The New NICU Normal
Updated: Jan 31, 2021
The next few days were consumed with trips back and forth to the hospital to visit Laila, pumping breastmilk every 2-3 hours, and attempting to find time to rest. It was an unending cycle of activity that never seemed to end. It felt as if there was something that needed my attention every second of the day. My heart was still at the hospital with Laila, but I also knew that she needed intense medical care and wouldn’t be ready to come home for quite some time.
After two weeks, my mom returned to her home and my husband was already back at work. I was still technically supposed to be off my feet as much as possible and avoiding any strenuous activity; however, I knew there was no way I could go a day without seeing my baby. Although a bit too soon, I started driving to the hospital to spend the day with Laila. While there, I sang and read books to her. I was always saying a prayer for God to keep her healthy and well. I was as hands-on as I could be, though there were restrictions. I changed her little diapers, placed my hand gently on her body, and checked her temperature. My favorite part of the visits was kangaroo care, a time when I was given the opportunity to hold her and engage in skin to skin interaction. When I had her in my arms, I would close my eyes and pretend we were in her nursery at home, sitting in our rocking chair.
Things were going as well as could be expected, but I couldn't shake the gnawing feeling that I was somehow responsible for her prematurity. I felt as if my body had betrayed me because she would have been a healthy, full-term baby if not for my presumed incompetent cervix. My doctors weren't able to determine exactly what brought on premature labor. Did I go into premature labor first, which caused my cervix to dilate? Or did my cervix dilate first, which caused premature labor? It was a whole new spin on the chicken or the egg debate. There was an endless barrage of questions that I ruminated on. Did I do something to bring this on? Was it that workout at the gym or that Mexican food I ate? Did I drink enough water? Was I too active? Was I too stressed?
During those first weeks, I mourned the loss of my full-term pregnancy. I was sad that I wouldn't actually be pregnant for my baby shower or that I wouldn't have a maternity photoshoot. I was looking forward to waddling around with my big belly while everyone exclaimed how cute I looked. I wistfully reflected on my abandoned birth plan. Most importantly, I mourned the fact that I didn’t get to take my baby home with me when I left the hospital after giving birth. I felt so alone day after day as I climbed into my car and drove home without my baby. I knew that I needed to stay positive and to concentrate on Laila’s growth and my healing. She deserved a mom who was present and prayerful. The sadness and despair would have to wait because Laila needed me to be strong as she bravely fought to survive.