Motherly Perspectives: Lessons from the Neonatal ICU


126 days ago

You bring your brand new, perfect baby home from the hospital and the first few weeks, while obviously tiring, are bliss. You’re in that delicious newborn phase of getting to know your new her, breathing in the heavenly smell of her sweet little head, completely in love with the perfect little life that you brought into the world.

Then, one day, your previously sleepy, content babe now begins to cry. And cry, and cry, and cry. Inconsolable! She will not be laid down and refuses to rest anywhere besides on your chest, for twenty minutes at a time. Panic sets in. You’re Googling furiously.

“Maybe it’s my milk”, you wonder.

“Could she have colic? No, colic is rubbish. Or is it?”

“It must be her tummy. Probably wind?”

The doubt runs rampant until you finally cave and cough up the hefty paediatrician fee. “He had better not tell me it’s just a wind for this price!” you think to yourself.

Then, you’re hit with the news that your tiny new born is sick and needs to be hospitalised and suddenly the idea of it just being wind sounds like the ideal diagnosis.

Well, at least that is my experience with my four-week-old daughter, Stella. She caught multiple viruses from her pre-school-going brother, Jonah, which saw her in the Sandton Medi-Clinic NICU for two weeks.

While it wasn’t the best start to her little life, the lessons learnt from the experience were invaluable.

Moms, here are the lessons I learnt from the Natal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

You’ll never know your own strength until you’re in it

For most parents, the NICU is the most feared place on Earth. You do everything in your power to avoid it but then, you’re there. You’re in it and it’s no longer about you. The focus shifts to healing your baby and nothing else matters.

A mother’s strength is instinctual.

I didn’t know I had it in me, until I was there, 12 hours a day for 2 weeks, feeding around the clock, expressing in between, analysing lab results, washing my hands until the skin began to peel, sterilizing bottles – constantly moving, inching towards the goal of bringing her home.

Divide and Conquer

Life doesn’t stop because your baby is in the hospital; you undoubtedly have other kids, work or household commitments that need to be fulfilled. This is when your partner/mom/sister/helper comes in.

My husband and I decided on the Divide and Conquer approach. He couldn’t sit at Stella’s bedside all day (with his useless nipples), so I while I was on hospital duty, he was on Meagan Duty and our parents were on Jonah Duty.
While the obvious (having someone to mind your other kids) is important, having someone to look after you is crucial. You need someone to buy the groceries, pack you a snack for the hospital, bring you that breast pump part you forgot in the steriliser at home, and someone in your corner supporting you.

Moms, you cannot pour from an empty cup.

Trust the NICU staff

Leaving the hospital that first evening was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do as a mother. It felt completely unnatural. But over time, I learnt to trust the nurses as I had experienced, first-hand, just how much they love those babies.

(I also got the nurse’s cell number and low key called her throughout the night, which she wasn’t thrilled about, but, oh well!)

Try to keep in mind, it’s just another day in the office for the staff. To squash my worrying, the paediatrician compared the NICU to Discovery’s reality show, Deadliest Catch. When the fishermen navigate the deadly Bering Sea, carrying out one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, you just can’t help but focus on the worst-case scenarios. Then, the camera pans to the captain, sitting calmly on the upper deck, sipping his coffee.

You see, just another Tuesday, right? Right.

While our personal experience of the NICU had a happy ending, there are unfortunately families who don’t have it quite as good. I have nothing but gratitude for that our positive outcome and the experience, because just like labour pains, these anxious memories fade and are often replaced with a new-found confidence within our mothering abilities and the peace knowing that you can actually handle it.

Meagan is a Joburg mom of two, who loves her hubby, kids and is passionate about equality.

Follow her on Instagram for more Motherly Perspectives.

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