Handling the NICU Roller Coaster

When you’re in the NICU with your baby, things can change from good to bad in the blink of an eye. Likewise, they can also go from dire to great at the drop of a hat!

Of course, “good” or “great” are relative descriptions when you are stuck in the hospital and can’t take your baby home with you.

Regardless, there are many ups and downs within the NICU walls. Also, just because your baby is doing well, doesn’t mean that you will be doing well.

At the beginning, I was a total wreck. Kaden was born 11 weeks early, and I was in shock, I was grieving, I was the hottest of messes.

I couldn’t hold my son, because of the IV in his umbilical stump.

I couldn’t stroke his back or arm and assure him everything would be okay because the stroking sensation on preemie baby’s skin is actually painful because their skin is so underdeveloped, thin, and tacky.

I couldn’t console my son when he cried in pain as the nurse stuck his heel to check his blood gas levels, or try to reinsert a new IV.

I was a total wreck.

After the incident with his chest tubes, Kaden started doing incredibly well. He rebounded like a total champ and even the medical staff were impressed with how fast he bounced back. I was so relieved, and so happy.

After a few weeks, talk of discharge started fluttering around Kaden’s bedside and I was thrilled. I might get to bring my baby home soon!

The better Kaden got, the worse I got again. I was crying all the time like I had when Kaden was first born. Little things set me off. Yet again, I was a wreck. It was almost as if the adrenaline had worn off and since Kaden was doing so well, I was able to really feel all of the pain I had been shoving down. I was able to truly experience the ache in my heart as I hadn’t before.

Plus, it was getting hard to leave Kaden at the hospital again, because he was doing do well. I knew he had improved, and I just wanted to take him home to snuggle him. We were at the point that I really didn’t even ask the nurses if I could get him out of the bed, I just snatched him up. I held him for hours within the confines of his little NICU nook, but I still couldn’t take him home, and it was infuriating.

In order to go home, Kaden would have to pass the car seat test.

Basically, I had to bring his car seat up to the hospital, and the nurses would have him sit in it with all of his monitors attached for a designated amount of time. If he made it the entire time with good stats, he could come home. If he had an episode, the next shift would try again.

I was lucky, and he passed the first time. Many babies have to take the car seat test 2 or 3 times before they pass. I couldn’t imagine how frustrating it would be to have discharge within your grasp, only to have it put off by a failed car seat test.

Discharge day had me feeling like a basket case, too.

I was excited to finally take my son home, and I was terrified. I was so afraid that I would do something wrong, or Kaden would get sick and end up back in the NICU. I was so happy to snuggle him in the comfort of my own home, whenever I wanted, and I was petrified that I wasn’t ready to take care of him, and he would spontaneously stop breathing in his sleep.

Let me tell you, I have never been so afraid that someone would just suddenly stop breathing. I didn’t sleep a wink his first night home, because I had to keep checking to make sure he was alive.

Being in the NICU is like being on a roller coaster that you can’t get off.

There are times that you are afraid for your baby’s life, and you can’t bring yourself to leave the hospital in case he takes a turn for the worse.

There are moments when your nugget is like any other baby, content to snuggle up in your arms and nap, or lean against you and take in the world as best as her little eyes can.

There are days when you get bad news after bad news after bad news, and it feels like if one more thing goes wrong, you will collapse into a sobbing puddle on the floor right at the doctor’s feet.

There are moments when you get to hold your baby’s hand, give him a bath, put her in her first outfit, feed him a bottle when he’s been eating through IVs and feeding tubes for the last several weeks, or see her face for he first time with no cannula or tape skewing her features, and you know that everything is going to work out and that your family will make it through and be okay.

You’ll have some low points where you feel like the world is over and you can’t go on.

You’ll have sweet high points where nothing can bring you down, because your baby had a good day.

You’ll have confusing loops and twists where even though your baby is doing great, you feel as bad as you did those first few weeks when you could hardly function.

You’ll have postpartum hormones raging through your body, making you feel everything ten times stronger, and the things that shouldn’t make you cry, make you sob so hard you can’t catch your breath. The things that seem like they’re not that big of a deal become the ray of sunshine that warms your soul and makes you weep joyous tears.

The NICU is a confusing and crazy place, even for someone not swimming in hormones. It’s hard to handle being on the NICU roller coaster, but just remember that like any other roller coaster, it may seem like it goes on forever, but it will end.


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