Hi there! Kelly here, from Classically Eclectic Blog. I was so excited when Meredith and Amber asked me to share my twins’, Charlie and Sloane, NICU story. My husband and I were so incredibly excited when we found out we were having twins; it was literally our dream come true. We are both extremely active and generally positive people, so we did not spend a lot of time thinking about the fact that our pregnancy was technically high-risk. Throughout my pregnancy I continued doing very basic workouts and walked often. I honestly felt great- until I hit the 25 week mark. At that point I was admitted to the hospital for observation due to contractions, protein in my urine, and shortening of my cervix. We made it through that frightening event, but I was immediately put on bed rest after that. Things were okay for a few weeks and then I developed HELLP syndrome- which is essentially a severe form of preeclampsia. The only way to cure it is to deliver the babies; I was 30 weeks and 1 day pregnant when Charlie and Sloane were born. That is their birth story in a nutshell. I will spare you all of the not-so-lovely details and instead focus on my experience of being a NICU parent. Whenever I talk to expecting parents of multiples who ask for my advice after our NICU experience, I share a few basic things consistently. That is what I plan to share with you as well.
First, a few caveats to keep in mind as you read this. 1. Everyone’s NICU experience is different. 2. Meredith asked me to share a “typical” day in the NICU. As far as I am concerned, there is no typical day. Someone once told me the NICU is like riding a roller coaster- only the thing you do not realize when you first get on the ride is that you are actually tied to the back by your ankles; the roller coaster is essentially dragging you along whether you like it or not. This could not be more true. Have said all of that, the one other point I would like to make is that I am incredibly grateful for our NICU experience and am able to look back on it with MOSTLY fond memories. We were able to bring our babies home; not all parents are. If you find yourself in the NICU, keep this one goal in mind. Perspective can be a wonderful thing! Now, onto the few things I learned in the NICU. I hope you find them helpful!
1. Knowing is half the battle. As I mentioned, my husband and I are positive people, so it was hard for us to consider the possibility of something going “wrong” with our pregnancy. We did, however, sign up for a multiples class at our hospital and toured the NICU as part of it. This experience was so very helpful. Be sure to do this. Even if you do not take a multiples class, make sure you do your homework on the NICU that is part of the hospital where you will be delivering. Not all NICUs are created equal. Some NICUs are not equipped to handle preemies under a certain age, which means that your children could end up in a different hospital than the one where you deliver. If you can avoid this at all, I would recommend it. In our case, the NICU where we delivered is a level 3, meaning they can handle nearly all patients other than certain heart conditions.
2. Be an advocate for your children. Many people can be intimidated to ask questions of medical professionals as they fear it may come across as second-guessing their decisions. Don’t be. Of course the NICU staff is doing what they believe to be is best, but that does not mean you are not entitled to consider other options. We did. A lot. In fact, I think the entire staff knew us by name and made sure they knew our case VERY well due to all of the questions we (politely) asked. These are your children, and you are paying A LOT of money for them to be cared for. Do your homework, educate yourself, and do not be afraid to ask any and every question you have.
3. Do not expect a normal day- EVER. Between heart murmurs, brain bleeds, alarms going off, staph infections, eye scans, head scans, physical therapy, speech therapy, nursing practice, there is NO typical day. This is okay. Take it day by day. Again, do your homework. Much of what I mentioned may sound quite scary, but I promise you most of it is part of prematurity. The more you know, the better you can prepare yourself.
4. Make the most of your NICU experience. Our children were in the hospital for 59 and 66 days. That is a long time! Do everything you can do make it a “fun” (as fun as possible at least) experience. We spent Christmas and New Year’s in the NICU, but that did not stop us from celebrating. We dressed them in red and green and put notes to Santa in their incubators; in case you are wondering, they asked Santa to go home early. We brought sparkling grape juice to the hospital at midnight on NYE and sang Auld Lang Syne. The hospital bedding in the NICU is boring, but if you have your own swaddle blankets the nurses will be more than happy to let you swap them out! Have “parties” for special events. When Charlie hit 5 pounds we had a big celebration. We basically just danced around the room and put him in his first newborn-sized onesie, but it was a big deal! Also, take this time to learn as much as you can. Our NICU is one of the few in the area to have a dedicated lactation consultant. I spent so much time with her. Even if your NICU does not have one, do not be afraid to ask if you can have one from labor and delivery come up and help you if you need it.
5. Take time for yourself. We spent nearly all day every day in the NICU. Luckily, we live seven miles from the hospital, so after spending the entire day there we would run home, eat dinner, and head back for a few more hours. This is exactly how we wanted it, but after 55 days I finally reached my breaking point. For us, the absolute worst part of our NICU experience was the very end- the part where they seem like healthy babies. They breathe on their own, they eat on their own, they weigh more than two pounds, but they are still not quite ready to go home. It’s maddening; I will not sugar-coat it. Around the 55 day mark it was clear that Sloane was ready to go home any day, but Charlie needed more time. He had a breathing event, and the nurse could not get his oxygen levels to come back up. It was scary, and I lost it. I am a very calm and laid-back person, so when I finally do break down, it is not pretty. I had foolishly still been clinging to the hope that we would bring our babies home on the same day. It was not ideal, but as I said above, we got to bring both of our babies home. They are both healthy and happy; ultimately, that is all we ever wanted!
Charlie and Sloane are now 17 months old. They are crazy, exhausting, fun, and most importantly healthy! Perhaps it was all the time they spent in the NICU, but their immune systems appear to be iron-clad. We've only experienced one cold so far! I hope I have not frightened anyone with my post; that was not my intention at all. We just learned so much along the way- some of it the hard way, so I hope some of this information is helpful to other expecting parents out there! Oh, and I almost forgot the very most important piece of advice: not only are NICU nurses absolute angels (seriously- they take care of sick little babies and deal with distraught parents all day everyday!), but more importantly they are wonderful babysitters. If you do find yourself in the NICU, bake them cookies, make friends with them, and beg them to watch your children when they come home!
Thanks again for having me, Amber and Meredith!
Thanks so much, Kelly! If you have questions for Kelly, you can email her HERE. Also, be sure to check out her personal blog and her Etsy shop!