I got my first cuddle with Oscar when he was a few days old. I hadn't asked if I could hold him while he was in there as I didn't know the rules, didn't want to get my hopes up and was quite frightened to hold such a tiny baby with so many wires and monitors attached to him. So the day that the midwife said "Would you like to hold him?" I couldn't believe it! I was so excited and scared. I had to sit so close to the incubator as the wires weren't that long so he couldn't reach far. I was sat in my wheelchair and everyone helped me up and into the tub chair next to his incubator. The nurse took him out the incubator and together we put Oscar on my chest under my top so that we could have skin to skin.
Skin to skin regulates a baby's heartbeat and temperature and is a really good way to bond. It also ensured he was warm. At first he was making weak, crying noises but as soon as he got comfortable he stopped and instead made little innocent squeaking noises. He grabbed my finger with his hand and opened one eye a tiny bit. The whole five minutes were so surreal. I couldn't believe he was once in my stomach and he was now in my arms. I didn't think of him as a sick baby. I thought of him as a small baby. I was really happy to be holding him and had a huge smile on my face.
He still had a Canular in and it was so heavy in comparison to his arm so it made his whole arm flop so I tried putting it close to me to take some of the weight off. He had monitors strapped to his chest with little cartoon lions on and a heartbeat monitor around his foot. They were all hooked up to a machine that beeped and every time the door monitor fell off it would make a horrible beeping noise and the nurse would mosey on over, very calm and relaxed and just pop it back on. The first few times we were so on edge but it happened so frequently that you soon get used to it. Eventually the more cuddles I was having they would turn the foot monitor off so that would stop beeping.
The next day Luke got his cuddle and was so terrified as he was so tiny. He was glad to have had a cuddle but you could tell he was in a hurry to put him back safe in the incubator. I think it's scary for a man to hold a newborn as it is let alone a premature newborn!
Oscar's limbs were so skinny and his face was all screwed up it was quite hard to see him look so vulnerable, but at the same time we didn't know any different. I think had we had a full term baby previously and Oscar was our second child it would all seem so much more upsetting and scary but the fact we didn't know any different meant we had no other choice but to take it day by day and trust the Nurses and Doctors.
During our time in the NICU we were there to establish breastfeeding. When Oscar was a few days old they drew the curtain behind us for privacy and tried to get him to latch on. At this point they weren't expecting him to have a full feed but to just latch on to the nipple and suckle if possible. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I was sat in the tub chair, had a nursing pillow around me and the nurse placed Oscar on the pillow and tried to align him onto the nipple. They were quite confident in holding him and moving his head and neck whereas I was terrified to touch him incase I hurt him.
I didn't have very erect/big nipples (Can't believe I'm blogging about my nipples!) so it was hard for him to even know what was going on. He was barely away having this flat nipple shoved in his face. Poor kid!! They had a breastfeeding consultant there that was giving me lots of good advice and being really encouraging. It took a lot of tries for him to do anything so it was hard not to get discouraged by trying so many times and getting nothing back. Eventually they gave me nipple shields. They are similar to the teat of a bottle, see through plastic. You wet them and slap them on your boob and they just have a big fake nipple over yours so the baby doesn't have to struggle so much and then the shield has holes in so that they can suck and milk will come out.
As the nurses swapped shifts so frequently it was like repeating your whole story over and over again. Each nurse would come up and say "Hello! How are you, have you established breastfeeding yet? Has he latched on?" and I would have to explain that he hadn't and didn't really do much. It felt quite weird having a huge plastic fake nipple on and compared to his mouth it seemed crazy but we tried anyway with no such luck.
As Oscar became more stable he was moved into the Nursery. This was where the babies didn't need such intensive care. This is where it felt more like home - which is a daft thing to say, but we were kept at arms length in intensive care and were almost in the way so it wasn't encouraged that we hung around. I was still in hospital anyway so it wasn't so bad as I had a bed down the hall.
I remember coming into the NICU one day and walking up to the intensive care and his bay was empty. I will never be able to explain the feeling of your babies bed disappearing in intensive care. As I walked in they recognised me and said he had been moved to the Nursery. You would have thought they'd think to pre-warn me!! I thought he had died! Sounds ridiculous but what else was I to think.
