It's a saying in the NICU that the closer you get to the door, you are to leaving. The NICU is a narrow rectangle shaped ward, at the far end is the intensive care, then there are two rooms called Nurseries. First, the babies are admitted into intensive care, then moved to Nursery 2 and then Nursery 1. Each room does get closer to the door and ironically does get you closer to going home but the entire time we were there it was unspoken about when we were going home. Understandably, the nurses didn't want to give us a date that we could go home incase things changed. Originally they told us we could be in any time up to his due date. I couldn't believe we could be in the NICU for five weeks. I knew nothing about premature babies or if this was a normal amount of time. But saying it could be up to five weeks meant I didn't get my hopes up while we were there. Even so, our family still clung to every word the nurses said. If they said anything hinting at a time frame or a date we would get our hopes up and try to depict what it meant. I tried figuring out what was written about him on the whiteboard and peeked in his notes anytime they were left out. I was desperate to know how he was getting on.
There was a checklist of things that the parents and babies had to complete before going home aside from medical checks. Bath time with the baby, one in four feeds on the breast, a baby first aid course, the car seat had to come in and be checked for size and the baby had to stay in a room with you alone for two nights. Some midwives were really proactive and would come in and check your progress and see if they could help in anyway to get you home faster but some seemed to do the bare minimum. I'm not sure if this was personal choice or the way it worked but it seemed frustrating that they had the power to get your baby home quicker and would choose not to.
One midwife, who was so lovely and definitely memorable, would make such a fuss and was always in high spirits. She would always try to get Oscar to breastfeed, was good at asking guests to go in a nice manner when she could tell you needed some time alone, was amazing at powering through the checklist and actually took the time to learn my name, instead of just calling me Oscar's Mum like the others.
Oscars first bath was super cute. It was scary to be holding such a tiny baby I got so scared I would drop him in. The nurse wheeled round the bath ready with bubbles in and showed me how to bath him. The water was so much hotter than I expected it to be but she said there's no harm in a nice warm bath, obviously just as long as the water isn't too hot! After he had his bath, his flattened, sticky hair had been washed and dried for the first time and he suddenly had AMAZING spiky fluffy hair all over his head!! All the midwives couldn't believe it. He really loved the bath and it was so cute to see him wrapped up in a towel afterwards. Even though it seemed a strange thing to have to have on a checklist to go home, I am so glad someone else was there with me the first time around. Had it been the first bath at home I would've been terrified.
Once Oscar was out the bath and I was able to dress him in a fresh baby grow and dry his hair, it was the first 'Mummy' moment I had that I had dreamt about, other than feeding him. Plus it was a tick off our checklist!
Next was the First Aid course that reminded me a lot of a training DVD you have to do at work. I sat in the 'Parents room' which was a room where I often sat and had coffee, nipped to the toilet and made my toast in the morning. I sat and watched a DVD about babies choking, babies not breathing and how to perform CPR on a baby. This was really scary to watch and I got a bit lost in it as I was sat by myself. I started picturing myself having to ring 999 because my baby wasn't breathing and started to get upset. I'm glad I had the training and it put my mind at rest that I knew what to do in case of an emergency. It blew my mind that the training said it is better to perform correct CPR and break a babies ribs than it is to be gentle and not perform CPR correctly. I pray I never have to use what I learnt that day! The midwife then came in with the doll and we practiced CPR and slapping the baby on the back in the event of choking.
Oscar's feeds on the breast were increasing each day. He was getting stronger and stronger and was feeding like a champ. We were originally going to be sent home with Oscar's tube kept in and feed him through the tube but he absolutely aced breastfeeding and before we knew it he was exclusively breastfed. This took 8 days. We had been told we could have been in the NICU for 5 weeks and it took 8 days for Oscar to become exclusively breastfed. I wasn't expecting it at all. I had been staying in the NICU for three nights, getting up in the middle of the night to pump and feed him with the midwives nearby if I needed them. After night 3 of me staying in the NICU, Oscar's 7th night in total, Oscar then breastfed all day without needing the use of his tube. They then told me I could have him in my room overnight. I couldn't believe it. The baby stays in your room for the last two nights... were these our last two nights? I didn't want to ask incase I jinxed it but I was pretty sure we were nearly going home!
