Navigating the NICU: A Glossary

Whether you’ve just had your first child, or your fifth, every birth and every baby is different. Even under ideal circumstances, labor and delivery can have its challenges. When your infant arrives very early, or has health complications, this experience can intensify.Navigating the NICU: A Glossary

If your newborn needs acute medical assistance or observation, they are admitted to the hospital’s NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) where they will be carefully monitored 24 hours a day by a specialized team of nurses and life-saving machines. Parents are released for home, and quickly learn to juggle hospital visiting hours, regular life, work and the many unknowns involved when your baby is in the hospital.

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Overcoming Infant Loss and the NICU with Priscilla

Priscilla is a survivor of infant loss and the mother of a NICU graduate. Her wish is for all women to experience complication free births. We met via social media where we’ve been following each other for years. She posted something for NICU Awareness Month and I asked her if she would share her family’s story and she agreed.

Overcoming Infant Loss and the NICU

Her first baby, her daughter, only lived a few hours after being born unexpectedly preterm at 22-weeks gestation. William, her second baby, was born full term at 40-weeks gestation and experienced meconium aspiration during his birth. He went on to spend 2-months in the NICU recovering from this and persistent pulmonary hypertension. Today he’s a healthy, happy and thriving 4-year-old.

Nothing tops the kinship you feel when you connect with someone who’s had the same or similar childbirth experience. Reading her story brought back so many of my own memories of progesterone shots and nights in the NICU. I can relate to the triumph of achieving a full-term pregnancy, after a preterm birth, only to have it end in a second complicated delivery.

We share this story in solidarity to highlight the experiences of families that have also coped with infant loss, preterm birth and having a baby in the NICU.

How did you handle being pregnant after the loss of your first baby, a preemie? 

Honestly, not that well. I knew from the moment I lost my first baby that I needed some serious mental health care. Though I went untreated since I didn’t have stable insurance or general access to any practitioners. So when I got pregnant again, I was extremely nervous and anxious all the time. I had flashbacks to my loss, especially whenever I had to go to the doctor and do ultrasounds. And I allowed my PTSD to kind of consume me at times. I became hell-bent on being able to control every single aspect of the birth.

I had a great OB/GYN but I disliked the hospital she delivered at, they had a higher c-section rate and were not very flexible on allowing mothers freedom and choice during childbirth. So I found a Doula thinking she might be able to help, but she was part of a group of doulas and midwives who were very pushy about natural birth and home birth. They swore that I could do this birth at home with a new midwife and I was coerced into leaving my OB/GYN and it did not turn out well. During labor, my son got stuck and we had to have an emergency transfer. Thank goodness, because he aspirated meconium and had persistent pulmonary hypertension (PPHN), which the midwife would not have been prepared to manage during a homebirth.

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Having a Preemie: Continuity of Care in the NICU

Care and Continuity for Premature Babies in the NICU

I strongly believe continuity of care is one of the most important things we can do for the happiness of our babies. The proverb, “it takes a village,” is the belief that emotional and physical support, from extended family and caregivers, ensures a calm and welcoming environment for children to grow into healthy adults.

As a first time mom, having nurturing people around me meant more sleep and less stress. It also meant having more time to focus on bonding with my son. He thrived having “a village” to meet his needs with sensitivity and familiarity.

Reminiscing

There are many memories from my time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit I can recall with clarity. I remember the first nurse I met in the NICU, Lisa, she was working beside my son’s bedside when I saw him for the first time. I can call to mind the view out the window from my chair next to the incubator and even the parking attendant in the garage. The moment I can’t recall is meeting the nurse who became the source of our greatest encouragement in the NICU, Lora. I know it was the first week, because she was with me on day five. The first day I was able to hold Bastian.

Although I was a mother with a newborn, until that day, I hadn’t been able to hold or care for my baby. His micro prematurity required a level of care which could only be provided by medically trained professionals. In our first foray into Kangaroo care, often called skin-to-skin contact, I finally felt like a normal new mom.

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