My postpartum recovery brought a lot more emotions than I imagined. The mom guilt came on quickly. Even when I was hospitalized I believed I could carry the babies three more weeks and when that didn’t happen, I blamed myself. I told myself if the babies would have broken my water or started labor than I would have been OK with them deciding it was time to arrive. Truth be told, I probably would have still blamed myself. I played the “what if” game a lot the first few weeks. What if I would have stopped working earlier? What if I didn’t have that cup of coffee that morning? I was upset with my body for not being able to carry all three babies. I felt like it quit on my kids even though each person I saw would say, “You made it to 31 weeks. That’s great!” It didn’t feel great.
I’m lucky to have such an amazing support system. Between Mike, my family and even the NICU nurses and doctors, I learned how flawed my thoughts were. At a developmental follow-up, I shared these struggles with our neonatologist who went on to ramble off a long string of medical terms that basically said nothing I did could have caused my pre-eclampsia. I was also enrolled in a postpartum depression and anxiety program through AHN’s Women’s Behavioral Health Center. They started seeing me when I was 20 weeks pregnant and I am so grateful that I had someone to talk through scenarios leading up to my c-section and beyond.
I can say fairly confidently that this will be my only pregnancy, which further complicated my feelings about such an early delivery. I mourned my pregnancy for months after my c-section. Pregnancy is such a special bond between mom and baby or babies. I loved knowing they were always with me–that they were safe. I would sing to them in the car and I had finally reached the point in my pregnancy where I could see them moving around and punching through my skin. Friends and family would always note that getting any larger would have been miserable–which is probably true. But knowing I would never do this again, or that I would have to now share them with the world was hard. Hormones are complicated and as silly as some of these emotions feel now that I spend everyday with three amazing little people, talking about them was so important.
Add to these crazy hormonal thoughts a new daily routine of visiting the hospital. Mike and I remark now that we can’t believe this was our life. Everyday I would wake up, pump and spend my mornings watching the babies on the webcam. Then my Mom would drive me to the hospital where I would stay all day. Mike would arrive around 4-5pm. We would stay through shift change and enjoy a gourmet hospital dinner (LOL) before leaving at 9 or 10pm. Go home, sleep and repeat it all the next day. This schedule would change once I could drive and when the babies started coming home. I was pumping every three hours including during the night. Pumping made me feel like I was actually a Mom not just a woman who was home after having surgery. It was a way for me to contribute to caring for my babies since I couldn’t be there 24/7.
NICU life is something you can really only understand if you have gone through it. At first it was an uncomfortable place. You don’t know if you can hold your baby and its scary to change such small diapers. A few days into our NICU stay, two nurses who were in Owen’s pod took the time to show us how to rotate our kids, do all of their care and feel confident in our rights as NICU parents. We finally started to get comfortable with our surroundings.
We saw and experienced a lot of things that most parents don’t experience. We watched our children learn how to eat for the first time. We changed diapers through holes in an isolate. We learned how to reattach their leads to connect them to their monitors and knew which alarms were worrisome. We knew how to weigh and bath them in their isolates. We learned new terms like “brady” or “desaturation” or “ng tube.” We also had hard moments like seeing them turn gray when their little brains forgot to tell their lungs to breath. And we celebrated when we moved past those scary moments.
Our hospital had NICU parent (but mostly Mom) scrapbooking every Wednesday. It was the best outlet to vent, cry and even celebrate milestones. I will forever have a bond with those women. We actually have a Facebook group where we keep tabs on each other. I think sometimes I cry more about their babies’ progress than my own. We have been on this journey together. We have a team walking at the March for Babies in Pittsburgh. If you are interested in donating to our team you can do it here.
As we got closer to having three babies at home people would say to me, “Oh my, you are going to be exhausted.” We didn’t care. We just wanted our family home together. Once you have experienced a long-term stay in the NICU, the small struggles or exhaustion seem trivial.