Postpartum in the NICU

Sometimes the most unexpected and horrific things can happen in a split second.
Let me give you the background of how I even experience postpartum in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit).
Our son at 7 days old was being rushed by ambulance to Radys Children’s hospital.  This was after just being at the pediatrician for newborn check up at 5 days old (mind you with a perfect exam and perfect health).
He within hours of being in the NICU had surgery and his life was being threatened by a very rare and serious infection. There was a huge darkness and long days/nights. My husband and myself put everything on hold and our main job was being here with our son the whole time.
That gets me to the real topic of postpartum in the NICU.  I was a mom 7 days after having a natural planed home birth in the NICU not sure of what that minute, hour, day would mean or have in-store for my baby boy.
No longer could I rest, eat my postpartum meals, feed or hold my baby.  No longer could I be in no pants on my sitz bath comfort pads in bed. No longer could I just drink in the euphoria of sweet calm days falling in love and getting to know my newborn. I was thrown into hell as I know it. In the mouth of it feeling like we were going to be swallowed.
I was already depleted, healing and not ready to run a physical & emotional marathon, but here I was.
My body craved and still does my baby. I couldn’t do anything about it. I also now had to pump every 2-4 hours or as needed, which is depressing so early on to be pumping and not being attached to your new baby.
I also never pumped with my first I was always around her to feed her, so this was such a new learning curve. I’m also now versed on personal items to easy and help with this much pumping. I’ll do a blog on that later.
So despite the sadness, fear and being in pure survival mode- my number one job had now become to be strong for my son. I had to quickly adapt to life in the NICU.
I started packing in my one bag (more bags are not practical or feasible in the NICU) my squeeze bottle and hydrogen peroxide, arnica, snacks that were high in fatty oils and protein (nuts, vegan protein bars- MacroBars are the best, nut butters, bananas) lots of water bottles that I could refill, a spiritual easy read book (Light is the New Black by Rebecca Cambell) , and some spiritual items to help my son heal or that had positive/ comforting meaning to me during this time.
I’m a very superstitious person and I was given a rosary from a friend who’s child also was a NICU baby and I carry it everyday on me along with lighting candles every moment I go home at night to  burn until I return the next morning.
I mention these rituals as they do help in the healing and for me the emotional process of going through something like this. Regardless of your belief system, I’ve found this to be very comforting. Find a ritual for you if you are ever faced with being in the NICU.
I figured out the three pants I could wear that are comfortable and basically created  a uniform for when I’m here.It helps not to have to think about what to wear.  It’s either cold or hot so layers and also just being generally in comfortable clothing is very important. I’ve found that everyday I wear a vest with pockets as I always need my phone on me, that rosary, a pad and even my phone charger at times and don’t want to lug around the back pack every time I go to get a snack or pump. Also comfortable shoes, as I stand more by his bed then sit in the chair.
I also created a “pump bag”- it’s a small reusable grocery bag that holds that supplies a water bottle and some snacks that I keep here. I quickly realized no reason to take it home at night. I also found that the only time I can and will eat is when I’m out of his room and usually the only reason I do that is to pump. So ensuring that I eat I have snacks in the pump bag.
The goal with postpartum in the NICU for all moms is maintaining some level of rest and eating well to keep breastmilk production up. So lots of water, good fats/ yes healthy eats and trying to get some rest in. It’s tempting in this situation to eat like crap and not take care of yourself, but that is a terrible idea and really doesn’t help your child either. The goal is to get them home and you don’t want to be unhealthy when they get to come home. I know this is what I think about when picking what to eat or when to call it a day and go home.
 I found that when I was pumping to help keep my mind from going to an ugly place and make the time go by faster, I would watch a show (or 15-20minutes of a show). I actually watched stand up comedy and it was helpful to change my mental state, give me a reprieve and some levity. I truly think this was one of the best things I did for myself. Of course the first five days I didn’t have any of this figured out and was just happy I put pants on and brushed my teeth.
You’ll find your groove and even though at day 25 I think I’ve found some helpful healing tools, I’m sure by the end of this I’ll have more.
