Leaving my Baby in the NICU
Only a few people truly know about my experience with my son in the NICU.
At the time, I wasn’t able to really talk about it. And even after it was over, there was so many other things going on that I was never really able to process it correctly. It wasn't until 4 years later when I met with a somatic experience therapist that I was truly able to work through our experience in a meaningful way.
There’s absolutely nothing that can prepare you for having a premature baby. It’s something that nobody thinks will ever happen to them. Until it does.
If you’ve read my birth story, you know that I left off when my son was quickly whisked away to the NICU after being born at 32 weeks gestation.
It was really interesting because as I was delivering the placenta and being taken care of post-delivery, it was like I was on a high. I was really, really happy. I couldn’t stop smiling, even though I couldn’t see my baby. Thinking back on that, it was probably a really strange reaction to for others to witness, but nobody said anything. My husband and my mom went with my baby, so I was just alone with the doctor and nurses.
At some point, one of the nurses brought in a breast pump and I tried pumping for the first time only a few hours after I delivered. I can’t remember much detail about the first few days. I don’t know when I got to see my baby. It must have been sometime that evening, and I have a picture of it, but no memory.
My husband explained to me much later that the open isolette was actually for the babies who required the highest level of care so that the nurses and doctors could have instant access to the babies.
(I'm just noticing now that the clock on the wall reads close to 7PM. So that means I really looked at him for the first time about 3.5 hours after I delivered. And I'm holding a box of tissues... at some point I switched from happy to crying.)
I spent 2 nights in the hospital, and spent time pumping and staying in my baby’s room during the day. Luckily, I was able to hold him once a day (yes that was "lucky"). I pumped every 2 hours during the day, and every 3 hours at night. While I slept in my own hospital room those two nights, I was comforted that I was really only a few steps away from the NICU and could see him in the middle of the night if needed.
He was given an orange felt pumpkin blanket because he was born on Halloween!
It wasn’t until the evening of the day of my discharge that I started to fall apart. I suddenly realized I had to leave my baby.
I can recall standing at the edge of his room, just looking at him, clutching the door, crying. My husband was standing next to me trying to be strong for me. The nurses told him to take me home and watch a movie to take my mind off of things – but how could I possible focus on anything else other than the fact that I was separated from my premature baby?
I quietly cried the whole walk down to the car. My husband went around to get the car and pick me up. He said he had something to show me.
As we were driving away, he pointed to my son’s hospital window – it was glowing bright purple. He was under a bili-light (due to low bilirubin) and it just lit up the night. I lost it. I bent in half and was just hysterical. I remember my husband saying “I didn’t mean to make you feel worse!”
We got home and thankfully someone had given us food. All I did was pump, shower, and try to sleep.
But sleep did not come.
Instead, some emotion came out of me. It was truly primal. It was a sound I have never heard myself make (nor do I want to hear again). I’ll be honest, I’ve never experienced true grief or loss before that moment. And that was the most raw, animalistic response my body has ever experienced. And oh it lasted. It seemed to last for an eternity.
I wasn’t just sad.
I wasn’t just mad.
I wasn’t just in pain.
I was something way beyond those basic feelings.
I imagine it’s a feeling that other moms who have to leave their babies in the NICU feel.
I wasn’t pregnant anymore.
But I didn’t have my baby.
I was so bonded with my baby while he was inside of me.
But then in an instant, he was gone.
I’m convinced the only reason I survived that night was because my husband just held me and let me feel. He didn’t talk, or try to tell me everything will be OK. Looking back, I fear what would have happened had he not been there. Or had he not responded the way he had.
Somehow, time passed and morning came. And then began a routine that would become my everyday routine for over 5 weeks. More on what life is truly like in a NICU in my next post.
Stay tuned, and thanks for joining me in my journey. I hope that as my story unfolds, my experiences can be helpful to someone else. To know that they are not alone, and that help is available to them.
Gina Mydlo, PT, DPT