I almost cried looking into my empty fridge. That is a single bottle of 20ml’s of milk, barely an ounce. I made that for my babies.
Having micro preemie babies in the NICU has more of an effect than anyone can imagine. It’s not just the emotions driving their care, safety, and lives, it’s also the feeling of not being good enough to care for them in one of the most important ways during the most crucial time – the first weeks of their lives.
I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that, since my girls came so soon (26/4, roughly 14 weeks before term), I will not be able to keep up with their demand (and how awesome that they have such demand now!). I’m not less than. I provided for my babies during their first days of life, and now on day 50 of their stay in this world, I will still give what I can until I cannot give anymore. What no one understands, unless you have had a NICU baby, is that your body is not ready to produce for your babies yet; it still thinks you are pregnant. You’re essentially forcing it to do what it was not ready to do. You don’t have a baby to constantly hold. You look at your baby or babies through double-paned incubators. You can change their diapers and stroke their soft skin…when you open the doors to their incubators. You can sometimes do skin-to-skin contact, but once per twelve hour shift. You can hear their muffled cries…through the double-paned windows of their incubators. You feel connected to these tiny human beings, want to hold and love and console them whenever they cry, but you can’t; not in the normal sense, anyway. You can’t hold them like a regular mother can to produce the nutrients they need. Instead, as a NICU mother, you sign waivers so that they can receive donor milk where you cannot give. When they can no longer receive donor milk, they switch to formula. In between all of those, you produce the tiniest amounts until it can fill up a single feed. And when you have twins, they have to share.
“Get some rest!”
(But make sure you pump every 3 hours)
You pump all you can. You’re exhausted. You’re at home or staying at a Ronald McDonald house away from your babies. You still produce 10mls per feed…maybe you luck out and hit 47mls. You give up. Your energy is focused on everything else but yourself, except that you are inadequate for being unable to produce for your babies. You’re pushed by hospital staff and friends.
“Look at pictures of your babies.”
“Wear their blankets while you pump so you are able to smell them.”
“Listen to clips of hungry, crying babies.”
I’ve bought powders and cookies and eaten oatmeal. It’s not the same. At 33 weeks and 5 days, my girls weren’t even supposed to be here, but instead are looking at me through the double-paned windows of their isolettes. I’ve realized that I’ve beaten myself up enough. I’ve let the doctors and nurses know that I will be pumping as much as I can for them, but I’ve had enough.
My sweet baby girls are getting so big now! I know that I still played a part in that. I still provide for my babies in the best way a NICU mother can – I’m there to console them during their shots, know exactly what is going on with their care, and speak up when I know something isn’t quite right. They know my smell and they know my voice and they know my touch. I know that they love their legs and piggies rubbed, and I happily oblige. I know that one does extremely well during shots if she has her pacifier, and the other prefers a hand over her chest and back. And they both like head rubs :).
I provide for my babies.