R. >> I realize that before I can write anything about my experience as a Mom, or the things I’ve learned along the way, I need to set the stage with a few facts about how we got to where we are today because I truly believe that the first week of my daughter’s life set in motion habits and points of view that not every parent might agree with or understand, or on the flip side, you may recognize yourself and either sympathize or concur.
We didn’t have the easiest birth (3 weeks of latent labor, irregular but strong active labor leading to pitocin, an epidural that I managed to pull out while trying to get her to face the right way and had to redo, and finally a baby that got her shoulders stuck in my canal and had to be reanimated since she didn’t breathe for the first 1:45 minutes of her life)… So, yeah. That happened.
What was supposed to be the day that we would be sent home from L&D with our bundle of joy quickly turned into the single worst day of our lives as parents: our 2-day old daughter might have a life threatening illness and she had to be rushed to a specialized children’s hospital in a neonatal ambulance, where a team of geneticists were waiting for her.
The doctors discovered she was suffering from acidosis, which in layman terms means her blood was acidic because her body was having a hard time transforming proteins, and were worried it was potentially due to organic acidemia, which is rarely ever detected so early on, so they didn’t want to risk her developing potentially severe brain damage by not acting quickly. Maybe one day I’ll write about that horrifically stressful week, but for now I’ll focus on its impact on our lives as parents.
When we met up with our baby at the children’s hospital, we were instructed on how to scrub up, how important it was to sanitize at literally every step, cover our belongings with plastic bags, the importance of always wearing scrubs over our clothes, who, how and when our family could visit, etc. We were quickly transforming from the “let’s shove our kid’s face in the mud” kind of parents to completely sterilized parents, and not by philosophy but by necessity.
That week, our Baby Girl benefitted from not only a leading team of medical professionals and a team of 3 nurses caring for her like she was their own child 24/7, but she was immediately ushered into a routine of feeding, cleaning and lights out from the very start of her life.
Thanks to the amazing staff, we learned early on how to bathe her properly, how to stop holding her like she was this fragile thing made of glass, how and how much to feed her (once her feeding tube was removed), how to care for a breast pump and its accessories, and we got to kiss her good night at almost the same time every night when they turned down the lights at 8pm. (Yes, we also took the unique opportunity of having her in such good hands to go home and sleep in our own bed. I know this ruffled a few feathers even in my own family, and it was the hardest decision to make, but we all benefitted from it.)
Like I mentioned, Baby Girl had a feeding tube installed, which means you probably guessed she was fed a special formula and then graduated to a bottle. And I mentioned a breast pump, because yes, I still did my best to pull my colostrum and milk. Painstaking mL after mL (it took me 3 weeks to finally get my milk!). I had a great support system that encouraged me (my husband and the nurses were awesome) to keep at it even though at that point we didn’t even know if my daughter would be able to drink my breast milk and I was feeling completely defeated and useless (I had had every intention of breastfeeding her when I was pregnant). They also gave her a pacifier for the few times she wanted to suckle.
Doing the math you would assume that today, at almost 3 months old, my daughter is bottle fed formula because all the books say bottles and pacifiers mean bye bye breastfeeding. Well, I’m happy to say that on the final day of her hospital stay, the genetic nutritionist gave us the green light to start breastfeeding her. So I popped her right onto my breast, hoping she would latch on – and boom! the rest is history. (Mind you the first 2 days of her life she was breastfed, so she knew the dance.) Thankfully, they gave me back all my hard-earned breast milk to bring home, which meant my husband would be able to take part in the feeding process while I continued to breast feed and pump.
All that being said (in way too many words, I’m sorry!), thanks to our experience at the NICU:
- My daughter is both breastfed and bottle fed without a hic, and my husband gets to enjoy giving her her bottle at night.
- We all got used to a night-time routine early on at the hospital which made the transition to a night-time routine at home all the more easy after the craziness of the holidays emptied our house of guests.
- We learned how to bathe her properly (and once you’ve given your baby a bath of heated sterilized water, you come to appreciate the ease of bathing at home with tap water. Especially when your daughter decided to poop in said sterilized bath water and you had to start all over again… a royal pain).
- We learned the right way to swaddle babies using receiving blankets (which at the end of the day was kind of useless because by law in Quebec you can’t swaddle your baby at home unless you use those swaddlers – which we did use and worked miracles!)
- She was given a slew of medical exams she would normally not have had otherwise like a neurological hearing exam, heart scans, blood tests, genetic tests, etc. which came to prove that after everything her little body went through, she was a perfectly healthy baby girl who simply had a hard birth. 😀
- Due to the slew of exams and blood tests, our baby girl is a trooper when it comes to needles. Trust me, once your two week old has to have an intravenous blood test, you can handle anything afterwards. She got her vaccines and took them like a champ last week.
- Although it took us a couple weeks to get over the incessant hand washing and sanitizing of everything that came in contact with her, and controlling who she came in contact with depending on their health (“Oh you had a cold yesterday? She’ll see you next week!”), we’re now back to normal hand washing, and I’m looking forward to the first time she gets down and dirty.
Of course, we would have much rather NOT had gone to through the NICU experience, but we do strongly believe it gave us an amazing head-start in this crazy thing called parenting and will be forever grateful to the great staff at Ste-Justine’s Children Hospital in Montreal.