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5 Things I Learned at the NICU After My Twins Were Born Premature

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Whenever I stop and think about our NICU experience, I often remember some of the things I learned but have forgotten over the course of the past two years. (As a new mom to twins, Noah and Nikoh, my memory can lapse a bit because my brain is often on overload!)

I wanted to share five things I learned at the NICU to potentially give a little bit of hope, and maybe even some strength, to other moms, dads and families who may be blessed with premature babies as we were on March 26, 2014.

1. They are mine.

Our NICU housed about 20 babies on any given day, and they were moved around day to day, depending on how they were developing and progressing. So to help parents know which babies were theirs, NICU mom and dads were allowed to put up name tags, pictures, trinkets and religious items on the incubators as a way to let everyone know who each little miracle belonged to.

Every time I saw my twins — first in their incubators and then when they graduated to cribs — I smiled when I saw our photo sitting right next to where they were lying. And each time I saw them, I always thought to myself, “They are mine.” Seeing our photos next to them gave me a sense of pride.

2. The power of a firm touch.

When I was able to caress my tiny babies, one of the NICU nurses told me I was doing it all wrong. “Don’t rub him so softly, you’re agitating him,” she said. “Place your hand on him firmly.” I was hypersensitive in that moment and felt like saying to her, “I’m his mom! I will touch him how I want.”

But once I realized my job as a mommy was to make my babies feel as comforted as possible, I appreciated the nurse’s advice and grew to love those firm touches. And in the moments when Noah and Nikoh would cry and whimper out of discomfort from the endotracheal tube, CPAP machine, jaundice sunglasses, PICC lines and feeding tubes, the warmth and feeling of the firm placement of my hands and those of my husband often seemed to calm them down and give them peace and comfort.

3. My heart survived.

I was discharged six days after Noah and Nikoh were born. Although they were in the NICU, I had been accustomed to walking down the hall and visiting them multiple times a day. But when I was released from the hospital, my heart felt like it was being ripped out of my chest when I had to leave them behind.

The majority of moms and dads get to take their newborns home when they’re discharged. But this isn’t the case for the parents of premature/NICU babies. It’s heart-wrenching, and although as a parent you understand the NICU is where your preemie needs to stay to develop and get strong, all you want to do is sit by their incubators around the clock until it’s time for them to be discharged, too.

I remember the exact second when I walked out of the hospital, empty-handed without my twin boys. I remember crying so hard I could barely breathe as my family tried to console me and explain to me that I’d be back at the NICU in a few hours. I could feel my body giving out, and my legs felt weak like I was just going to slump down to the floor of the hallway and just curl up in a ball.

I remember my mom and sister hugging me tight, and in that moment, they physically helped me keep it together. Somehow, I managed to get into the car, and I cried all the way to my sister’s house. And when I woke up every two hours to pump my breast milk for my babies, I cried and cried until I fell asleep. That was my routine for the better part of one month.

My heart survived, but during my journey, my family helped give me the strength that I needed.

4. Don’t be afraid to call.

When my boys were in the NICU, every nurse knew both my name and my face. I was there from early in the morning until late into the evening at my babies’ bedsides. And when they finally forced me to go home at the end of the day, you better believe I was calling the 24-hour NICU parent line multiple times a night. At first I was a little hesitant, and I didn’t want to call too much and “bug” the nurses who had jobs to do. But at the same time, my two babies were there in the NICU all alone, and it was my job to make sure they were comfortable and still thriving while my husband and I were gone overnight.

The great thing was I was able to get updates on absolutely everything about my babies through the NICU parent line: feedings, bath schedules, updates on their conditions and plans for the following day. I was up to date and knew it all. It meant the world to me being able to pick up the phone and get the reassurance I needed at any given moment.

5. Are you sure it’s time to go home?

I spent more than one month counting down the days until my babies could come home, and every day I would ask, “When can they come home?” Then one morning my phone rang, and I recognized it was the NICU phone number. “Hi mom,” the nurse said. “Noah is ready to come home. How soon can you pick him up?” Just like that. My heart literally skipped a beat, tears streamed down my face and I felt like running into the NICU to grab him and take him home.

But then fear began to consume my body, and I began to second-guess the decision. Is he ready? Am I ready for him to come? The short is answer was yes.  Noah was ready. But his mama wasn’t. Emotionally, I was not ready to bring him home, mostly because I was so afraid to be a new mom after all he’d been through. And secondly, I wasn’t ready to leave Nikoh behind.

I knew once I took Noah home, I would have to focus on him at home, and I wouldn’t be able to spend much time with Nikoh in the NICU. It was hard — so hard and so sad to take one baby home while the other one had to stay by himself. A big part of me felt like a bad mom because I felt like I had abandoned Nikoh. I prayed he would understand and continue to progress without my constant love, touch and kisses. And wouldn’t you know, he did. Nikoh did so much better than his emotionally-wrecked mama!

And Noah thrived at home, too. He spent his first days at home enjoying being an only child for 10 days. He got all of my love and attention, while Nikoh enjoyed his daddy’s company every night after work. But when Nikoh came home, the twin reality of constantly having to share their mom and toys and everything else set in quickly. And it likely will be that way for a long time. But we wouldn’t have it any other way! Their twin bond is a force to be reckoned with!

As of today, it’s been just a little over two years since my twins left the NICU. That part of our journey is somewhat of a distant memory now, yet I’m still unable to fully comprehend how we made it through the hardest time of our lives. It took a lot of faith, a lot of prayers and a lot of support from our closest family members and friends.

Somehow, I was strong enough to survive the most miraculous — and heartbreaking — time of my life. Every day I feel a huge sense of relief knowing we survived.

And if you ever find yourself in the midst of the NICU roller coaster, please know you’ll survive, too. It’ll be an emotional battle, but NICU parents are built to be survivors, and I promise you’ll make it through.

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Originally published: May 31, 2016
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