The Nursery was so much nicer. It had a completely different atmosphere. Intensive care felt like you had to whisper and you weren't meant to be there. The Nursery felt like a community. There were 4 babies to a room so all the parents got to know each other, there were 2 nurses on shift at a time and they were all so lovely. It's funny how you have such deep chats with a complete stranger just because it's 2am! You wouldn't ordinarily open up to someone like that but it's something about the night! Once you were in the Nursery, as your baby was stable, you were more or less allowed to cuddle them as you pleased. You would just have to let one of the midwives know, as opposed to asking to hold your own child, which was so nice to finally have that freedom.
It was Christmas Eve and I was chatting to one of the other Mums who had premature twins. She and her two little girls had been through so much. I got to talking and was explaining how Oscar hadn't latched on yet. She told me to try a smaller size shield. I didn't even know there were smaller sizes! She took me to the Milk Room and in the tray there were all different sized shields. Small, Medium and Large. I had been using a Large!! I took the medium back and was desperate to try it the next time Oscar woke up. He definitely responded more to this size as it fit in his mouth so much better.
Christmas Day came and Luke had the whole day off work so we both spent all day in the NICU with Oscar in his incubator next to us. We set up two tub chairs either side of each other and put the iPad up on the shelf and had downloaded some Christmas films. When we came into the NICU in the morning there was a bag next to his incubator labeled Mummy and Daddy and a stocking saying Baby Boy on it. I couldn't believe it!
Inside the stocking there was a clear bauble with Oscar's birth tag in it, a bauble saying Baby's First Christmas and a blue hanging decoration saying Baby Boy. We got chocolates by the dozen and a hand knitted red and white blanket and a red and white hat fit for a preemie. We had a Christmas card saying Merry Christmas love from the NICU staff, with foot prints in the card. They had put blue paint on Oscar's feet and stamped them! We also got a card saying 'Mummy and Daddy' on the front, (the first time I'd seen our new status as Mum and Dad having been written down) and inside was a card with a photograph on the front of Oscar wearing a santa hat and was lying inside a red and white stocking. It read inside, To Mum and Dad, Merry Christmas, Love Oscar. I couldn't believe the effort they had gone to. The staff all wore Christmas hats and the radio played Christmas songs all day.
We tried that morning with the new nipple shields and the combination of the new size and the fact that every day he was becoming more and more alert, he latched on. He latched on, on Christmas Day (I can't believe I am crying writing this!) but his little mouth latched on and I felt a pinch and he began sucking. It was incomparable to the feel of a breast pump. This was my baby, feeding straight from me. It was such a perfect moment. The midwife on at the time was one of my favourites and she was so pleased it was like we were celebrating together. It was a Christmas Miracle! His jaw was moving up and down and he was suckling and milk was coming out and his face was reacting to the taste and he carried on wanting more. He only sucked for probably five minutes but it felt like time stood still. It was so magical. I think the wait had made it all that more special. I felt so proud of us that we had both managed to establish feeding and that he had come so far from when he was first born. I felt so proud that my body was producing exactly what he needed and all the hard work and sleepless nights I had worked for, it all came together.
Oscar wasn't due until the 22nd of January so he wasn't even supposed to be here anywhere near Christmas but we had our first family Christmas in hospital and it was perfect! Our families came in with presents and food for us. We had cancelled both our plans for Christmas day because we couldn't bare the thought of celebrating with him being in hospital not with us, but we had had such a lovely day with so many memories that as Luke's parents were leaving that afternoon they said why not come for dinner? I almost didn't want to leave as I wanted to breastfeed again as it was so exciting I couldn't wait for the next time he was due a feed. But the midwife said, "You've had a long day, it's been such a success, you deserve a break. Go home, have some dinner and come back. I won't leave his side!" So we went to theirs and had a little whipped up Christmas Dinner. I cannot wait for Christmas 2017, he will be 1 year old and it will be such an emotional day.
From then on, feeding him from me became easier and easier. He had a little bit of jaundice which is where the kidneys aren't functioning to their optimum level which can lead babies to look really tanned. He would feed from me but very quickly fall asleep which was due to the jaundice so he had some light therapy treatment. After the treatment he was so much more alert and was having ten, fifteen minute feeds. The midwives were so excited you could tell we were on the road to home.