The NICU Stole My Baby!

Previously I relayed the birth story of my son, whom I lovingly call “Bug” and”Bean” interchangeably. It’s a great story, but not the whole story. After delivery we were transferred to a recovery room where we would spend the next 48 hours recovering. It was 48 hours instead of 24 because delivery occurred more than 18 hours after my water broke, so we needed extra observation in case of infection. My hospital does cuddle care, there is no separate nursery, your baby stays with you in the room, which I love.  Our first night Bean slept a lot. This is normal apparently. Mommies, however, do not sleep a lot. Especially if you’re like me, you keep waking up to check that your little one is breathing.

On post birth day one we were enjoying our new family unit, everything was going well and my husband decided to run an errand or two while my sister hung out with me and Bean. During this time the nurse came in and needed to take blood since one of the samples they’d taken earlier coagulated and wasn’t usable. She decided to take the blood in the room (and give Bug his Hepatitis B shot) rather than in another room down the hall. If they ever do this to you, tell them to go outside and not do it in the room. What she did was stab my baby in the thigh and then stick him in the foot and milk blood from his heel, while he cried the whole time. I damn near bashed her head into the wall to stop her hurting my child.

She leaves and comes back about 5-10 minutes later. I was nursing Bug. She says the tests the NICU ran from the delivery showed an elevated CRP level indicative of an infection and they needed to take Bug to the NICU immediately for antibiotics where he would need to stay for 7 days. Keep in mind I’m still not over her torturing my child for blood and now she wants to take him away and it needs to be immediately. Immediately in a hospital makes me think life or death.

“Can I come with?”

“No, you have to wait here for the neonatologist to call.”

“But my husband isn’t even here.”

And with that, she took my baby away.

I was beside myself. My sister and I were frantically texting and calling my husband who seemed to be in another dimension because the man who is ALWAYS in contact with his phone seemed to be without it. Why was my seemingly healthy child (didn’t the NICU already clear him after delivery) now being whisked away to the Intensive Care Unit? I always think the worst when I think of ICUs in any way.  Finally my husband shows up and I’m of course practically hysterical “they took him” is all I can seem to get out.

The nurse returns to take us to the NICU (wasn’t a neonatologist supposed to call us with an update?) and we take what feels like the longest hallway to a sink where we have to scrub up as if we’re about to perform major surgery. May nails have never been so clean. We enter the NICU, which is a large darkened room with many curtained off areas. As we walk, we pass babies under blue bilirubin lights, babies in oxygen tents, babies on respirators. Machines whirr and ping and alarm as we walk to the back wall where our little bug sits in a tilted bed attached to several wires and machines. My heart sank. How sick was he? He looked perfectly healthy.

The first person I encountered in the NICU was the Nurse Ratchett of the NICU. I have no idea the whole conversation or how it started but I remember saying how I wanted to breast feed but my milk hadn’t come in yet and she goes on to tell me that he MUST eat every 3 hours minimum and if he can’t nurse they WILL give him formula. I know that NICUs are bound by national standards and this feeding schedule is one of them, but I also know that NICUs are designed for sick babies and preemies, and my Bug was full-term (and then some.)

I decided to go up to the NICU every 3 hours to nurse, but Bug wasn’t having any of it. Apparently the move had an impact on him and he didn’t like the new dining atmosphere (I’ll go into more detail about the trials and tribulations of breastfeeding in a later post.) Still I tried, and was rejected every time. My heart sank again. We had been doing so well before. Now we were 3 steps backward. One of the bright spots of being in the NICU at night was I was able to meet Bug’s nurse and speak with her. She provided me with more information than anyone had as of yet. She explained about the feeding schedule and told me not to worry b/c it was set for preemies. It was like having an inside man. Even so, every time I left him (to try to rest to keep myself healthy) it tore me up inside.

Bug’s daytime nurse was every bit as wonderful as the overnight nurse. She became a fast friend to me and if I hadn’t had the benefit of knowing her, I may not have survived the week. She talked with me about breastfeeding, taught me to pump (and was my personal cheering section when I produced even a few drops that first time) spoke with the doctor who agreed that Bug didn’t need to be on the 2-3 hour feeding schedule (but needed to eat at least every 4 hours unless he was losing weight) and got me in touch with the lactation consultants. She was Bug’s nurse 2 days in a row, and she was my life saver.  I also was able to speak with a doctor who explained why Bean was in the NICU. Apparently whenever a newborn even hints at an infection, they treat with a 7 day course of antibiotics. Your child may be fine and not even need them, but often newborns don’t look or act sick until it’s too late, so it’s a better safe than sorry measure. Knowing this made it easier to handle. I’d rather my baby be at the NICU for a week than come home only to be rushed to the hospital and possibly never coming home again.

It came time for me to be discharged and as we were packing up we naturally thought “Do we have everything?” And we realized, no, we don’t. We were going home, but our baby was not. I think we were both choked up all the way home.

