What I want you to know about having a child in the NICU

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest post is by Alicia Salizar.

They both looked so pink and perfect when they arrived, I never guessed they might need Neonatal Intensive care.

My blood pressure finally lowered and my bed was wheeled into the hall outside the NICU. The doctor explained to me how my big, beautiful son, Brendan, needed extra help breathing and would be staying in the NICU. Through the glass window I could see my husband, Shea, still wearing a blue paper suit from head to toe, standing next to a crib, talking to a doctor and nurse.

They were discussing the grunting noises Brendan made when he tried to breathe. Discussing the thick mucus in his chest and the oxygenated chamber he was put in. Discussing the feeding tube placed in his throat and the IVs in his feet.

Then I was wheeled away to meet my daughter, Abigail, again. My tiny 4 lb 2 oz girl wonder who came into this world hungry and cold, now laying in her crib, cleaned and diapered and waiting for her mom’s embrace. She was placed in my arms and I decided to never let her go. Shea came in and told me again what the doctors had told him. His attitude had gone from proud and strong in the operating room to distraught and worried.

We held our daughter and waited. A nurse came in and helped my daughter latch onto my breast, unsuccessfully and I wondered what I was doing wrong. Then my husband left to visit our son.

He visited while I layed in bed. He watched as our Brendan was moved to his crib. While I layed in my bed down the hall, Brendan was bathed, his iv was changed. My husband watched and I waited as he was taken off the feeding tubes and allowed to bottle feed. Information was relayed to me when he was put back on the feeding tubes, then put on oxygen, then put on mucus thinning expectorant.

All the while I layed in bed. Holding my daughter, praying for my son, attempting to feed my daughter, praying for my son. Hearing his status relayed to me by nurse and doctor. As soon as it was ok for me to sit up, I could go visit him. My husband would share my love with him while I waited behind for my pain medication, and learned to hold my stomach in with a pillow before trying to stand up.

Then I was wheeled into his nursery and I sat there, unable to hold him much less nurse him. Every time I reached in to hold his hand the monitors would beep in alarm. He would wake and cry and I hid my tears and went back to my room.

Finally, Abigail fed happily and we were together constantly. I fed her, then pumped milk into a machine for Brendan, then fed abigail formula to help her gain weight. Then it was time to feed her again, and pump again.

Eventually I tried to feed Brendan by bottle but not yet to nurse. His choking and coughing made it difficult for him to catch his breath. He had to be fed carefully and my husband made it look so natural. I hid my shame and tears when he choked. Shea admonished me to not let him eat so fast and finished the feeding for me.

Then my time was up. Abigail and I were healthy enough to go home, but Brendan was still learning to breathe and eat. The problem was that the apartment, minutes from the hospital was gone; the lease had run out. I was headed to my in laws house an hour and a half away from my son. Add to that distance my inability to drive as my body healed and the newborn baby and four year old son I had to take care of.

I explained to the doctors and nurses my plan to get pumped breast milk to Brendan after I left him there. My husband who worked close to the hospital would deliver the milk when he visited everyday. He would also come and check on our son in between work shifts. I waited, 90 miles away, nursing and diapering every two hours. Pumping milk and freezing it.

“Isn’t it hard?” loved ones would ask.
“How could you leave your baby there?”
“Isn’t there a way you can stay local?”
“Don’t you want to visit him?”

The doctors and my husband would call and update me. I waited in the small room and cried. I organized baby clothes and diapers and blankets and cried. I layed in bed alone and cried. My mother in law would drive me to the doctor, she took care of my oldest son and my baby daughter so I could nap.

Then the greatest moment happened after Abigail’s appointment one day. My mother in law asked, “Do you want to go to see Brendan?” My heart leaped out of my chest and I almost cried. We drove to the hospital, parked, waited in the elevator, waited for security to check us in, and found our way to his bed. Finally, I was with my son, talking to him, holding him, crying to him.

Eventually our entire family was together. The twins were reunited and Gabriel met his baby brother and sister. My husband and I, our twins and four year old son shared one small bedroom in our in laws house and we couldn’t be separated any further.




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