September is NICU Awareness Month! And in honor of that, we are talking with a mom who experienced the NICU first-hand, Katie Duh. Welcome, Katie!
Hi, Anna and blog readers! I’m happy to be here and share my story.
So Katie, tell us how your NICU story begins. Did you experience a normal pregnancy?
Yes, I did. I never really expected to be a NICU mom. I had already had three healthy and perfectly uneventful pregnancies, three full-term deliveries, and three healthy babies. My fourth pregnancy was progressing just like the others, without any complications. I had just had a routine prenatal check-up a few days earlier and a perfect report of good health from my OBGYN.
And then, in the early hours of the morning after Christmas, my water broke. Suddenly and unexpectedly. I was 31 weeks. I found myself in the back of an ambulance for the first time in my life. The first 24 hours or so were a blur of doctors and nurses, painful contractions, doses of different medicines designed to stop labor, and disorientation and plummeting blood pressure as side effects of the medicine. By the next morning, though, it seemed the medicine was working and labor had stopped for now.
Oh wow, Katie! That must have been so scary. Did you get to go home at that point?
It was, and I didn’t get to go home. A room in the ante-partum wing ended up becoming my home for nearly 2 ½ weeks. I continued to receive doses of medicine to ward off the contractions, as well as steroid shots to booster the lung development of my growing baby. The days ticked away slowly. I passed the time with my adult coloring book, binge watching Downton Abbey episodes on my Kindle Fire, reading, starting (but not finishing) a knitted baby blanket, and memorizing the hospital food menu.
As a mom, I think we all long for a little down time. But let’s just say, after the first couple hours the silence becomes stifling. I think I survived those days thanks to incredibly thoughtful friends, especially one who had experienced hospital bedrest herself several years earlier and could talk me through the roller coaster of emotions.
Shout out to your friends!!! Just another example of why we need the love and support of our friends. So what happened next?
Well, let’s just say that when I first became a mom 7 ½ years ago, a friend asked me how the transition from working to being a stay at home mom was going. I remember saying I loved it, but that I also often got to the end of the day feeling like I hadn’t really “done” or accomplished anything. I still feel like that sometimes as a stay at home mom, but being confined to a hospital room for 2 ½ weeks brought those feelings to a whole new level. I really couldn’t do anything that I wanted to – and there was really nothing of significance that I could do.
Oh… I can totally relate to that, Katie. I was sick once for only a week, and I remember feeling that way. Do you think you were learning anything during this waiting time?
YES… There is my life-long battle with control and perfectionism. I believe God’s been chipping away on those underlying tendencies, gradually, piece by piece for several years now. Let’s face it, mothering through the infant and toddler stages quickly shows us we will never be perfect and strips away our sense of being in control. Hospital bed rest strips it away even further. Especially when you have a 20-month-old daughter at the time, who can’t begin to understand why Mom can’t come home. So, every time she visits you, she screams at the top of her lungs. But you are completely helpless to do anything for her.
That is just a heart-wrenching situation, Katie.
It was. and then, at 33 weeks and 2 days, my baby boy decided he was ready to make his appearance. He was 4lbs, 5 oz. when he was born. After a couple brief, precious moments of holding and snuggling my newborn, he was whisked away to the NICU. Here’s a picture of him:
Oh my goodness! So tiny. So vulnerable. How were you feeling at that point?
Three times before, a nurse had pushed me in a wheel chair down the long hallways from the delivery room to the postpartum room. Each of those times, I remember holding my baby and beaming with joy. All of the hospital staff and visitors would glance in our direction and break into an involuntary smile, uttering a “Congratulations!” or “So precious!” as they past.
This time was different. The same chair. The same long trip down the same long hallways. But this time there was no baby in my arms. This time everyone we passed averted their eyes. Because a woman in a wheelchair heading to a postpartum room without a baby meant something had gone wrong. When we arrived in our room, the little bassinette sat prominently in the middle as it always does. But this time, with no baby, it only served as another reminder that something was not right. Throughout the night, I could hear the cries of the newborns in the rooms next door. Yet another reminder of what was missing in my room.
In the NICU, my son was hooked up to what seemed like countless wires, tubes, and monitors. For the first couple days, he received fluids through IV and then through a feeding tube before being permitted to take any liquid by mouth. But the steroids had done their job; he never needed any breathing support. I spent every minute I could sitting by his crib, holding him when I was allowed to – when he didn’t have to be under the lights due to his high bilirubin numbers.
Oh Katie, was it so hard seeing him that way?
It was. And after two nights, I was discharged and had to leave the hospital. I had known for several weeks that this time would come, but nothing could have really prepared me for the moment of leaving my baby at the hospital and walking out the front door. I cried most of the 45 minute drive home. My sweet husband had bought me the yummiest food (remember, I’d only had hospital food for weeks?) and I couldn’t wait to see my older three kids again. I was so thankful for my mother, who had dropped everything to come and stay with us. But, I didn’t want to leave my baby.
Our son spent a total of 8 days in the NICU. I left my house every morning to make the long drive to the hospital and spent the whole day at his bedside, leaving to head back home every evening. Those days were full of coaxing him to learn to nurse and take a bottle, weight and temperature checks, and bilirubin counts. They were lonely and long, but also full of sweet moments of newborn snuggles. I met the mother of the twins in the cribs next to my son. Her story, her strength, and her smile encouraged me. We reminded each other that Jesus knows and sees all – and our babies were in His more than capable hands.
Katie, I love how your story is full of both the struggles and the blessings.
So you didn’t have to stay through his original due date?
No, we didn’t! The nurses and doctors all began to rave about my son’s progress. I almost couldn’t believe it when they said we could take him home! I had been told to expect a NICU stay as long as the time up to my original due date (which would have been around 7 weeks). Instead, when we took him home he was 8 days old – and, after the initial weight loss, he was back up to barely 4 pounds.
I am well aware that our time in NICU was extremely short in comparison to many other families. And any ongoing health concerns related to my son’s prematurity have been minimal. I feel like our brief experience with hospital stays has renewed my deep respect for parents whose children are battling significant, long-term health or developmental concerns. They are truly super heroes in my mind. I only got a brief glimpse of the emotions of watching your child in a hospital bed. Of not being allowed to eat in their hospital room, but not wanting to leave their side – so having to force yourself to remember to eat. Or sleep.
Not until his 18-month well-visit did my son meet all the developmental milestones on the pediatrician’s checklist for his age. So, I also got a small taste of the nervousness and knot in my stomach before each doctor appointment, waiting and wondering what I would hear that my son wasn’t doing yet that other kids his age were. Many parents experience these emotions and more on a daily basis, with such incredible grace and strength.
I completely agree, Katie! The parents who experience this regularly are real-life super heroes for sure!
Can you share with us a current picture of Peter and your family?
Absolutely. And here we are today!
So this September, during NICU Awareness Month, I’d like to honor all those NICU parents out there. And to thank God for my own 4 kiddos, who are teaching me every day to worry less about what I am “accomplishing” and more about how I am being faithful in the day-to-day.
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