An Unexpected Journey | My Birth Story and Journey Through NICU
8 min read
We welcomed our second child into the world - our beautiful boy named Taylor on 15 February 2018. Taylor's arrival didn’t go exactly as I had envisaged. After all, we all have an idea in our mind about how we want our birth experience to be - particularly if it’s something that we have already gone through without a hitch before!
Of course we all hope for the best, but no matter how many books or blogs you read, even the best laid birthing plans do not always come to be!
Everyone has their own story - some beautiful, some scary, some textbook, some that completely do not go to plan. From at-home water births to emergency c-sections and everything in between, there is no right or wrong delivery, and it will likely be a roller coaster experience no matter what.
This is my story, and by sharing my experience I hope I can help another mum-to-be prepare herself for whatever situation she may face on her journey too.
A Valentine’s to remember
February 14th: 35 weeks pregnant with an 18 month old son also at home. I’m sure you can all just picture the romance! But turns out it was going to be one to remember after all.
That evening, I started experiencing pain. Nope, this was not your normal Braxton Hicks, or even labour pain. It gradually escalated through the night to be somewhat crippling by morning when I had conversations with my midwife the following who suggested I head to the hospital quick smart to get checked out – at that stage suspecting a kidney infection that antibiotics would sort out if we got it early enough.
What followed though, was an unexpected, dramatic, challenging and exhausting journey. I never imagined that when we left home in Raglan that morning for the hospital in Hamilton and dropped my son to ‘kindy’, holding back tears as I said a quick goodbye, that it would be weeks before I would be back home with my family.
An emergency delivery
Once I reached the hospital, I was admitted and declined throughout the day. Taylor and I’s heart rates soared, my blood pressure elevated and then plummeted and high temperatures and pain wracked my body. A full day of tests, monitoring and more tests provided no conclusive answers as I continued to deteriorate, all the while of course growing increasingly concerned for the health of my unborn baby.
On the evening on the 15th of February, a decision was made. I was prepped for surgery. Diagnosed with septicaemia from an unknown source of infection, it was critical for the health of both myself and my baby that I undergo an emergency c-section.
Focus on the end goal
Processing and accepting the reality of what this meant was difficult. I would be unconscious for the birth of my child - that incredible moment that we wait months for, when we get to see and hold our precious baby for the first time. The thought of not having that experience, being able to hold and feed my child, find out his gender at the same time as Todd, or even know that he was doing ok, was no less than heart breaking.
I felt comfort in being armed with the knowledge and strength to be able to request I be hand expressed at the earliest oportunity, that Taylor and I be placed skin to skin and his cord clamp be delayed if at all possible.
Feelings of distress and disapointment were consoled by the knowledge and trust that this was the best, and really only option for us both. Before going under, the surgeon said something incredibly impactful to me: he said to visualise something nice, to take my mind to a happy place.
As I fought a feeling of drowning, that became my focus; to picture myself and my fiancé, and two healthy babies in Raglan, with our feet in the ocean. This image became my source of strength whenever I became overwhelmed, exhausted or in despair, and was to become a powerful technique that would see me through the tough weeks to follow.
Welcome to the world, Taylor
Although unconscious, I was able to have a brief moment of skin-to-skin contact with my new baby boy, Taylor, in theatre, before he was whisked away to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) with my fiancé, Todd.
I woke up in the High Dependency Unit, and was unable to see Taylor for 16 agonising hours. The anguish of this is indescribable. Knowing he was in NICU and I was unable to be with him was heart breaking. Maternal instincts are in overdrive, and the feeling of helplessness was overwhelming.
I spent my first few nights in high dependency while I continued to be monitored 24/7. After asking and pleading to see my baby, the beautiful moment finally came. I was able to hold Taylor for the first time, and it was, as you can imagine, hugely emotional. The challenges that we’d both faced, and the knowledge that there were still more to come, were still overwhelming, but in that moment the world stood still and it couldn’t have been more perfect.
I was eventually moved to the maternity ward. This in itself was emotionally challenging. I was surrounded by the sights and sounds of new mothers with their own babies, while three days had been and gone, and I had barely seen my new baby boy.
Asking for a private ward was a necessary decision for my own sanity, so that I had the space to recover - emotionally and physically - and to comfortably pump breast milk. After all, I was expressing 3-hourly (initially by nurses for the first two days and nights) and then with my breast pump.
To start, there was a painfully small amount - 0.1-1.1mls of colostrum per hand expressing session, but from there, it consistently increased. I was at least buoyed by the knowledge that I was providing Taylor with nourishing breastmilk to help him recover and strengthen, too, while he remained on oxygen support in NICU.
