present at delivery, and Kayla would wait in the waiting room with my 6 month old nephew so my sister could feed and attend to him when needed.  However, the ER staff would not let him into the waiting room overnight, so my sister was forced to go home.  We were both bummed, but the circumstances were understandable.

Because my sister was not able to be there, I asked Kayla if she would be there during delivery.  “Of course.  This will be the first birth that I’ve been to.  I can’t believe it’s time for Haven to be here!”

The nurses started my pitocin drip, and decided to start small to see where that would take me.  I was having contractions, but they were irregular, and they were hoping that the pitocin would regulate them into active labor.  I was frustrated because I was having two or three contractions in a row, but because they weren’t fully coming down into a rest in between, they would only count as one contraction.  So I was having them “six minutes apart”, but for three or four minutes at a time.

After awhile, the contractions were still not settling into a good pattern, so they turned my pitocin drip up to 4, then to 6.  The contractions were getting harder and harder, and I thought for sure I was progressing quite a bit.

Because I have had a miscarriage before, I knew what to expect from contractions.  In many ways, it gave me confidence to know that I would be able to handle them.  My coping mechanism for the contractions was closing my eyes, focusing on breathing, and grasping Josh’s hand.  I didn’t expect to need the hand, but I really did.

As the contractions came and went, I squeezed Josh’s hand (firmly, but not to the breaking point, lol), and Kayla talked me through the contractions as they rose and fell on the screen.  There were a couple of times that Josh was still holding my cup of ice chips from the last time that he had spooned some into my mouth, so his hand was not readily available.  All I could get out was, “Hand, hand, hand, HAND!!!”

After awhile, the doctor came back in to check my dilation.

“You are three centimeters and 90% effaced.”

Three. Centimeters???  Are you serious?  This was the first time that I questioned whether I could do it without an epidural.  The contractions were getting pretty strong, and I knew that as I approached 7-10 centimeters, it would just get harder.  The nurses asked me if I wanted some pain meds through my IV, but I felt like there was still quite a ways to go until I reached my pain threshold, so I declined.

The contractions became harder, and I suddenly felt sick to my stomach.  I grabbed the awkward plastic cone-shaped sick bag, but didn’t throw up.

Forty five minutes later, the doctor came to check me again.

“You are eight centimeters and 100% effaced.”

I lifted my head off the bed in shock.  “Eight???”

The nurse smiled at me.  “No wonder why you were feeling sick.  Your body was going through a ton of change.”

Ok.  I’m at an eight.  I can do this.  The end was in sight.

Just a little bit later, I was checked again.  The nurse said that as she was checking, she felt it change from a 9 to a 10.

“Whenever you feel the urge to push, just let us know.”  They began to set up the room for delivery.  The doctor put on his gown and gloves, the NICU nurses were on standby in the corner of the room, and other people were doing other things, but I was too busy to notice what else was going on.

“I feel like I have to push!”  I told them.

Everyone assumed their places.  My labor and delivery nurses were on each side of me, holding my legs.  Josh was by my head, holding my hand with one of his, and holding a cool rag to my forehead with his other.  Kayla was behind Josh, camera at the ready.  This was probably the time that I panicked the most, as I was cautioned not to push yet, but my body was involuntarily pushing anyway.  I focused all my energy on not pushing.

An oxygen mask was placed over my nose and mouth, and I was given the go ahead to start pushing.  I focused on one of the nurses as she counted me through the pushes.

“Good job, good job.  Again!”  I gave three pushes at a time, and by the third push, I was just ready to breathe again.  I could feel the muscles in my face bulging, but I really had no control over them.

IMG_2616

I had been worried about the pushing part, and how much it would hurt, especially if I tore.  If I’m being honest, it was not as bad as I imagined, and the things at the forefront of my mind were actually about how I was so thirsty and my mouth was so dry from the oxygen, and how I really needed some chapstick.  I kept on pushing because I wanted water and chapstick ASAP, haha.

“I see lots of hair,” the doctor said.  Good, I thought.  I had hoped she would have lots of hair to justify all the heartburn I had during my pregnancy.

