The Notorious N.I.C.U.

We were warned.

Early and often during the pregnancy, our doctors left little doubt that one or both of the twins would spend some time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) after they were born.

Ours was already a high-risk pregnancy, and with twins typically being delivered earlier than the full term of 40 weeks, there was likely to be newborn health issues and low birth weights to combat right away.

We prepared mentally, steeling ourselves for the possibility that it could be days, weeks, even months before we could bring one or both of the babies home.

We prepared logistically — in how we packed our hospital bags, how we left the house, making contingency plans for the cat — to stay at the hospital for a long time in the NICU.

We still weren’t ready.

All throughout the pregnancy, Caron (a.k.a. “Baby B”) was always the bigger, stronger and more steady of the twins. Austin (“Baby A”) was the one we worried about.

Austin was the smaller twin, consistently hovering around the lower percentiles in fetal development. When we had fetal heart imaging done, Caron’s heart checked out fine, while they couldn’t get a clear enough picture of Austin’s heart to rule out abnormalities.

We were told Austin would need an echocardiogram after birth, and he could possibly need heart surgery in his first few days. When we did non-stress tests, Austin was almost always the squirrelly twin who the monitors couldn’t get a read on, making it necessary to spend hours longer than expected at the hospital.

So of course, on the big day it was Austin who was delivered without incident, and Caron who wound up being rushed to the NICU.

Caron wasn’t breathing on his own when he was delivered. I watched the nurses work on him furiously and eventually fit his tiny face with a tiny CPAP machine to get him breathing and crying like his brother, who was screaming loud and proud from the jump.

Going to the NICU meant Caron didn’t get to spend time in his mother’s arms right away, like his brother did. Since Taylisha had to get sewn up and recover from the c-section, she didn’t get to see and hold her first-born for a few hours. She wasn’t able to see him every day in the NICU or spend nearly as much time with him as she was able to spend with Austin, whose first few days were spent with us in the post-partum suite.

It was tough for Tay to miss that bonding time, and I could see the guilt weighing on her.

Meanwhile, I was running ragged between the NICU on one floor of the hospital and our room on another floor. After Tay and Austin were both discharged, my days involved long drives between home and the NICU at all hours.

One day, when we were all at the hospital, I was getting ready to head down to the NICU when a voice came over the intercom saying there was an Amber Alert. It described a woman with a red jacket and brown hair (I think) around one of the elevators on (I think) the third floor.

Terrified, I bolted from the suite to make sure Caron wasn’t being kidnapped from the NICU. Apparently that went against the protocol, as all rooms were supposed to be locked down until they sorted out the situation. But an understanding nurse agreed to take me down to the NICU, and I ran to Caron’s room. He was there, sleeping peacefully.

Then I just started crying. I couldn’t stop. It went on for like 20 minutes, even after a NICU nurse came in to tell me it had just been a drill and there wasn’t any real danger.

I wrote about the fear that hovered over the pregnancy in another post, and I think the Amber Alert incident was the first real manifestation of the fear that takes hold for every parent after their child is born.

In the NICU, that fear is intensified.

Your child is there in the first place because something didn’t go exactly right at birth. They’re vulnerable to the point where you can’t be expected to give them the care they need compared to trained professionals. It’s a harrowing experience.

Then there’s the guilt. I’m sure every parent with a child in the NICU wants to just stay in that room all day and night and never take their eyes off their baby.

But your world doesn’t stop when you have a child. Some people still have to go to work. Some people have other kids at home. Some people don’t live near the hospital.

In our case, we were first-time parents with a whole other newborn to take care of, and Tay had to recover from a c-section that kept her hospitalized for about a week. We couldn’t spend all of our time in the NICU with Caron.

So in between visits, we had to put our trust in the NICU nursing staff and doctors. Fortunately, they were amazing and true heroes in my view.

The only reason we were able to mentally handle having our baby away from us for so long was that we knew he was receiving the best care.

The breathing issue that put Caron in the NICU was no longer a problem after a few days. But on the morning that he was set to be discharged, Caron had an “event” in which his heart rate dropped to an alarmingly low level. That earned him extra time on his NICU sentence, as doctors wanted to monitor and see if he had another event.

We understood the need for caution, but thinking your baby is leaving the NICU only to find out that day something else went wrong is a real gut punch.

After nine days, Caron was finally medically cleared and discharged from the NICU. Considering that some families are with their children in the NICU for months, we couldn’t complain too much about nine days — but it was an undeniably stressful, scary and long nine days.

Bringing our baby home from the NICU to be with his twin brother was when the family finally felt complete, when this parenthood responsibility really felt like it was now ours to carry full-time as a couple.

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