When you think you know what to expect, it all gets thrown out the door. "I'm about to be the dad to a third kid, I've been through this a couple times, I know what's gonna happen." I think to myself. WRONG, you can't ever make the assumption that everything will go as it did before. The last child was a wild ride! Despite it being crazy, I wouldn't change it for anything. You better grab yourself a beer and some snacks, this post is gonna be long.
The Pre-Birthday hospital visit
It was July 3rd, per the usual, the dog was scared all night and you can hear the neighbors setting off fireworks.
We go to bed. In the middle of the night, my wife jumps out of bed. I hear what sounds like water spilling on the carpet. My wife says "I think my water just broke!". At this point I'm half awake and half in disbelief. I'm about 99.99% sure I said something really dumb like "Are you sure it isn't just pee?" As if my wife had forgotten what it felt like to pee. I was in disbelief, it was WAY too early for this. Like 3 months too early for this! The baby wasn't due until mid September. We call for backup to watch the current two nuggets, and ten minutes later we are out the door. Somehow in this crazy time, my wife ends up driving both of us to the hospital. To this day, I still am puzzled as to how the heck this happened.
"Do you know what the amniotic fluid is mostly made of?". Before I could respond, she said "Baby Pee".
When we get to the hospital, my wife is tested to ensure that in fact her water did break. Once it is confirmed, we get admitted to the hospital. Once we have our room, my wife gets hooked up to all the machines. She starts asking a lot of questions. One question was "When do I get to go home?". I don't think either of us was prepared for the answer. "You're not going home until you deliver the baby and we hope you will be here for 5 weeks".
They give my wife a shot of steroids. They also started an IV of a medication that is supposed to stop any labor that may have started. We are given the low down on what to expect, risks of the situation, etc. They say that in most cases the baby is born within a few days of the water breaking. This is usually due to the mother going into labor, or the mother getting an infection in which case the baby would get delivered. Once the water is broken, the uterus is no longer a sterile environment for the baby. The game plan was basically to be on bedrest and try to keep baby inside mama as long as possible. The primary reason for this was to ensure that the lungs develop enough so that the baby can breathe on her own. For every day that the baby stays inside the mother, it shaves off approximately two days in the NICU. At one point in time I questioned if the baby had enough fluid to move around and be comfortable. The nurse said that the baby will actually create more amniotic fluid, which is the fluid that the baby swims in. Intrigued I said "Really?". She said yes and then followed up with a question to me. "Do you know what the amniotic fluid is mostly made of?". Before I could respond, she said "Baby Pee". The lightbulb in my head went on and It became obvious as to how the fluid would regenerate itself.
The NICU Tour
At this point we know that we will be having a premature baby. The hospital suggest that we schedule a tour of the NICU. I found this to be very helpful. It reduced most of the anxiety around what this would be like. We got to see the rooms, the nurses station and all the equipment that is in each room. They showed us how we will need to wash up before going into the baby's room. This process was basically the equivalent to preparing for surgery. We needed to use a sterile, individually packaged bar of soap and wash our hands and arms up to the elbows.
"When they drew the blood, they bent her hand almost all the way to her wrists! It was crazy! Baby didn't cry at all and I guess it just proves how flexible and resilient babies actually are."
After we realized that we were in it for the long haul, we started to develop a game plan. My Mother-in-law would be moving in to help me with my first two children. The kids were not in school during the summer, so someone needed to be there to watch them. We also arranged for my mom to drive up from Peoria to come help for a few days. This gave my mother-in-law a break. For the next 18 days my schedule looked like this. I went to work. After work I went to the hospital to visit my wife. After the hospital I went home, fed the kids and went to bed. Rinse and repeat. On the weekends, I would usually take the girls to see their mom. We were very fortunate that the baby stayed inside mom for this long. From what we were originally told, this wasn't very common. In fact one doctor said this is the longest they have every seen a baby stay put with a ruptured amniotic sac.
Its Go Time!
On the night of July 21, my wife started having contractions. The nurses monitored everything, but were not sure if she was going into labor of just having contractions. The doctor got called in to check on her. As soon as the doctor felt my wife's belly, she said it was time to deliver the baby. The doctor discussed what this experience may be like briefly. She said that the baby may not cry when it was delivered since the lungs may not be developed enough. If that was the case, then she would have been on a ventilator in the NICU. After the brief talk, the nurses came to get my wife. I suited up in scrubs and waited again to be brought into the operating room. I was slightly nervous this time, but the 18 days that we had been preparing for this eased some of that. I knew we were fortunate that my daughter was able to continue to develop inside mom for 18 days. As I waited for the nurse to come get me to let me know I could go to the OR, the line "Hold on to your butts" from the movie Jurassic Park popped into my head.
For whatever reason, I though that line was hilarious and to this day I still think about it when something suspenseful is about to happen. If you recall, he said this right before attempting to bring Jurassic Park back online.
"Another surprise to me was that the feeding tube went up her nose!"
Surgery began. When she was delivered, to our surprise she cried right away, a sign that her lungs were healthy and developed enough for her to breathe without a ventilator. When I heard this it was an instant relief like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I remember the doctor making a comment about how strong her lungs were. I got the fancy "Dad" bracelet that would be my entrance ticket to the NICU. After she was delivered, we went straight to the NICU.