After only twenty minutes of pushing, she was out.  She cried out for a second, but then she was quiet.  She was placed on the table between my legs, and I took off my oxygen mask and leaned up.

“I can’t see her!  I can’t see her!”  They wrapped her in a towel, and placed her on my belly, but the towel was over her face as they wiped her down.  She still was not crying after a few seconds, so they took her to the NICU nurses in the corner.

IMG_2623 (2)

As strange as is sounds, my focus wasn’t really on her at that point.  I knew she was in good hands, and I knew I still had more work to do.  They pressed down on my belly to deliver the placenta, and began stitching me up.  I didn’t really feel anything, even the poke of the needle to numb the area.  I was concentrating on keeping my body from shaking off the table.  I guess it was a combination of adrenaline, hormones, and maybe some effects of the pitocin.

They called Josh over to the corner where they were working on Haven.  They were using a manual oxygen pump to help her breathe.  She was grunting and working hard to keep the air sacs in her lungs open.  Josh began talking to her, and she opened her eyes wide and looked at him.  Josh said later that this was the coolest part for him.  I think this is exactly when he fell in love with her.

Birth Picture

“You can come to the NICU with her while we get her set up,” they told him.

Before they left, the nurse wrapped her in a blanket, and brought her over so I could see her for a few seconds.  I barely had time to register what she looked like before they had to take her away, but I was grateful I got to see her for a second.

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Josh followed them down the hall to the NICU, and they explained in better detail how they would help her breathe.  Then they had him come back to the delivery room while they did the “mean stuff”, like placing her IV, pricking her foot, and strapping on a machine to help her breathe.

After Josh got back to the room, my Mom arrived.  She had rushed from home, over four hours away.  For the next three hours, we waited in the delivery room until we could go see Haven in the NICU.

Finally, my labor and delivery nurses came with a wheelchair to wheel me down to the NICU to see her.  When we got there, she was in an open-air crib with a warming lamp above her.  She had wires coming out everywhere, and had a big CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) strapped to her head and covering her nose.  She had a small tube taped to her chin that went into her mouth, down her throat, and into her stomach to drain off air and fluid caused by the CPAP.  There was also an IV in her hand.

She looked so tiny and fragile, but at the same time, I couldn’t believe that she had fit inside of me.  There were the feet that had constantly poked out of the left side of my belly, and the bottom that had burrowed so far into my ribs on my right side.  Because of the CPAP, I couldn’t see much of her face, but I could see a thick tuft of brown hair poking out of the back.  I placed my hand lightly on her shoulder and arm.  “Hi honey,” I told her.

The NICU nurse explained all of the machines and how they were helping her, and what the numbers on her monitor meant.  She also told us that they had taken an X-Ray of her chest, and there was some fluid on her lungs, and possibly pneumonia.  They had started her on a round of antibiotics, and she was receiving IV fluids for nourishment.

Later that night, my Mom and I returned to the NICU to see her again, and I got to hold her for the first time.  We did Kangaroo Care, a technique where the baby is placed skin-to-skin inside your shirt, against your chest.  Finally, I was holding my baby girl.  The moment that I had been robbed of at delivery because of her circumstances was finally here.  Even though she was very sick and there were wires everywhere, all felt right in the world.

First Time Holding 2First Time Holding


I’ve been asked a couple of times if I had the birth experience that I had wanted.  The answer is yes and no.  I had a feeling during my pregnancy that Haven would come early, but I didn’t expect her to come this early.  I was 35 weeks and 5 days, which is considered late pre-term.  The biggest concern at this point is underdeveloped lungs, which was Haven’s biggest struggle.

I was not crazy about being induced, especially with pitocin, but I know that under the circumstances, it really was the best option for us.

I am so proud of myself that I was able to labor and deliver with no pain medication or epidural.  Maybe it is because I am now three weeks out from the experience, but I really honestly did not think that the labor process was all that bad.  I mean, I don’t want to do it again right now, but it does give me lots of confidence for future deliveries.

And above all, I am so glad that our Haven Harper is here, and is healthy.  Her first couple of weeks were rough, but she has proven herself to be a fighter.  In my next blog or two, I’ll talk about our NICU experience-the hard things and the beautiful things.  It was a life changing experience for sure.