A NICU Little Miracle
September is NICU awareness month. A place I never thought I’d have my own personal memories and pictures from. As much as I don’t really like thinking about our time in there because it brings back a lot of trauma, I also have to acknowledge that it’s a part of Maverick’s story. For a long time I remember thinking “how will I ever be able to celebrate his birthdays without feeling PTSD- they’ll just be a reminder of the most traumatic experience”, but I’ve learned to see this with a lense of gratitude and it’ll always be a reminder of what a warrior we have brought into this world.
The NICU doesn’t always mean premie. Maverick was a full-term baby, but his birth was filled with complications and was diagnosed with HIE (Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy) at birth meaning he lacked oxygen and blood flow to his brain and other major organs in his body. In fact, many of his organs shut down in order to protect his heart and brain. I had to watch a team of doctors and nurses work on my lifeless baby to get him to breathe for the first time as I laid on a cold surgery table. The room was chaotic but silent at the same time. No one would give us answers, they were all just focused on doing their job. When he finally took a breath, they immediately took him to the NICU and made my husband go with him... leaving me behind to wonder if I’d ever see or hold my baby alive again.
He had to be “cooled” for 3 days on a gel pad through a process called Therapeutic Hypthermia to cool his brain and stop the brain damage. During this period, he would shiver cold and we couldn’t hold him, or do much to make him feel comfortable. He also stopped breathing on his own during these first 72 hours and had to be intubated. This was the lowest low I’ve ever experienced. I had never felt so lost and sad and guilty honestly. I kept thinking I failed my baby and robbed him from the beautiful birth he deserved.
After the cooling process he had to undergo many pokes, tests, MRI’s (one that showed a perinatal hemorrhagic stroke prior to delivery), EEG’s, he got physical and occupational therapy, he had to learn how to suck and eat, and get stronger as he had low muscle tone as a result of everything. He was also on a feeding tube.
I didn’t get to hold my baby for 6 days. 6 looooong days. And even when we did, we had to hold him carefully and in a very specific way to not mess with all the cables and lines he was attached to. We changed his first diaper avoiding all those wires getting stuck. Gave him his first bath on a plastic bag lined hospital bathtub. Our skin to skin was in a chaotic NICU floor with machines going off everywhere and the only privacy we had was a curtain separating us from the rest of the floor. None of it was the way I envisioned. But we rolled with the punches and took every little win because our little guy kept showing his toughness.
I was pumping every 2 hours around the clock, and after pumping I would hand deliver my milk down to the NICU, see my baby for a bit and then have to do it all over again. I barely ever slept. I would cry because I was tired and pumping was HARD and the lactation consultants kept telling me my milk production was behind (probably because it took us a week to do skin to skin and all the stress my body was going through). I felt so defeated, like there I was, failing my baby again. But I didn't give up. I kept telling myself, my baby has been fighting all obstacles, I have to do the same.
Things started improving. Little by little, Maverick kept amazing doctors and nurses with progress. They all kept telling us how lucky we were and I don’t think I really ever wanted to believe it because I kept feeling like if I attached to a good outcome, something would go wrong. Every time we met with doctors I feared they would give me some bad news. It really wasn’t until we got the discharge order to go home that I was able to grasp the thought that things really were looking up for us.
We were in there for 3 weeks. And I struggled every single one of those 21 days. I barely ever left the hospital and if I did it was to eat or shower at my mom’s house down the street and felt terrible guilt every time I left. I refused to go home without him so we slept on hospital beds and crappy recliners. My back has never hurt so bad. But truth be told, that place was home to us for weeks. The guards at the front knew us, the nurses knew us, the doctors knew us... and every single one of them was rooting for Mav. The NICU is a place of hope, but also a place of sadness. People in there are going through the hardest time in their life. I remember walking the halls and seeing some of the same parents for weeks and we would just give each other this unspoken support with just a look. A look that said “I know what you’re going through, I’m going through it too.” And not everyone is lucky enough to take their baby home. We got to witness a baby go to heaven right next to Maverick. We got to witness those parents leaving without their baby and never coming back. It’s a tough place in there. But I have to say that the NICU is full of angels, everyone that works there truly left a mark, and I will never forget that.
This is honestly so hard to talk about, even today. It brings back all the fears I felt, ALL the feelings. But then, I see my little miracle baby growing and thriving and it brings me to my knees in tears. A different kind of tears than back then... happy tears this time. This story could have been very different. His HIE diagnosis doesn’t usually end this way. It usually leads to Cerebral Palsy, major seizure disorders, surgical feeding tubes, wheelchairs.
My Mighty Mav has beat the odds and I don't know what I've done to deserve him, but I'll always be thankful, for this NICU little miracle is on Earth for something big, something really special. I really feel that in my heart.
And to all the #nicumamas out there, I SEE YOU. I AM HERE FOR YOU BECAUSE I WAS YOU. You are strong, you are resilient, you are BRAVE. You were chosen for your baby for a reason, and it will all make sense to us some day.