My NICU Experience With My Daughter, Quinn
While reflecting on Quinn’s first year of life, there are many emotions that come to mind: fear, sadness, joy. But most of all gratitude for the people who took care of her and made every smile, laugh, giggle, milestone and tear possible.
It’s sometimes hard to think about Quinn’s first few months of life without getting emotional. When looking back on our NICU experience, the uncertainty of how things were going to unfold from day to day was extremely difficult. Some days I could put the facade that everything was going to be OK, and other days I couldn’t keep my emotions in check. When people describe it as a roller coaster, it is the perfect analogy because of the many ups and downs.
I vividly remember the day I delivered her. They wheeled me into the delivery room and I wasn’t scared. Honestly, I was almost numb, as if my worry had left me for the time being because that was the only way I could cope with what was going on. After Quinn was delivered I didn’t get to see her. I told my husband to go with her and see what was going on.
A few minutes later when my husband returned, he showed me a picture of her in what looked like a plastic bag. My husband told me she weighed 810 grams — or 1 pound 12.5 ounces — and was about the size of a ruler. I felt a tear roll down my cheek. The reality and severity of the situation was really beginning to set in. Prior to giving birth to Quinn I had never known anyone until recently who had a baby that little, or at least not a baby that little who survived.
I think my husband picked up on the extreme worry written all over my face and insisted she was doing well so far, but the only thing I could hear and focus on was that my baby wasn’t even 2 pounds. I was so overwhelmed in that moment, that it took every ounce of energy I had left to hold it together.
A few hours later I was stable enough to see Quinn. I’m not really sure what I expected, but when I looked at her, many emotions filled me: love, fear and an overwhelming sense of sadness. Looking at what many people would still consider a fetus, I thought she was beautiful, and I was glad that no matter what happened after that point on, I had had the opportunity to know her in that moment. I really didn’t know if this baby was going to get to stay here with me or go home to God. All I wanted to do was pick her up, hold her close, tell her I was sorry she had to go through this, and that I loved her. Obviously, this was not a possibility because she was so tiny and fragile. So all I could do was look at her through the incubator and ask God to keep her safe.
I can’t even describe in words how hard it is to cope with these types of feelings, but it was overwhelming to say the least. I already loved her.
For the first six days after Quinn was born I sat for hours outside her little isolette. I remember just watching Quinn because it was all I could do to be close to her. I literally felt as though my outside life came to a stand still, and my whole life just revolved around that little clear box. Every day I sat and I watched my little baby who was not yet old enough for the world. She struggle for life without me being able to hold her tight and tell her she was going to be OK.
On day seven I finally got the chance to “kangaroo” her. I was so excited, yet so afraid at the same time. She was so little and had even lost weight because her body was not digesting food. The constant beeping that I was not yet used to didn’t help ease my nerves, and the overwhelming amount of equipment she was attached to would all have to come with her just to be held.
After a lot of maneuvering they were able to transition Quinn out of her isolette and onto my chest. This very first time was truly euphoric (at least until the beeping started and she began to destabilize). When they handed her to me I felt her little body curl up in the warmth of my body and go to sleep. This is the first time I remember actually relaxing after her birth. I embraced that moment and I never wanted it to end. I finally got to feel like Quinn’s Mom for the first time since she’d been born.
When I think back to those days I don’t know how I could have made it through without my NICU “angels.” Whether it was a nurse offering me a box of tissues for the flood of emotions I was feeling that day, or a doctor taking the time to sit down with me and talk about these NICU terms I was not yet familiar with, I quickly learned they were going to be Quinn’s “angels” and always had her best interest in mind.
I realized quickly that as much as Quinn was my baby, they knew far more than I ever would about the process involved in growing a preemie baby, and in order for Quinn to thrive, I had to trust these people who were complete strangers before. I know I could say thank you a million times to all of the staff at Monmouth Medical who cared for Quinn and it simply wouldn’t be enough. These people help take these babies from the brink of life to thriving, healthy “newborns” who are able to go home with their families.
Although the rest of Quinn’s NICU stay included many milestones and ups and downs, it was the first few days and the last few that were the toughest. Over the two months Quinn was there she learned to breath on her own, eat, and maintain her body temperature. We had good days and bad days. Some days I was upbeat, then cried my whole ride home. Some days things were smooth, and other days I’d get news about a medical issue I was previously concerned about. There was a day — what I now call my worst day in the NICU — when I thought Quinn had died in my arms while I was feeding her. That day she became unresponsive while I was feeding her and I completely panicked. The nurse quickly took her from my arms and stimulated her with a few rough rubs and the color returned to her face. I have never been so terrified in my entire life. The nurse looked at me and said, “Colleen its OK. Sometimes they tire themselves out from eating and that happens.”
Although to them this might have been normal preemie behavior, it wasn’t normal to me. After that feeding, it happened three more times in the same day, scaring the life out of me.
A few days later Quinn did the same thing while my husband was holding her and he totally panicked. I, on the other hand, picked her up and stimulated her just as the nurse had done a few days before. The color returned to her face and she was fine. When I looked at Evan, he had the same panicked look on his face I did when it happened to me. The nurse looked at me and said, “look at you keeping your calm and not panicking.” I realized then I was getting used to this “typical” preemie behavior.
A few days after this incident Quinn was ready to come home. Many people could think this was great news, but I was scared. I’d come to rely on Quinn’s nurses for any questions or concerns I had, and I didn’t know how I could do it without them. I didn’t feel equipped to handle the one million crisis situations that had already conjured up in my mind, and who would be there to help me? It was such a strange feeling to go from watching a baby grow from the tiniest human you’ve ever laid eyes on, to people telling you she was healthy enough to come home.
Despite how I was feeling, Quinn was coming home, and we had no choice but to gear up for her arrival. I went to the NICU that day and watched Quinn’s nurse take her off of all her wires for the last time. She was ready. We loaded up all 3 pounds 15 ounces of her into a car seat and took our baby girl home to meet her brother for the first time. After two months of leaving the hospital without Quinn, she was finally going to drive off with us. As we left the hospital that day all the fears I had about taking her home subsided, and I knew it was time to turn the page and start the next chapter.
As I sit here now and reflect on all the ups and downs of this last year, I can’t help but think of all the things Quinn has already accomplished in her short time. To watch her grow and continue to reach milestone after milestone has been beyond rewarding. She’s still so tiny but that’s not to say she’s not the toughest girl I’ve ever met.
Happy first birthday to my Quinny-Mini. I can’t wait to watch you continue to grow, thrive and show the world how strong you really are. You truly are our Mighty Quinn.
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