I was so nervous! It was exactly how every new Mum feels. I now couldn't pop to the toilet anytime I wanted. He would be sleeping with no one watching him if I was asleep at the same time. There was no one all night to check if I was doing everything right! It was really overwhelming. He still had a monitor on his foot that was checking his heart rate so every time I picked him up to feed him I had to pick up the monitor and make sure the wires weren't tangled. I had a TV in my room and would turn on whatever rubbish was on the Freeview box to try and stay awake everytime I fed him. I had gone from getting up out of bed to tube feed where there was no chance of me falling asleep as I was up and walking around, to being in my dark room, cosy and comfy in bed. I was really lucky to have a rocking chair in my room so chose to get out of bed and feed in there so that there was no chance I could fall asleep in my bed!
It was so much easier just to change and feed Oscar, then put him back into his bed. No messing around with the tube or using a breast pump. I didn't leave the room all night! When I woke up in the morning, it then sunk in how alone I was. Up until now I had felt like the midwives and I were a team, as Luke was still having to go to work so I was on my own most of the time. Oscar had been in the Nursery so anytime I needed to do something I could easily let the midwife know and be on my way. I could even nip home if I wanted to get more clothes! This was different, he was in my room, in my care!
I remember that first morning I woke at 8, I needed to have my pain relief, as amongst all this I was still recovering from major surgery! Before I could take my pain relief, I had to have something to eat as I couldn't take the tablets on an empty stomach. Oscar also needed changing and feeding. Oscar came first so I had to change and feed him, then change him again, then put him down in his bed, then go to the toilet, get dressed and then ask the midwives if they could watch him while I went and got some toast. I then went down the hall to the Parents Room and made myself some toast. I then got back and was in agony but was finally able to take my pain relief. That was a real 'I am no longer able to put myself first' moment! The baby came first and there was nothing that could come in the way of his needs! That day while Oscar was sleeping I left the door ajar to the en suite and had a shower. It was a cubical with 3 white walls and a curtain. I put my head against the corner of the shower and rested my eyes. I was so, incredibly, unbelievably tired. I was emotionally exhausted and overwhelmed and the last week had gone so slowly but at the same time so fast. Day rolled into night and night rolled into day. I was running on zero. I then jolted and woke up. I had fallen asleep standing up with my face pressed into the corner of the shower! I turned the shower to cold to wake myself up. Turning the shower cold became part of my daily routine to wake the F up!!
That day, the nurses were amazed that I hadn't used his tube all night so said I could take it off. Finally. The first time ever Oscar would have nothing on his face! No wires, no tubes, no tapes, no breathing equipment. I couldn't wait! The plaster left a big nasty red mark on his precious skin as it came off but he looked beautiful nonetheless!
Within 8 days of being in NICU he had gained 7oz from my milk. The last thing on the list was to check the carseat. He was SO TINY! We had to buy a premature insert. He fit nicely and the nurses were happy. We were done, he was healthy, breastfed, happy and our checklist was done. We had one more night tube free, exclusively breastfed and in the morning was allowed home. I left NICU with about 20 bottles of frozen unused milk to keep at home in the freezer. I couldn't believe he was coming home. No more sleeping in the NICU bed. The hard, uncomfortable, cold NICU bed. No more living out of a bag, eating hospital food and wandering around in my pyjamas all day. No more beeping from the monitors or having visiting hours for relatives.
I was terrified, we had gone from being the only ones allowed to hold Oscar and there being a hospital rule that no one else could cuddle him. And suddenly we were allowed home with no rules. I told the midwife I was scared about other people holding him as we had been so germ conscious due to the hospital rules and she said, if you want to be safe, don't let anyone hold him but yourselves and Grandparents until his due date. Then he will be a lovely healthy weight and able to fight off the germs from others! Until then just use hand sanitiser and hold off on the cuddles! So I sent this and a polite notice round to my closest friends and family so they knew not to ask and everyone was so understanding.
We did it! 10 days in the NICU and we were on our way home! We couldn't have been happier!