It was Wednesday morning and my husband and I were on our way back to the hospital for the baby wellness checkup. At this point we hadn’t had our son home with us for a full 24 hours and we were both still on less than 4 hours of sleep in a span of 5 days.
We got to the hospital and went to get his labs done right away so that they would be ready for his appointment. Once again my poor little baby had his heel pricked and squeezed for blood. He didn’t cry when it happened and I thought it was because he’s had it done so much he was used to it. What I come to find out later is that his lack of crying was due to the fact that he was starving and too weak to cry. Knowing that broke my heart and made me feel like I failed as his mother.
After we were finished at the lab we checked in for his appointment and waited to be called back. When we were called back they did a routine check up of his heart, lungs and weight. The RN let us know he had lost more than 10% of his body weight. When we were admitted in the hospital they said that when the baby loses more than 10% of their body weight is when they get concerned. He was born at 6 pounds 9 ounces and was now weighing 5 pounds 6 ounces. She didn’t seem too concerned and told us that we should supplement. She showed us which formula the hospital used and at this point we were ready to leave so we could buy his formula and feed him in the car. I didn’t care about breastfeeding at this point because I just wanted him to eat. My husband and I knew he was struggling to eat with me so we had already had a conversation about being ok with supplementing if that’s what we had to do.
I tried to skip out on seeing the lactation nurse so we could go get the formula but they told me she was there specifically for my appointment. My husband went out and waited for us while we saw her. I began telling her that I’ve been struggling with his latch and filled her in with everything we had already done while at the hospital. She said she wanted to try SNS (supplemental nursing system). This is a container that you fill with milk and it has a tube that you put in the baby’s mouth as he’s nursing. This is used for moms who aren’t producing enough milk. The baby’s stimulation is the best way to produce more milk. It’s also used for women who lost their milk and want to re-lactate.
We began to try this and when she saw my nipples she looked stunned. She said that I had suffered a lot of trauma to them. This was because my son kept trying to eat but my milk was just transitioning from colostrum to milk. From what I researched before he was born, I knew that was normal. It takes your milk a few days after delivery to come in.
I never knew how complicated breastfeeding could be. I can only speak on my experience when I say that it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever tried to do in my life. It’s frustrating, painful and sad when you struggle with breastfeeding.
She set me and my son up on her chair and showed me how to use the sns. I was amazed! My son was latched and sucking and it was not as painful. It wasn’t as painful because the small tube in his mouth was transferring formula into his mouth so he didn’t have to work as hard as he had been to get his milk. As I watched him feed I realized that I truly wasn’t producing enough milk for him. I felt like I already knew that but was in denial. Looking down and watching him eat was such a relief.
Meanwhile my husband was sitting in the waiting room and realized that we didn’t get an after visit summary. He found the RN who had seen us and asked her for it. We wanted to make sure we got this because it had our visit’s summary and with everything he had already gone through we wanted any documentation we could have.
This next part is the point where the state of my mental health began to change. I’m so traumatized by this moment that I could vividly feel myself back at this moment every time it crosses my mind. When it crosses my mind I fixate on it so much my anxiety heightens and my mood for the next few hours or days is changed.
Once my son was done eating he fell asleep. Something that had not happened in a while. While I was getting my stuff ready to leave, the lactation nurse was putting some supplies together for me so I could continue to do the same at home. As this was happening the RN who had seen us rushed in to find me. The first thing she says is “you have to go and admit your son to the NICU right now, his bilirubin levels have gotten to a more dangerous level”. I was stunned to say the least, I was packing up so me and my husband could go buy formula and take our baby home. I remember looking down at my sleeping son and seeing how tiny he was. His preemie clothes were even a little loose on him. Everything started feeling like a blur and I had no control over my life at that moment. I then remember panicking and asking her if I would be able to stay with him and she said “no”. That’s when I lost it, I was uncontrollably crying and I asked her to please go get my husband so she could tell him what she told me. I remember getting sad looks from the RN and from the lactation nurse, what could you say to a hysterical mom whose son was just about to be taken from her? In that moment I felt so helpless, not only for myself but for my son.
Not only did the hospital let us go home when his bilirubin levels were not under control but this RN was about to let us go home as well without checking his labs. The only reason she came in and told me I had to admit him was because while she was getting the after visit summary that my husband asked for, she came across his labs and previous hospital information. Although I suffered with the fact that my son had to be admitted into the NICU, my husband asking for this possibly saved our son from having brain damage.
A lot of babies go to the NICU so they can receive phototherapy after they are born. What I needed to admit my son for was something that happens to many babies, but the way it happened is what has brought me to the state I’m in mentally right now. Bringing your baby to a check up after you’ve already taken them home and then being told they need to be admitted to the NICU, the feelings are so hard to explain. The best way I could explain it is that I felt robbed. Robbed of my son and robbed of being his mom. I felt like a failure.
The next thing they had us do was go to the waiting room until someone could take us to the NICU. Here we are in a waiting room full of parents and their babies and I’m sitting there trying my hardest to fight back all of my tears as we’re waiting to go leave ours at the NICU. Life felt so unfair at this moment.
