Faith, Mama to Lennox and Archer, born at 30 weeks
I went into labour with my twin boys at 30 weeks. After being on bed rest for 2 weeks, it was still a shock and I wasn’t prepared. I wasn’t prepared at all. I was being wheeled into the birthing suite and stopped with a nurse to sign some consent forms. The nurse looked down at me and said, “Are these your first babies?”
“Yes, why?” I replied
“Because you look terrified!”
Well I am terrified I thought! And surprised, there were so many people in the birthing suite. They were all wonderful, kind, thoughtful and explained everything to me and what was happening. Soon enough the boys were born, I saw Lennox for a brief second, but not Archer. Both boys were whisked away to NICU to be put on breathing support. I don’t remembering hearing them cry.
I was then in the recovery room vomiting all over myself, feeling miserable, waiting for the anaesthetic to wear off so I could feel my lower body. Two NICU nurses came to tell me that my boys were OK and there was nothing to worry about.
I wasn’t going to be able to see the boys until morning as I couldn’t walk after the operation. But the hospital arranged space for my bed to be wheeled into NICU so that I could see Lennox and Archer. In all honesty, I don’t remember much. I was tired, dopey from medication, and it all felt a little surreal. I couldn’t really see them or take it all in.
My sister-in-law called me the next day and asked, “Don’t you just want to be with your babies?
“Um, no, it’s OK.” I replied. I still had a huge tummy, I was full of medication and none of it felt very real. Even when I saw the boys, it was hard to relate and put it all together. The next day I realised the medication I was on, was way too strong for me, I could barely hold my head up and it was hard to process anything. I was put on milder medication and the fog started to lift.
I really saw the boys for the first time and it was confronting. They looked so tiny and frail. They didn’t move or make any noise. There were wires everywhere, breathing support and machines.
Then I got to hold Lennox. I cried with love and it all began to feel real for the first time. The next day I got to hold Archer and I got that beautiful rush of love again as the tears ran down my face. Everyday Laurence and I looked forward to the hours we would spend getting to hold the boys skin to skin.
After 60 days we got to go home and it was an exciting and joyous day.
How to Survive NICU:
1. Appreciate the facilities, don’t be intimidated by them.
It can be really confronting the first time you see your baby or babies in humidicribs and hooked up with wires, feeding tubes and intravenous drips. I would always try to be appreciative of the wonderful facilities and health professional we had access too. We had such excellent care.
2. Get to know the nurses and doctors
The hospital tries to keep the same rotation of nurses with your baby so you have some familiarity. The nursers are a wonderful source of information and will teach you everything about your babies and how to handle them. It can be frightening to hold your tiny 1.5kg baby for the first time. Ask them every question and any concern you might have.
3. Go home and get some sleep.
I didn’t want to leave the hospital and I would sleep there every night. The doctors started calling me "Nurse Mum: as I was always at the hospital. They told me to go home and get some sleep as soon enough I would not be getting any. It was a good idea as all I could do was pump milk and I would need to be at the hospital for round the clock feeds when the boys got to the 35 weeks gestation time as this is when the suck reflex kicks in.
4. Make Friends with other NICU Mums.
I made friends with another twin mum who also had a long stay in NICU and we bonded so quickly and straight away. It is refreshing and comforting to talk to someone who knows exactly what you are going through.
5. Trust your instinct. You know your babies best.
I felt that something was wrong with Archer, he didn’t seem right to me. He seemed listless and vomited a few times and wasn’t feeding well. The boys' weights were charted every second day on a whiteboard. I was looking at it and he had only put on 10g in 2 weeks. It was hard to tell because his weight had gone up, then down and then stayed the same. When I took my concerns to the doctors they looked into it and Archer had a kidney infection and was put on antibiotics. I also noticed Lennox’s hemangioma first. If you just feel something is not OK, make sure you are heard.
6. Have something to do.
The hospital can get very boring, in the beginning there is not much to do expect pump milk every 3 hours. I made a book with pictures of boys documenting our stay and I started a cross stitch pattern, which was surprisingly therapeutic.
7. There will be good days and bad days.
Some days will be great, everything will go really well. Other days, weight gain will be low, they might get sick, the treatment might be a bit confronting but you just have to roll with it.
8. Look after yourself.
You will probably be using a breast-pump at all hours of the day. So make sure that you stay hydrated and each good healthy meals. This can be hard when you are semi-living at the hospital. My mum brought us many homemade healthy meals and it was such a comfort. We would head to the Ronald McDonald House (which provided some normalcy and a place to rest and recuperate) and heat up the food my mum brought. It was much better than eating take-away all the time. If people want to help, cooking meals you can heat up is a helpful and comforting.
9. Go have a date with your partner.
Your babies have round the clock babysitters, head out for date with your partner and enjoy spending some time together. Very soon you’ll be heading home with your baby and life you were imagining will begin. Spend some time to connect with your partner, have a rest and enjoy yourself. You can call NICU at any time and check up on your babies.
10. Don’t be afraid to go home.
After all the months of monitoring and doctors and nurse, it can be daunting and scary to go home and be the only ones responsible for your babies. The hospital staff assured us that by the time we went home, we would all be ready. It was scary walking out of the hospital, but we were so ready. We also had many follow up appointments at the hospital to monitor our boys' progress.
It’s hard time, but don’t be too hard on yourself.