Time in the NICU is life changing

My husband and I were both so excited to become parents and start a family. We were married in February 2014 and found out we were expecting our first son the following April. We didn’t waste any time! I was blessed with an easy pregnancy – no morning sickness and very few aches and pains. I followed my doctor’s instructions to a T, and thought naively that that would ensure a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. In my mind I thought, “I’m a healthy 30 year old. I eat organic, don’t drink coffee, exercise regularly. What could possibly go wrong?”

I was at a regularly scheduled 30-week visit. My OB, my husband, and I were all laughing and chatting as she was using the hand held doppler to listen to my son’s heartbeat. It was Halloween and my OB was wearing a Jean Grey costume. We were laughing at her hilarious long red wig. All of a sudden this somber expression washed over her face and she said, “I don’t like the way this heartbeat sounds.” She put me on the heart rate monitor in the office, and we waited. They were satisfied with the monitor readings and sent us home.

Two weeks later, I was still concerned as his activity level hadn’t increased – call it mother’s intuition – so I made another appointment. I thought I was probably being an ultra paranoid first-time parent and felt certain everything would be just fine. My OB conducted another ultrasound, and again I was put on the heart rate monitor. Only this time they heard frequent decelerations in his heart rate and admitted me to the hospital for continuous monitoring. (Let this be a lesson: even before birth, you know your child better than ANYONE. Mamas, always trust your gut).

We, of course, were concerned, but thought they would watch him for a few hours to assuage any concerns and then send us on our way. WRONG. SO WRONG. The monitor showed Teddy had significant and frequent decelerations in his heart rate. A perinatologist was called in. He administered a more detailed ultrasound which showed that our baby was about three weeks behind in growth rates. He had what is called intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR). I still tear up remembering what the perinatologist told me as he was giving us this earth shattering news. “This is not your fault. It’s nothing that you did, or didn’t do.” Until I heard the words, I had no idea how much I needed to hear them. We were then told that our son would most likely have to be delivered in the next 24 hours.

I’ll never forget that walk from the labor & delivery room to the operating room – squeezing Nick’s hand, looking in his eyes, both of us on the verge of tears. I still get overcome with emotion thinking about it, and 3 and a half years have passed. The outcome was just so uncertain. Teddy was born via emergency c-section 12 hours after we were admitted to the hospital at 5:38 am on November 13th, coincidentally my dad’s birthday. He weighed 2 pounds 11 ounces. He was 32 weeks. We rejoiced when we heard his loud, strong cry. I was able to see him just long enough for him to wrap his tiny hand around my finger, and then he was whisked up to the NICU by the medical team.

We spent every waking moment for 51 days sitting next to Teddy in the NICU. Literally sat there for hours staring at him, because we couldn’t bear the thought of leaving him alone. Those months are a complete blur. We lived on adrenaline, and were so focused on getting Teddy healthy and home that we didn’t allow ourselves time to process our feelings. We didn’t let ourselves celebrate his birth because we still weren’t sure what the outcome would be. We didn’t let ourselves grieve the birth experience that we had hoped for and envisioned. We didn’t give ourselves enough grace.

Three years later, looking back on our time in the NICU, I wish I could have convinced myself to take some time for me – allow myself to start to heal – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. I desperately needed community at that time, but was afraid to open myself up. I didn’t want to talk about it, because that meant accepting it as reality.

As mothers we crave control. Control over our children’s births, control over the world around us, control to protect our kids from being hurt or hurting others. It’s flat out terrifying to think your life and your children’s lives are at the mercy of the whims of the universe. I wish I could say that Teddy’s birth and subsequent time in the NICU gave me some insight into how to give up control, but unfortunately, I think that will be a life long battle for me.

I was recently recommended a book “Everything Happens For a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved” by Kate Bowler. There’s a passage that I find summarizes my mental and emotional journey to accepting what happened with Teddy: “I can’t reconcile the way that the world is jolted by events that are wonderful and terrible, the gorgeous and the tragic. Except that I am beginning to believe that these opposites do not cancel each other out. I think the same thoughts again and again. Life is so beautiful. Life is so hard.”

Whether it’s five minutes or a year, time in the NICU is life changing. Whether you’re experiencing it currently, have experienced it in the past, or someone you love has – know that there are people that will support you, pray for you, cry with you. I am one of them.

A former non-profit and political fundraiser, Maggie now stays at home with her boys, Teddy (3-1/2) and Knox (11 months). She’s been married to her husband, Nick, since 2014. They love traveling, cooking, binge watching Netflix, and playing outside with the boys (and their two pups, Sasha & Remy). They are passionate about supporting the local NICU and NICU families in Austin, TX.

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