When we got to the NICU they had his incubator ready and sent us to go admit him at another building. My life felt like a nightmare I couldn’t wait to wake up from. I kept thinking of what else we could have done to prevent this and was so mad that they let us go home the day before. I remembered while I was being discharged the nurse was telling me that they were rushing to discharge everyone because they had a lot of new moms waiting and didn’t want to open up another wing of the hospital. Is this why we were discharged? To make room for someone else? Regardless of the situation, I know it would have been hard to have my son taken to the NICU but if it would have been done while we were still admitted and it was expected I may have not suffered the way I have.
After we admitted him we went back to the NICU and met with the doctor and NICU nurse who would be taking care of him. They told us he was dehydrated because he hadn’t been eating so he had an IV in him. They told me that since he wasn’t eating enough he wasn’t having enough bowel movement to get rid of the toxins so his levels got higher. When we left the hospital the day before he was at a level 13, he was now at a 17. They also told us that they would feed and change him every 2 hours. Every 6 hours they would check his levels for any change. They told us he would be there for two day minimum. My heart was just broken and irreparable at this point. I sat in front of his incubator and the hours just started going by. I couldn’t touch him, I couldn’t see his eyes, he just laid there and all I could do was pray that he knew I was there.
During our stay the nurses kept trying to get me to go home. It was making me so mad that they kept trying to make me leave. I felt like screaming at them! How could I leave my newborn? How could they possibly think that was ok to tell me? No one was going to make me leave his side and they just had to get that through their head.
It was around 8pm and there was a shift change. Our new nurse came and introduced herself to me and let me know everything she would be doing and at what time. She let me feed him and change him in the incubator. I still couldn’t see his eyes, all I could do was sit him up in the incubator and feed him. A couple of hours later she gave him a bath and my husband was able to hold him while she set up his incubator so he could go back in. They asked me if I wanted to hold him but I said no. Looking back, this was a sign of my postpartum depression starting. I felt this disconnect and shame for my son being in this situation. The first week of your baby’s life you should be able to hold them, do skin to skin, and create that bond with them. That was put on hold for me.
It was probably around midnight and a new charge nurse came in. Again, he told me to go home and I said no. My son’s nurse noticed that I was getting bothered and she finally told me that the reason I kept being told to go home is because he was being taken care of. They needed to make sure that when he was ready to go home they were going to release him to parents capable of caring for him and at that moment we weren’t that, we were running on no sleep. I sat on what she said for a few hours. She had made me feel so comfortable from involving me in what she was doing to helping me pump and teaching me about breastfeeding.
Me and my husband were so tired, he suggested we go to the car and take a quick nap since we couldn’t sleep in the NICU. With a heavy heart I got up and went. As I sat in the empty hospital parking lot I kept thinking about what the nurse told me. It took so much for me to finally accept that I did need to rest so that I could be a good mom to my son once he was released. Even though I knew it was what was best for me, I felt such shame for choosing to leave my son so I could go home and rest for a few hours. I told my husband and he was supportive of the decision. We went back into the NICU to let the nurses know and to say goodnight to our baby boy. I cried the moment I walked out of the NICU and didn’t stop until my head hit my pillow.
I needed rest desperately. I was starting to see things that weren’t really there and catching myself doing things I didn’t realize I was doing. I was sleep deprived. I was able to sleep for a few hours then we got up and went back to the hospital.
We were lucky to have had the most amazing NICU nurses. On the second day when I got there in the morning they allowed me to take him out and feed him. Up until then all his feedings were done in the incubator where he was still attached to everything. I was finally able to hold him in my arms and look at his beautiful eyes. We did it quickly so he could go back in and get as much of the phototherapy as possible. Other than this moment for two days I couldn’t see his beautiful eyes, I wasn’t able to hold him in my arms, give him kisses, or handle him like any other mom would handle their newborn baby. All I was able to do is sit and observe.
Soon after we got there they gave us an update. His labs showed that he was improving but they still wanted his levels a little lower. They said if he got to a level 11 by 6pm they would discharge him that night and if not they would keep him overnight again. At this point I just wanted my son to be healthy and if it meant one more night then it’s what we had to do.
The new charge nurse didn’t want me sitting in front of the incubator the way I was. He said the lights would harm my eyes. Again I felt like I had no control over anything. My husband and I decided to go to Target to buy his formula and kill some time because he wouldn’t be released for a while if his levels did drop. We got to target and got his formula. We also shopped around for him which made me feel better knowing that I would be able to give him what I was buying. Not even an hour in and my anxiety hit hard. Why was I not with my baby? Was he ok? Did he know I left? Would this affect our connection even more? His feeding time was coming up and I needed to rush back to pump. I started to panic and told my husband we should leave. We did and I felt like I couldn’t get there quick enough. Once I got there and saw he was ok I let the nurse know that I was going to pump. I went to pump and just cried the entire time.
During our stay my mother in-law was so supportive and by our side. My sister-in-law and cousin-in-law were also so great. They stopped by early that morning and brought us breakfast and lunch that was sent by my husband’s aunt. My father-in-law stopped by after work to see his grandson as well. Once they knew we were all ok and didn’t need anything they went home.
The NICU charge nurse was finally so happy to tell us that his bilirubin levels were low enough that it was safe for us to take him home. His nurse made sure we took home what we needed from extra diapers and wipes to a couple cases of formula. The nurses in this NICU were so amazing and helped us feel ok while we had our baby boy there. It was comforting to see how they all worked together and took such great care of all the babies.
At 8 pm that second day we were finally discharged and on our way home with our healthy baby.