She was put into the incubator to keep her body temperature normal. Her blood was taken for some tests, but I can't remember exactly what for. I think it was the Bilirubin test. The nurses used this super bright light to be able to see where her veins were.
When they drew the blood, they bent her hand almost all the way to her wrists! It was crazy! Baby didn't cry at all and I guess it just proves how flexible and resilient babies actually are.
A feeding tube was also put in. Premie (premature) babies can't usually swallow the milk. So the tube is used to feed the baby until they are strong enough to be able to swallow on their own. Another surprise to me was that the feeding tube went up her nose! I guess I would have assumed it would go in their mouth and down their throat. Again I'n not a doctor or nurse, but this is to ensure that the baby can't pull it out or mess it up.
The baby was in the incubator for a couple days and was then able to maintain her temperature on her own. The Bilirubin levels were not where they were supposed to be, so she needed to be in the incubator with a special UV light on for a awhile. This was funny because they had little sunglasses that they put on her head so the light would not damage her eyes.
My wife was able to come home after 3 days in the hospital, which has been the same each time. The baby would need to stay in the NICU. This was hard. After all the waiting and the baby finally being born, she still wasn't able to come home. We knew this was going to happen, so we had prepared ourselves mentally.
"The standard issue pacifier that the hospital gives all the babies covered her ENTIRE face."
A team of doctors would check on all of the babies each day. Evaluating their progress, answering questions parents have, etc. These were called the daily rounds. We were not always present during these, but would get updates from the nursing staff.
Day by day the baby continued to grow and become stronger and stronger. My daily routine continued to be Work, Hospital, Home..... Work, Hospital, Home,...every day. Each time we came and went from the NICU we needed to sign in. The hospital staff began to know who we were, which wasn't surprising.
When we asked when our daughter would be able to come home, the nurses said that there were a few things that they were looking for that needed to happen.
The baby needed to be able to drink milk/formula by herself. Premie babies have trouble with learning how to both drink milk and breathe at the same time. Lots of times they do one or the other, but not both in a coordinated effort. Once they learn that coordination, then they are getting closer to being able to go home. A second part of this step was that they needed to drink a certain number of ounces on their own. Perhaps this was measured in ml, I can't recall. You get the idea, a certain volume.
The baby needed to show daily consistent weight gain.
Once she was able to do these two things, then she could be evaluated by the Neonatologist to determine if she was able to go home. So we waited and watched her get stronger each day.
As a result of the NICU being a sterile environment, if we were not feeling well we wouldn't be able to go. I remember that at one point, I wasn't feeling well. I had to quarantine for about 5 days before I could see her. This was tough. While on one hand, it reduced some of the chaotic trips to and from the hospital, but this was at the expense of not seeing her for 5 days. Had I had the choice, I happily would have made the trips. Keep in mind that this was before The Great COVID-19 Quarantine of 2020. Five days seemed like an eternity then, but now that's just a cake walk.
The NICU Snafu
One day when we went to the NICU I walked up to the check in desk and the nurse said our baby wasn't there and that she had been moved to another floor, which I THINK was the PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit). For whatever reason my wife was a couple minutes behind me. She walked up to me and asked what was going on. I told her that the baby wasn't there, and that she was on another floor. The NICU was so full when we were there, that they were out of rooms and needed to move a baby to make room for another one. We hadn't gotten a call or ANY notification that this was happening. The good news was that the only reason our baby was selected to go to this floor, was that she was much stronger and healthier than other babies in the NICU. We were taken down to see our baby by the Director of the NICU. They were EXTREMELY apologetic that we didn't get told. Somewhere along the line, something must have happened and they forgot to call us.
We got to the room where our baby was, however, on this floor, your baby shared a room with 4 other babies. Given the precautions that were given to get into the NICU, this made us a bit uncomfortable that several other people could just walk into that room. I wasn't worried that the baby would go anywhere, it was just that we were being so careful and self-quarantined to help ensure our baby stayed healthy, now we were no longer in control of that. This made us upset, and my wife let the hospital staff know that we were upset. By the next day, they had worked it out so that we were back to a private room.
Baby Comes Home
After 18 days in the NICU we got the news that our daughter would be coming home. This was fantastic news! Driving to the hospital to see my daughter was getting hard. But even though this was my third baby, it was my first that was so small. The standard issue pacifier that the hospital gives all the babies covered her ENTIRE face. She was no longer than my forearm. I was a bit nervous about having a baby so small and premature. After all, a huge amount of the care that had been given to her already was done by the nurses at the NICU.
After the baby got home, things were easier that I thought they would be. We jumped back into being parents of a newborn pretty easily. By in large, the only difference was that she was REALLY little. Her sisters both loved her very much. So much that it was difficult to keep them from touching her and poking her and just doing what siblings do.
I feel extremely blessed that the reasons that our baby was in the NICU for just under a month were so minimal, compared to some of the other babies that were there. Some of the babies were hooked up to all kinds of machines. Some of them had been there for months. A couple of my closest friends each had babies in the NICU for FAR more complicated issues than what we dealt with.
Our NICU journey was ours. Hopefully you never have to have a baby that needs to be there for any period of time. If you do I hope that your experience was a good as mine. Despite the small issues that of course seemed big at the time, it was a pretty smooth experience. Not as intimidating as is sounds. It was a long journey, I spent a lot of time in the hospital, but I would never trade that for anything.