Part of me wanted to stay with Bug 24 hours a day (ok 22 hours since the NICU closed 2 hours a day at shift change) and felt selfish for going home to sleep. Another part of me realized that going home, trying to sleep and relax (and pumping every 2 hours) was better for Bean, since I’d be better rested and able to take on the stress of having a baby in the NICU. I stayed with him for 12 hours a day, trying to nurse, changing him, feeding him, taking his temperature.

By the 4th day in, Bug started to nurse again. I was thrilled, and so were the lactation consultants who helped me get there. For two days Bug nursed every 2.5 hours and I was able to provide enough pumped milk for him to have milk all night and only be formula supplemented once a day. On the sixth day we arrived to see Bug and I walk up to his station and the baby there was not my baby. I cannot express the terror I felt when I walked in and did not see my baby where he had been the past 5 days. Where was my baby? What happened overnight? I knew it was a terrible idea to not stay with him all night.

I was directed to the other side of the NICU (which apparently was for “healthier babies”) and to where Bug now was. He had been moved in the middle of the night and no one told us.  I’m freaking out over this b/c my first reaction was something bad happened. Then we get to his new area. There is no info about him available (all the other rooms had a white board that told us his weight, last feeding, diaper change and who his nurse was, etc.) There is an open (but relatively full) bottle of formula on the table, but I have no idea when or if he ate. He is also sleeping on his stomach. (Which is apparently OK since he’s on monitors, but it freaked me out because I’m a new parent and I was always told you NEVER put a newborn on their stomach to sleep.) Then I meet his nurse. She comes in and starts calling me “mom” but the tone is like “missy,” like I am a child. We try to explain why we are upset  and she keeps cutting us off and essentially telling us we’re wrong about what we’re trying to say. Her tone was rude and condescending. She tells me he hadn’t eaten ALL NIGHT which was why he was so cranky & hungry. In addition, they had used a high-flow nipple with him that morning, which we were avoiding because of the breastfeeding issues we’d had. After two days of regular nursing,  Bug is refusing to breastfeed again.

I finally get him calm and I go to the restroom to de-stress & such and long story not much shorter, the person I spoke with in the hallway told the charge nurse about my experience. So the charge nurse comes to speak with us and I explain how I felt I was being treated. She listened and talked to the nurse. The nurse comes back and we talk I pulled no punches about the way I felt things went down. She kept saying “that was beyond my control” (ie “that’s not my fault”) and cutting me off. She wasn’t accepting any responsibility. And she still wasn’t providing me with any of the information I’d asked for.

Then the nurse tries to suggest my sister outright lied about an interaction she had with my sister and goes on to describe my husband (the one so mellow I often feel the need to take a pulse) as getting in her face & being aggressive towards her, interrupting her while she was on the computer and so forth. This is when I know that she’s just not going to be a good match for us. There is no way I’m going to have a person who can’t be honest caring for my child. In addition, it’s my opinion that when you work in the NICU, if a parent is coming to talk to you about something, it’s probably more important than your computer charting. What if my husband was trying to tell her that Bug’s IV sprung a leak or something? I’m sorry she was upset that she got in trouble, but she basically tried to claim my sister & husband were liars and jerks to her. Wrong tactic.

The charge nurse returns I explain I understand that everything kinda broke down and could have gone better but that I still felt that the nurse wasn’t taking responsibility for her interactions with us. I also explained about the “that was beyond my control” and her suggesting my sister was a liar and her wholly inaccurate description of my husband. I was a supervisor and a Human Resources person, I don’t take the “It’s not my job” line. I was trained that you never say that, or something similar, even if it isn’t your job. I don’t know how many times one of my supervisees screwed up and I had to say “I’m sorry, I’ll get it corrected right away” or similar.
Then the NICU manager then comes in & we have a good talk and she apologizes for not contacting us to let us know he was moved and how she totally understood how it would make us think the worst etc and she says that she’s switched nurses for us and we got a real doll of a nurse, like all the other ones we’d had previously. The manager continued to check in and hang out throughout the day, which was a nice touch as well. The next day Bean was discharged and we started our new life as a family of 3.

So why am I writing all of this out? What value does it have for anyone? Well, first of all, telling my story helps me process the whole event. I read somewhere that blogging helps new moms adjust better, so dammit, I’m trying to get posts written. Second, having a child in the NICU can be a stressful and terrifying experience, especially if you are made to feel powerless. Don’t sit around and wait for information-seek it out. If you aren’t happy with something (say the nurse assigned to your child) speak with someone about why you are uncomfortable. Do this in a professional manner, try to keep it about behaviors, not personal traits. I’m sure that’s why the charge nurse and manager listened to me, because I didn’t just come off as a paranoid emotional mom.  Furthermore, having a child in the NICU can provide you with some much-needed adjustment time, and some time to heal and rest before the baby comes home. Those first few days postpartum I was so sore I don’t know if I could have effectively cared for Bug, but knowing he was being well-cared for allowed me to rest and heal for when he came home. It’s certainly not the way I’d have hoped our little one’s first week to be, but I’m glad for the “better safe than sorry” strategy. I was also able to tap knowledgeable people about any questions I had, which prepared me for Bug’s homecoming.


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