Sharing my preterm labour and NICU journey to provide families currently going through the NICU with hope.
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Early Labour Symptoms
It was a normal work day. Before going to lunch with my regular crew, I went to the bathroom and was startled when I saw spotting. I felt okay, so I dismissed it. While at lunch, I started to feel a mild belly ache. I sat there, talking with my friends, with my hands on my belly.
After lunch I called my midwife and left a voicemail. In my message I said it was probably nothing (more to reassure myself than anything else) and described my symptoms. My midwife called me back right away and said that she was a bit concerned only because I had more than one symptom. Of what she didn’t say, but we both knew what she meant. I had more than one symptom of premature labour.
In my mind I wasn’t thinking labour though. I was only 29 weeks and 4 days along! It was my second pregnancy and my firstborn son, G, was full term. I had a fairly healthy pregnancy and no known conditions. How could I be in labour?
Going to the Hospital
I decided to go home and called J right away. He went to pick up G at daycare. I hopped into the bath, hoping I was having Braxton Hicks and my belly ache would go away. It didn’t. In fact, it started to get more intense so I started to track it with my contractions app.
By the time the guys got home, my midwife suggested we all meet at the hospital. I quickly threw a change of clothes into a backpack, still thinking I would be coming home that night.
We got to the hospital at 5:30pm. I checked myself in while J parked the car. The receptionist asked “Are you in labour?”. I remember replying back, “I hope not!” My midwife came but she was finishing her shift at 6, so another midwife on her team came and joined me.
One Fast Premature Labour
By 7pm, one of the resident doctors had checked my cervix and said I was 3 cm dilated. I still hadn’t seen the OB-GYN, but my contractions were so painful I thought I was going to pass out. Ten minutes later, I was 10 cm dilated.
As I was quickly wheeled into labour and delivery, I tearfully asked for an epidural. The doctor met me in the delivery room, asked me a few questions then said he would be right back with it, but it was too late. As soon as he stepped away, I screamed that I felt like I needed to push! By about 7:15pm, my water broke. I went into active labour by 7:20pm. Our baby was born at 7:33pm. All natural…unmedicated. Yup, I felt it all.
Finding Out Our Baby's Gender
We didn’t find out what we were having during our 20 week detailed ultrasound because we wanted this pregnancy to be a surprise (it was our last, after all). So when our baby was born, my midwife asked if I wanted to know the gender, or if I wanted to wait until they brought the baby to me. I said I wanted to know, and as soon as she said we had a baby girl, I was in heaven. I didn’t fully realize how badly I wanted a girl until she was born.
She Couldn't Wait to Be Born
I couldn’t hold my baby girl right away for obvious reasons. There was a team of doctors and nurses who had somehow streamed into the room during my labour. Ready to take the baby to provide life-saving measures. She was born way too early. 11 weeks too early. It was hard for me to process just how serious this could have been at the time.
At 3lbs and 4 oz, my midwife told me that my girl was born bigger than what she should have been at her gestational age. Which was great news! I joked that all of the chocolate cake I ate while pregnant came to good use. Her Apgar scores were excellent as well, better than some full-term newborns, or so they told me.
The hospital sent my placenta to be tested to try and understand why I went into preterm labour. The initial report said there was a possible bacteria infection, but I never heard back to see if anything was confirmed. I guess we’ll never know why our little girl decided to come into this world so early.
Love At First Sight
I finally got to hold our little girl. She was perfect and I was already in love. I found out later that the nurses outside of our room knew what was happening and offered to look after G so that J could be in the room when our baby was born. We didn’t have our family here since they live thousands of kilometers on the other side of the country, and she came so early. J had called my good friend, who came to the hospital as soon as she could.
Our NICU Journey Begins
My little girl was brought to the NICU, while I had to recover in another part of the hospital. J and G stayed with our girl, and my friend came with me to my room. After my friend had left, I was alone. Such a strange feeling! With our son, I was never alone. We had my parents and my mother-in-law there. J was there. G never left my side. That night however, as alone as I was, I actually had a good night’s sleep! The next morning, I called for a porter to wheel me to my girl.
She was so small. And really red. Like a lobster! No vernix caseosa all over her. It was too early for that. The nurses had already determined that she was a feisty little one. She didn’t like being poked or prodded. Who does though? She hated having her diaper changed. She also fought for every breath. On her second day of life, one of her nurses, Trish, believed that she could breathe on her own. But the doctors wanted to make sure because she bradycardia a few times, so they kept her CPAP on. By her third day of life, they removed the CPAP and just like that, she was breathing on her own.
NICU Journey on Auto-Pilot
Life seemed like it was on auto-pilot. I wanted to spend as much time with our daughter as I could. Luckily, the NICU we were in allowed parents to stay and sleep over in the same private room as our baby for as long as we wanted to. The nurses encouraged parental participation and kangaroo care. It seemed like every few hours, someone would pop in to provide us with more information, or answer any questions we had. I truly felt supported there.
J tried to keep G’s normal routine while also trying to visit us at the hospital. For the first few days, it seemed like we were trying to choreograph a new dance. Trying to figure out who would go where, when and what time.
As hectic as it sounds, there was a lot of downtime too. Our little girl was in an incubator with a nurse assigned to her 24/7. We didn’t need to be there, but as her parents, where else would we be?
She Figured Out How to Live Early On
After 7 days of life, the nurses pulled the IV line from our little girl. She was feeding well and didn’t need the extra fluids. From that point on, the focus was on feeding and growing. My milk was coming in, but the donor milk was such a lifeline early on. She was doing amazing! So much so, that our nurses and doctors kept warning us that she may be moved to another hospital. The NICU we were in was considered Level 3 care. The highest level where they primarily take care of really sick preemies from all over the province. And there were only so many beds to go around.
