The NICU can humble a parent. Our babies have the best care by the most highly trained, well-educated, kind-hearted angels masquerading as nurses. But the entirety of a NICU stay is a masterclass in managing expectations and relinquishing control. With Avett’s NICU stay, this has happened in two big ways:
Learning patience in a way I’ve never before had to have
For the majority of my life, patience was not my virtue. If your patience is the fruit of your spirit, mine had fruit flies. Much of that changed after becoming a parent; I had a new (and really important) reason to start looking at life through different lenses, to not jump to conclusions, to not dole of judgments too quickly. I’m now slower to anger, more likely to take suggestions (even when they feel more like criticism), and adaptable in ways I couldn’t have imagined in a pervious life.
And even that was tested and expanded in the NICU. It wasn’t enough.
Look, I’m a lawyer. I want what I want when I want it. Reason and time constraints be damned. And that attitude simply doesn’t bode well in the NICU. In fact, I’d dare to say it won’t cut it.
With Avett, some big things happened very quickly: he regulated his own temperature without the help on the warming bed and sensor, his oxygen and cannula came out within the first five days, and his IV was quick to follow. But our big hurdle is feeding, and that’s something that just doesn’t happen quickly. He was born so early that he didn’t learn eating skills in utero like term babies do (sucking, swallowing, and breathing). He isn’t even strong enough to consistently breastfeed — he lacks the strength to pull out the milk.
So while he’s looking more and more like real baby, he isn’t. He’s still a 33-week preemie struggling to learn things on the outside that he should have learned in utero. At this point, the only thing that solves his eating problems is time. Lots of time to catch up.
And time requires patience.
Learning that I can’t control everything around me and that I have to rely on others occasionally
Control of variables is how I manage anxiety. I’ve had anxiety for the majority of my adult life — generalized anxiety forever, then postpartum anxiety after Scout (and it’s most likely coming with Avett, if history is any indicator). Again, I’m a lawyer. I like to figure out a vast number of outcomes based upon different choices available. It helps me make the most informed decision (it also occasionally spins me into decision paralysis, but that’s an entirely different post). I was so excited to go to our February 22 appointment because we were officially setting the date of my c-section: March 20. It was something I could start planning around. I had an end in sight, a light at the end of the tunnel, a concrete plan after a pregnancy filled with a huge complication and a lot of uncertainty.
February 22 was a Wednesday. The next night, I started bleeding profusely, and he was born Saturday morning.
When people say God laughs at your plans, they ain’t kidding.
We had to rearrange everything when I was admitted to the hospital. We relied on family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, internet buddies, and strangers to keep the ship upright. I learned that, in spite of my best efforts, I can’t control everything. I can’t do it all on my own.
Here in the NICU, I had to let go of my absolute need to breastfeed, which hurt more than I thought. I want to breastfeed, but right now, he’s thriving on a bottle (with my pumped milk), so I have to give up some of the preconceived control of how Avett’s infancy would look.
Nothing in the NICU looks the way you thought your baby‘s first days would look like. There are no smiling sibling pictures, no going home outfits after two days, no snuggly babies sleeping next to your bed. Your life is measured in three-hour increments and you can convert grams to milliliters in lightning speed. Nothing is how you envisioned it, and you mourn the experience you thought you’d have, but in the midst of your sadness, you see the sunshine too.
You see your partner with new eyes as he helps you navigate not just a new, scarier path, but also your feelings and emotions. You become more thankful for your own family, when your parents wake up in the middle of the night to come care for your 3 year old while you unexpectedly drive to the emergency room. The child you already have becomes bigger and braver and stronger and more lovable than ever.
So yes. The NICU will humble you, in the very best ways possible. It will also make you overwhelmingly grateful for the people you’ve chosen to surround you.