My sweet baby girl, my darling first born child, only stayed in my room with me for a few hours after she was born. The pediatrician came by a couple hours after she was born and heard some “crud” in her lungs. He assured me it was common for C-Section babies to have fluid in their lungs. After all, they aren’t squeezed through the birth canal, which helps babies expel amniotic fluid from their lungs.
The epidural hadn’t even worn off yet and she was gone.
All I wanted was to hold my baby girl. I wanted to climb out of bed and follow her bassinet all the way to the NICU and stay by her side. But I couldn’t even stand yet, much less walk all the way to the NICU. So I cried… a lot. I worried non stop about how my baby was doing. It was so bad that I could barely eat, and I needed to eat to get my milk to come in.
Without her next to me, with her soft little face nuzzling my breast, encouraging milk, my milk just wouldn’t come in. I pumped every two to three hours. Nurses came in during the night to wake me and make me pump. I cried as the tiny drips fell from the pump. They brought me a blanket that smelled like her and encouraged me to sniff it when I pumped. They wheeled me down to the NICU to pump while looking at her. It just wasn’t coming in. I think, in those first few days, I cried more tears than I made milk.
She didn’t come home with me, either. I went home after 3 days, but she stayed a week. I had four days of driving across town every morning, just to spend most of the day seated next to her bassinet. Next to all the wires and tubes. I had four nights of lying in bed, looking at the empty bassinet in the corner of my room.
My daughter had days of lying alone in her bassinet in the NICU. She didn’t have mama’s smell or warmth when she woke up crying in the night. She didn’t have my healing touch, whether I was across town or down the hall. What she did have was other babies crying, machines beeping, alarms sounding. She had stress all around her, every minute of the day.
My baby didn’t have me and I didn’t have my baby.
What if it didn’t need to be this way?
The NICU at BC Women’s Hospital in Vancouver, Canada is trying to change things. Their NICU isn’t just a few large rooms, filled with bassinets. It is 70 individual rooms, complete with the equipment needed to care for a NICU baby … and their mother. They even have kangaroo care chairs (designed for encouraging skin-to-skin contact) and breast pumps for moms to express milk. (Often NICU babies aren’t able or allowed to breastfeed.)
Julie de Salaberry, director of Neonatal Intensive Care at BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre, says this will help mothers and babies heal faster. It will reduce stress. She says, “There is substantive literature that reports the single most stressful event for mothers with babies in the NICU is separation, regardless of the severity of illness.”
This center has just opened, so it’s too soon to say how well this works, but I am hopeful. I know I would have healed faster with my baby there with me. Instead of crying and worrying, I could have been holding her and hoping. (Ok, I would still have been crying and worrying, because that’s the kind of person I am. But there would have been a lot less of it!)
I hope this becomes the standard for NICUs in the future. If it can shorten the stay by just a day or two, that will make a world of difference for each mom and baby.