Transfer to Another NICU
It was on her 12th day of life that we were told she would be moved. I was sad, but knew that it was actually a good thing that she was being downgraded to a Level 2 hospital. Things worked out though. The hospital our little girl was moved to was 5 minutes away from G’s daycare. The tough part was that in the new NICU, there was no option for me to stay by her side through the night. Every night I cried as I walked out of the hospital without her.
In retrospect, this was actually a blessing in disguise. As hard and unnatural a feeling as it was to leave the hospital without her, I got to go home, take a shower, spend time with my little guy, and had some really good sleep. Well, as good as I could. I pretended she was home and woke myself up every 3-4 hours to pump. I had read that that was necessary to ensure my milk started to flow. I think I did too good of a job though. I ended up with a large stash of milk. Which I guess was another blessing. I was able to give back and donate to the milk bank. Some other premature baby would be able to drink my milk until their mother’s came in. I love when things come back full circle!
Keep Things As Normal As We Can
It was important to try and give our son a somewhat normal summer. We did all of his favourite things, and visited his little sister at the hospital every day. Either J or I would go to the hospital in the morning, then come home by noon to spend some time with G. When G would go down for his afternoon nap, the other would head over to the hospital to spend time with our girl. As soon as G woke up, we would bring him to the hospital until it was time to leave at 7pm. Cycle-rinse-repeat.
There were some really great people in the NICU. Both awesome nurses and amazing fellow NICU families. One family, from Spain, had a son around G’s age. The language difference didn’t matter to those 2.5-3 year olds though. They played with each other’s toys, and played hide and seek in the hospital corridors…forgetting the reason why they were both there. It was a God-send, and helped G when he started to feel a bit restless.
My Hardest Days in the NICU
The toughest time for me was when G got a cold. Anyone with any type of cold or flu-like symptoms were forbidden from coming into the NICU. This meant G couldn’t visit his sister at all, and his cold lasted for 10 whole days! Unfortunately, during this time, J also had to travel for work. He would be gone for a few days. This meant I spent the whole day with our girl while G was in daycare, but then I had to pick him up and go straight home instead of going back to the hospital. I was devasted because our girl would be without us for 15 whole hours (instead of the usual 12). Sure, she had the nurses, and they are truly amazing…but I’m her mama, and she needed me.
I was so careful to not get G’s cold. I just couldn’t imagine NOT see our girl even for one day. But I had a sore throat one day, and I broke down crying to J. Luckily he wasn’t travelling, so he was able to spend the whole day with her. At least she wasn’t without one of us. He Facetimed us so that I could see her. I missed her so much! My heart ached like it had never before.
I was apart from her for two long days. On the third day, my sore throat was gone! I went straight to the hospital and held my little girl tightly.
Removing the Feeding Tube
It wasn’t too long after, that the nurses were talking about taking out her feeding tube. Any NICU parent knows that when this happens, the end of our NICU journey is in sight and we are that much closer to bringing our girl home.
They started to bottle-feed her scheduled feedings…every three hours. I would nurse her every other feeding while I was there. Her pediatrician told me to space out nursing because preemies had to work hard to breastfeed and we didn’t want to exhaust her. Every single day I would ask the nurses how much she ate and how much weight she gained the day before. And every single day, except for maybe one, our girl gained 40+ grams. That may seem like nothing, but for her, it was a lot!
Preparing to Leave the NICU
Finally, the time came when the nurses were talking discharge. I stayed with our girl for one full day in a private room. We had taken her off the heart monitors to do a trial run. I remember that day like it was yesterday. Diaper-eat-sleep. She did that a few times, and I had to log each one. By the end of the day, I gave her a bath, kissed her, said goodnight, and told her it would be her last night without us.
J and I headed straight to Walmart. We were so focused on going to the hospital and taking care of G that we realized at the last minute we needed baby essentials like diapers, wipes, and even food!
“D-Day”. Best. Day. Ever
Discharge Day came! But before going to the hospital, we decided to do one last activity with G. We took him to the Burnaby Railway Station where he could ride on mini-trains…one of his favourite things to do. This would be the last thing we would do with just the three of us. He was so happy…and so was I.
I couldn’t wait to get to the hospital, though. I just wanted to bring our little girl home. I had everything organized. It felt a little bitter-sweet, but after seeing about 10 other families come-and-go before us, I was excited that it was finally our turn.
53 days. Almost two months where our life was turned upside-down. Our girl was finally coming home.
Hope for All NICU Families
I know that our journey was pretty easy compared to a lot of families who faced far more obstacles and scary moments than we did. For me, everyone who reached out personally and shared their own NICU stories, helped us get through this time. I knew there had to be an end in sight, even on the hardest days when it felt like we were taking a couple of steps backwards.
This is the reason I wrote this post. To help that mother or father, holding their little one on their chest, listening to the beeping sounds of the different monitors attached to him or her. You will get through this. And before you know it, your little one will be a strong 8 month old, hitting their adjusted age milestones, demanding that you feed them faster than you can, army crawling through your living room, putting everything in their mouth. You will get through this.
I Want to Feature Your Labour/NICU Story
I love hearing others’ labour and NICU stories. Every single one is so unique. And I wonder if there is a correlation between how our little ones come into the world and their eventual personalities. If you’d like a chance to be featured in my future “My Labour Story and NICU Journey Series”, please click here or the photo below. Subscribe to receive updates along with a questionnaire that will help you detail your journey. Looking forward to sharing your story, in hopes that it helps other moms with their labour, or parents sitting in the NICU right now, wondering when it will be their turn to go home.
Until next time, stay healthy and safe, my friends!
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