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Personal Stories ~ From Jennifer W.
My pregnancy was uneventful up until my 34th week, when I was put on bedrest for high blood pressure, and the possible risk of preeclampsia. I was due on November 22, 2000, and this was the middle of October. Over the course of the next five days I would endure three middle of the night trips to the emergency room, nonstress tests, ultrasounds, an awful headache, and severe epigastric pain. It was because of the severe epigastric pain that we went to the emergency room for the third time, and this is when I was diagnosed with HELLP syndrome. This is a severe form of preeclampsia, just short of full blown eclampsia. The only way to "cure" HELLP is to deliver the baby, and the doctors decided that the risks of not inducing me were greater than the risks associated with having a baby at 34 weeks. So on this day, October 17, 2000, labor was started with the use of pitocin and the breaking of my waters. I was also put on magnesium sulfate to prevent seizures and coma. After an intense labor with no pain medication and four hours of pushing, my beautiful daughter was born. The NICU nurses were in the room to check her over immediately following the birth.

We named her Avery Eva just before my husband got to carry her to the NICU nursery. She was breathing a little fast, but her weight (5 lbs. 5 oz.) and apgars were good. She was on oxygen for just five hours, and then was moved into an isolette. A couple of days later she upgraded to an open crib. Fortunately, she never developed any major problems, and came home after just six days. Although her stay was relatively short, it was exhausting and emotional, and has impacted my life and hers forever.

I began pumping breast milk at the hospital to give to the NICU nurses for her gavage feedings, and that made me feel a little more involved. I would change her diaper when I went in for her feedings, and that helped too. Having a baby in NICU is a strange experience. At the time I was recovering from the birth and the awful effects of the magnesium sulfate, and trying to figure out my role as the mother of a NICU baby. I felt as though she wasn't really mine yet, that I was just a visitor. Although I believe the nurses did a great job in caring for my baby, I wish they would have let me know how involved I could be. I felt as if I should stay out of their way and let them do their job, but at the same time I didn't realize what my job was. Now I look back and realize that she was my baby, and I wish I could have done more for her. Don't get me wrong, I am thankful for the care my daughter was provided in NICU, and I know that she needed it. But at the same time, I feel as if I was robbed of that initial bonding experience that every new mother expects. She was taken away from me so soon, and I wasn't able to attempt breastfeeding until a couple days later. I have a lot of guilt even now, 71/2 months later, in that I feel I wasn't a very good mother those first few days after Avery was born. I wish I would have spent more time with her in the NICU, holding her, snuggling her, kissing her, singing to her . . . all of the things I do now. But honestly, at the time I felt awkward, exhausted, and emotional. I realize now that it wasn't until we brought her home that I was able to bond with her and open up my heart to love her as much as I do now. I feel guilty about that, that I may have hurt her in some way by not immediately nurturing her and loving her to the fullest potential. As she sleeps so soundly in her crib right now I know without a doubt that my love for her is unending and unconditional, but I can't help but wish that I could have taken care of her every need from the minute she was born.

My advice to any new NICU parents would be to get involved with your baby, and to not be afraid to take charge when possible. Hold your baby, touch your baby, kiss her, love her. Ask questions, and don't wait for someone to tell you what to do. I think we, as parents, know how to take care of a newborn, but when they are in NICU, we assume it's so much more complex. In a way it is . . . the IV's, the tests, the monitors, gavage feedings, etc. But aside from all that, you know what to do. Try not to be afraid of the medical aspect of your child's life in NICU. Your child still needs you to care for his basic needs, and they can all be met by you, just maybe a little different or more creative than you anticipated. As a first time mom I read the books and the information on the websites, even the information about possible complications and the possibility of NICU. But I sort of read it just because it was there, not because it was going to happen to me. My birth was going to be easy and storybook perfect. That didn't happen, but the result was the same. I have a beautiful 7 month old daughter who giggles because I'm silly, wakes with a smile, and relaxes in my arms at the end of the day as we read our bedtime story.

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