The next few weeks were tough, with still more challenges to endure, but taught me so much. Here are a few of my most important lessons that I want to share with you:
For my previous pregnancy, I packed for a hospital stay at around 36 weeks. I’d now recommend moving that forward to around 34 weeks gestation! I left home that morning on the 15th without any belongings for a longer stay - I never expected I wouldn’t be back home that day! It’s hard to send someone out to pick up items for you, or to find what you need at home. That includes underwear, pyjamas and breastfeeding clothing, as well as the items that are going to make you feel more like ‘you’ - like your shampoo, hairbrush and toiletries, even the cute little outfits for your baby.
In particular, even if it’s not part of your ‘plan’, pack prepared for a c-section just in-case. That means comfy, loose fitting clothing, especially UNDIES! Oh I can’t tell you how life changing comfortable underwear is at a time like this! That means no tight seams and suitable to support your maternity pads. The last situation you want to find yourself in is sending your husband off to buy women’s underwear - trust me, they have no idea. I ended up in tears one evening, and ended up asking a nurse to cut the waist bands of mine!
I’ve already touched on this a little, but it’s important not to put too much pressure on yourself. It’s absolutely helpful to have an idea of how your ideal birthing scenario will go, but to also not beat yourself up if things don’t go to plan. All that matters is a safe delivery for both you and your baby. Be sure to grieve the birth you wanted but didn’t have, but try not to dwell on your expectations, and make your focus on the outcome.
Asking for support
As a second-time mum, I at least had an idea of what to expect when it came to feeding and expressing milk. But in my days in NICU and the maternity ward, I saw other mums, particularly first-timers, who were overwhelmed with their new reality. It’s an emotional, challenging and often frustrating experience at the best of times, let alone when you are dealing with a baby in NICU or other medical challenges. Even having had previous experience and knowledge with Breastfeeding it was still remarkably difficult to establish Breastfeeding with Taylor - particularly when they are so sleepy and a somewhat un-willing participant!
Feeding and expressing is not necessarily easy, and it’s important to ask for help and also to speak up if your routine isn’t working for you. Between feeding, visiting Taylor, and attending to my own medical treatments, I became overwhelmed – fast. I spoke to the - amazing - nurses to ensure that I was comfortably in the right routine for us both, so that I could stay on top of both milk supply and medication without missing out on being with Taylor at the best and necessary times (ie cares and feeds!). Don’t be afraid to speak up about what is best for you.
That brings me to a point close to my heart - pumping! I can’t tell you how grateful I was to have access to a comfortable, effective breast pump that gave me confidence and reassurance that I was providing nourishment for my baby when he was unable to feed and when I couldn’t be there to feed him. Having my Milkbar Breast Pump allowed me to express where it suited me - including at Taylor’s bedside, and later in hotel lobbies, the car, you name it - and resulted in an ever-increasing supply.
There were pumps provided at the hospital, as well as a room specifically for mums to use (complete with pumps chained to the wall!), but at a time like this it is really beneficial to have access to your own pump that you know will deliver the goods! Also, don’t get disheartened - those first few times you express you may produce next to nothing. Keep at it. The first night that I pumped using my machine resulted in 1.2ml, however that increased by about tenfold each time, until I had a huge supply stocked away in the freezer!
We’re all in this together
The love and support from other mums and families going through their own difficult times played a huge part in making my experience bearable. Make the most of the families you have around you - laugh, cry, celebrate and support each other through setbacks and triumphs. You’ll meet amazing mummas, so feed off their strength, and with positivity and compassion you’ll discover you’ll also help others in ways that you may not even realise. The staff in NICU are nothing less than exceptional at what they do and the treatment and support they provide - ask questions, get involved and call at anytime you are away to check in - they were always so supportive and eager to help. I cannot commend them enough.
Positive visualisation and mindfulness The doctor’s advice to take my mind to a happy place, and visualising my family - healthy, together, thriving - became a powerful mindfulness technique to support my own wellbeing. Focusing on a positive outcome gave me strength, and also allowed me to be strong for the others who needed me in a time where I often felt like falling apart. I can’t tell you how important and helpful it is to keep your mind and heart always focused towards that happy reality.
Call on your support network
Suddenly being whisked out of my daily life and routine was obviously incredibly disruptive - after all, I had my 18 month old son, Billy, my employment with the Police, a business and we live out of town. Moving between the hospital, Raglan, hotels and the homes of family and friends, all while trying to keep life as normal as possible for Billy wasn’t easy, and we couldn’t have done it without the love, support and help of our family and friends - don’t be afraid to ask for assistance - or accept it when it is offered! Be prepared to call on your closest support network to help you get through.
Finally, after a three-week emotional rollercoaster, we were able to finally return home as a complete family of four. Taylor is doing amazingly well despite his rocky start to life, and that moment that I visualised - my family together in our favourite place - has come to life and I couldn’t be more grateful.
If you want to find some more support and Mums to bounce ideas, advice, laughs and questions around with - come join us in Milkbar Mum Chat group on Facebook, together, we've got this!