Motherhood Chats Unfiltered: One Mamma's NICU Journey

As we are flying through the fall season and right into the busyness of the holidays, I wanted to take a moment to slow down and keep all the mammas who are going through a tough season in our minds. November is Prematurity Awareness Month and we took some time this month to talk to several moms who experienced having a premature baby in the NICU. In case you missed it, we interviewed Jenny Murray, a Clinical NICU Specialist for Medela, live on our Instagram account. Jenny has experience as a NICU nurse and she experienced having her own baby in the NICU as well. Along with Jenny, we also welcomed Jennifer into the conversation. Jennifer is a mom of three girls and her oldest was born eight weeks premature and spent some time in the NICU. This is her story:

With my first daughter, my pregnancy seemed mostly normal with little to no issues throughout. I really had my mind set on a natural, unmedicated birth. I took a hypnobirthing class and created an in depth birth plan. While I had planned on having a hospital birth, I imagined a relaxing environment as I welcomed my first baby into the world. 

A little over halfway through the pregnancy I toured the birthing unit and didn’t feel the good vibes that I had expected, so I decided to look into another provider and hospital. I toured another local hospital’s birthing unit and immediately knew I wanted to change providers. I switched to a midwife to continue my care. 

At 32 weeks gestation I started having contractions that seemed a bit stronger to me than the braxton hicks contractions I had been having throughout. I called the office and they told me to lie down and see if things changed. I finished my shift at work and started timing the contractions. They were about 6 minutes apart on the dot. I went to rest on the couch and felt my membranes rupture.

I quickly went to the hospital. I remember feeling excited and nervous. I don’t think it really even hit me how early it was until after arriving at the hospital and them telling me I needed to be transferred to another hospital with a NICU. I hadn’t even considered that the hospital I chose didn’t have a NICU until that moment. 

I was transferred by ambulance to another hospital and was in labor for about 18 hours before delivering my baby girl. She was 3lbs 16oz and spent 5 weeks in the NICU. Needless to say, my birth plan was pretty much thrown out the window. The labor and delivery was a whirlwind of events and it wasn’t at all the experience I had imagined. From this experience I learned it is so important to educate yourself before giving birth. I realized it’s ok to have a plan and be prepared to advocate for yourself, but to be just as prepared for things not to go according to plan.

My experience with a baby in the NICU was very difficult. The hospital was 45 minutes away from my hometown. I had her a couple weeks before college finals, so between studying, pumping every 4 hours, and driving back and forth every day, I was exhausted to say the least. I had planned on breastfeeding, so I started pumping right away. I remember feeling like pumping and providing her with milk was the only thing I could do for her at the time. So for me, even though pumping was so much work, it felt very rewarding.

Overall, the nurses and staff were amazing and took such great care of her. I am so grateful for that! However, I remember feeling robbed of so many things during that time. It was my first baby and I looked forward to feeding her for the first time, being the first one to hold her, and to give her first bath. I missed out on all of that and I found it to be so difficult. I struggled with postpartum depression with all 3 of my children and I know that made things seem so much more intense during that time period. I have worked in healthcare and I know how important it is to stay on a schedule when you have many other patients to take care of. If I could go back, I would be more open with the nurses in the NICU and voice my needs rather than suffer silently.

Another thing that I found really tough was introducing breastfeeding in the NICU. It took her longer to latch and she would get tired, so after a while the nurses would have me stop and just finish the feeding via the feeding tube so that she could stay on her schedule. While I understood the reasoning, I always wanted to be more patient with her and give her a little more time. 

I’m happy to say that as difficult as those days were, we made it through and today she is perfect and as strong as ever! I have had two other baby girls since then. Both were luckily born full term and didn’t need to spend any time in the NICU. After having them, my heart really went out to mamas who have babies in the NICU while having other babies who need them at home. 

If I were to give one piece of advice to other moms who have to walk through the experience of having a baby in the NICU, it would be to use the support system you have built. Don’t be afraid to ask for the help you need in all aspects of your postpartum journey.