I also do take the stairs when I can. My midwife might not like this, but I found it helpful to get my strength back, help my posture and also get the body moving again. I’ve also been wearing really good athletic shoes as I’m standing by his bed more than sitting. I also think it helps to get out the restless energy of the unknown when here to move for a moment- change up the space.
I remember the night I went home at a reasonable hour 9pm, I felt so guilty. Moms reading this stop it now, don’t feel guilty for taking care of yourself and getting rest.
I remember thinking how can I leave my baby?! What type of mother leaves her newborn in the hospital alone? Then my husband gave me the best thing to meditate on. He asked me if I feel guilty when I leave Our daughter at her preschool, of course I don’t. He continued with well, our son is at the best childcare facility in our area. He has a dedicated team on him and eyes all day/night.
In that moment, I instantly felt a little better because what he was saying was true.
I go home at night, eat some of my first forty days soups (link here to more on this), shower, light candles, say my positive affirmations for my son, put some essential oils in the diffuser and snuggle my daughter to sleep.  I wake up early and come into the hospital and spend my day here being with my son and being an advocate for his care. I’m also the messenger relaying everything back to the family, friends and our community. This is my new role, one which there is absolutely no training or preparation for. You just dig deep down and do it.
I can tell you I only let my guard down once and had one really dark moment of complete fear that spiraled into a melt down at the hospital. After that I completely changed to defiance against any negative outcomes, denial of any other possibilities to him not being restored to perfect health and became stronger than ever before. I even had a very strong willed talk with my husband that we would not act like that or even think that way as that was not going to be our sons story. It was our job to be strong for him and only bring that energy into his space. I believe this was a pivotal point in his recovery as well. I also had no shame in asking the community to please stop what they were doing for that moment and send our son love, strength, light and prayers- that we needed a collective force behind him to help guide him over the hump so to speak.  That act itself was cathartic. To actually ask for help and love when you need it most. I don’t think I’ve actually ever done that in my life.
The response and continued response to this day, is one of the reasons I believe he is still here with us and turning the corner from surviving to thriving.
19 days in and we still have months and years on this journey, but regardless if you are in the NICU for a day, weeks, months or years- your not alone and it forever changes your outlook on life and how beyond precious you’re baby is.
It’s not ideal to do your first forty days postpartum in the NICU, but there are ways to make it work and still find some ways for yourself to heal in a place of pain.  Journaling, breaks outside to get a cup of hot tea, having a friend come visit and bring you food you love, Netflix while pumping, reading a book, or just staring at your sweet baby.
These beginnings only make the story sweeter in the end.
I know how strong, calm and sweet my boy is, this is his journey and even though I might never know the reason, this is what he had to experience in this life and us as his parents as well. I do believe children pick us as parents and he knew what he was doing. I just have to surrender to whatever this journey has in store and not get caught up on how I wanted it to start. The main point is he is here and it doesn’t matter how or why, just he is here and we are together.
Yes it’s not cozy in my master bedroom listening to jack johnson, but it’s our new reality and we are going to make the best of it and appreciate all the small wins and moments regardless of the settings.
I will say don’t beat yourself up and if you need to cry please do. I cry almost every night on my drive home, going home to a house without him, with all his little things to remind me of him. I cry while pumping, wishing it was him I was feeding. Songs on the radio, looking at my daughter, and even talking with the medical team. I cried a lot and still do. It’s part of healing. I just have my own rule about not doing it in his room as kids look to their parents for comfort and strength and that is what I give him. No fear or stress, I keep that away from him. Also don’t forget as I tried to at times, that you are postpartum- emotions are high. Your body does literally crave your child and that separation is horrifically painful. For me the hardest part has been catching up to him doing so well and moving from trying to survive into recovery- I’m still in survival mode. It’s almost like a form of PTSD. I’m sure with time I will not be so jumpy, worried or fearful for him. Or maybe not. I just might be that crazy mom that hovers over her son and still tries to carry him to college- haha. Regardless, he is honesty the best life teacher I’ve ever know and I’m his student right now going on this journey.
To all the NICU moms, I’m sorry you are or went through this. I love your strength and I feel your pain. Moms are super hero’s.  As the saying goes, “Tough as a mother!”
In love and healing,
Mom of baby B’s
Ps. Written From my sons NICU room.
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