Life in the NICU

The first thing any mom wants to see after she’s given birth is her child. The last thing she wants is for her child to be whisked away by doctors and nurses, only to be plugged into all sorts of different beeping machines to save their life. That’s exactly what happened to my son, my rainbow baby, when he was born more than five weeks premature. He was supposed to arrive mid-January, 2013. Instead, he graced us unexpectedly with his presence in early December, 2012.

The night before, I didn’t sleep well. I felt mild cramping throughout the night and into the morning. Given that this was a high-risk pregnancy, I fled to the hospital at any sign of discomfort or unknown feeling. This was no exception. On the morning of December 5, 2012, I called my mom and off we went to the hospital to find out what these cramps were all about. I don’t think it had crossed my mind that they were contractions; it was too early for that. But, once at the hospital, I was surprised to learn that I was 3cm dilated and my baby boy would be arriving that day. I knew he would arrive via c-section because he was breeched. I was happy about that because giving birth vaginally would bring me back to the nightmare of delivering my stillborn son and it wasn’t something I wanted to relive.

Full Circle

Between my anxiety and prep for surgery, a moment of grace that I will never forget, happened. If you read my blog titled A Healthcare System that is Learning, Still, you will know all about Nurse Anne. Nurse Anne bore the storm of my stillbirth with me. In the weeks leading up to this delivery, I secretly wished that she would be there again. Her calm demeanor and quiet strength were just what I wanted for my rainbow baby’s delivery. Given the amount of nurses that flowed through the maternity ward, I knew the likelihood of my secret wish to come true was slim to none. As I talked to the physician pre-op, she appeared. It almost felt like a dream and I couldn’t believe the chances. I don’t know if it’s because she had read my chart beforehand, or if she really remembered me upon seeing me – in any case, she knew exactly who I was. Still, she introduced herself and reminded me that she was present for my stillbirth. Given that, she asked my permission to attend my rainbow baby’s birth, understanding that it may open up some old wounds. Without hesitation, I granted her permission and couldn’t be more relieved for her presence – not only did she bare my storm with me, but she would be here with me for the rainbow. I loved that life granted me this full circle moment.

What Came Next

He was born at 10:48pm. While the delivery would be different, soon after, a different nightmare would ensue. Of my three deliveries, this one is the least clear in my memory. I can’t say that I remember his initial cries. I do remember not being able to hold him. How I got from the operating room to a recovery room – I have no idea. All I remember is being wheeled on my hospital bed into a small room where my son was hooked up to all sorts of machines that were helping him breathe. He was so tiny and looked in such discomfort. I still couldn’t hold him. The nurses were optimistic but I could feel the tension around me – I was the mom whose first child was stillborn and now this child isn’t quite passed the finish line. They were doing everything they had to, to keep him safe. It must have been sometime in the middle of the night when I was finally allowed into the NICU, where he was brought, so that I could hold him.

We all know that nurses are special but NICU nurses are a certain kind of special. My babe was finally safe and they were keeping him under a close eye until the day came that he could finally go home. Our NICU stay wasn’t long – 19 days. It felt like forever at the time but I am mindful that some families don’t get to leave the NICU for several weeks, or even months. And, that not all of those families leave the hospital with their arms filled.

A Bit of Luck Sprinkled with Fatigue

I have no idea how he did it, but my high-risk obstetrician landed me a private room in the hospital for the entirety of those 19 days. Either delivery season was low or he pulled some very long strings for me. In any case, I was grateful. The private room and length of stay came with one condition: any time my son roused in the NICU, I had to be there. If he was hungry, I had to go. If he needed a change, I had to go. If I was going to leave it all to the nurses, I may as well have gone home.

I obeyed that condition like my life depended on it. Every 2-3 hours, like clock-work, my son woke to feed. The phone in my private room rang. The nurse on the other end would tell me it was time to make my way over. So, I did. For 19 days, every 2-3 hours, I went back and forth from my private room to the NICU at my son’s demand. I sometimes joke that, 11 years after his birth, I’m still tired.

I left the hospital walls all but one time to get some fresh air within those 19 days. If I wasn’t in the NICU, I was trying to get some sleep. If I wasn’t trying to get some sleep, I was in the NICU. I don’t know how I did it. Looking back, it seems almost torturous. I guess moms will do anything for their children.

I wouldn’t know it then, but my son’s behaviour of waking every 2-3 hours would continue for 15 months after I brought him home. I have no doubt it would have gone on like this for several months longer had I finally not let him cry it out and learn to soothe himself to sleep.

No Germs Allowed

Going in and out of the NICU was quite the routine in and of itself. The NICU held the most fragile of tiny lives and any visitor, including all parents, needed to make sure they were not bringing any belongings with them, and needed to ensure their hands were sanitized before entry. Visitors left their jackets and bags inside lockers just outside of the NICU. No foreign germs or viruses were to enter with them. I imagine NICU staff were ahead of the game when COVID decided that it wanted to shut down the world several years later.


Needless to say, our NICU stay was exhausting, as most probably are. Thankfully, it didn’t take too long for my son’s machines and tubes to be disconnected. Within just about a week, he was strong enough to breathe on his own. We stayed a total of 19 days, mostly to ensure he was eating and gaining weight. Slowly but surely, he did. Just in time for Christmas, we were able to leave the hospital and go home.

There are so many emotions and so much uncertainty that accompanies life in the NICU. Every minute feels like an eternity yet time seems to slip away in a blur. For parents, it’s a delicate balance of hope and despair as they navigate beeping machines, sterile walls and exhaustion. Every beep of a monitor, every flutter of tiny fingers, is a testament to the resilience of these little fighters and the strength of the love that surrounds them. Parents find comfort in the small victories and milestones that mark moments of progress and time that brings them closer to their child’s first graduation – going home.