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Being a NICU Mom

I don’t think anyone can truly understand the magnitude of having a baby in the NICU until one has personally faced it. I hope my experience can be of support for another mom who has been through this or is going through this at the moment. Fortunately, my sister had previously encountered a similar experience and could support and comfort me through the 3 weeks in which my daughter was in the NICU. 

Let’s start at the beginning. 

My daughter was born at full term (39 weeks) and unexpectedly needed to go to the NICU due to her requiring oxygen and having withdrawals from my anti-depressant medication that I was on during my pregnancy. She appeared somewhat floppy and was breathing as if she was still in the womb. She required oxygen for approximately 5 days but landed up being in the NICU for 3 weeks (21 whole days) due to her having feeding difficulties and needing to be fed through the feeding tubes. This on its own would have been a lot but to add to the complexity, it was the first peak of the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa and the hospital was still full of all the unknowns about the virus, leading to strict protocols being put in place. I was only allowed to see my daughter once per day, while wearing a mask, a visor, an apron and gloves, thus not being able to hold her and touch her like I wanted so badly to do. Initially, my husband was not allowed in and could only meet her when we received special permission from the hospital when we realized she was staying in the NICU for much longer than anticipated. He saw her when she was born and then only about 10 days after that. 

I used to come home each day crying as I had so many mixed emotions.

On one hand, I had the support and the best care possible in the NICU but on the other, my daughter was left alone often with no one to hold her and pick her up when she wanted some love or attention. I also hated sitting in the hospital alone, often not being able to hold her or feed her and felt guilty for not wanting to spend the full 3 hours I was permitted there with her. I admire those nurses in the NICU and appreciate all their hard work.  I also did not want to sit in that environment with my daughter whereby I did not know how to behave or what to do. I looked around at other mothers, wanting to speak to them, but due to social distancing and other Covid protocols, this was not possible. I recall asking the paediatrician each day when my daughter could come home, and her answer to me was let us see how she is each day. I found it frustrating not knowing when she would come home but my doctor needed to monitor her progress each day and could not tell me what I wanted to hear. It felt like she was never coming home. 

The NICU experience for me was hard but in hindsight, such a special place which allowed for relationship building and time for me to heal without dealing with my daughter’s medical and feeding difficulties. She was provided with the best care and was in such a good routine by the time she came home that it allowed that adjustment for me and her to be a smoother process.

My daughter is now almost 18 months and thriving with no additional complications from her birth. This is all thanks to those doctors, nurses and other staff members at the hospital and in the NICU. 

Here are some tips and suggestions that I have for other moms who are going through this (or have been or are possibly going to go through this): 

  1. The time your child is in the NICU feels long, whether it’s one day or months, but it goes by and is soon forgotten (yet always remembered). 
  2. Talk to other moms while there as it is comforting. Even though we are each going through different experiences, there are similarities that can be comforting.
  3. Trust the nurses and doctors, they are amazing. However, you have a mother’s instinct so ask questions and don’t feel guilty. It takes a village to raise a child (cliché but true).
  4. Don’t feel guilty about your child being in the NICU, no one is to blame. 
  5.  Ask for help- whether it’s from a friend, family member or anyone, if you need help with food, transport to and from the hospital, or just to talk or vent to someone, do not be afraid to ask for help. 
  6. Don’t compare your baby to any other baby in the NICU. Each one is going to experience his/her own journey.
  7. Don’t forget to look after yourselves as parents as you also need to eat and sleep and be healthy to be present for your baby. It’s okay to leave them and feel bad but know that you also need to do other things. Remember that it is okay to feel ALL of the emotions and just know that they will pass.
  8. You can phone and check in on your baby at any time, which is comforting. 

For me, some of the most rewarding parts about having had my daughter in the NICU were that I got to recover from my c-section while my daughter was in such good care; my daughter was in a great routine when she came home in terms of her eating and sleeping; I learnt a lot from the doctors, nurses, occupational therapists, speech therapists, physios and other staff members which assisted me with my daughter and myself. 

I hope other moms find comfort in this and please know that I am available if anyone would like to chat about anything relating to this. 

“There are no shortcuts to any place worth going” Good luck with your NICU experience and allow yourself to experience all the emotions through the process. 

Written By: Farryn Kangisser 

Farryn is an educational psychologist in private practice and a mom of a 1 year old. She predominantly sees children and adolescents for therapy and assessments, as well as doing parent support work. She can be contacted on 0825364630 or and you can follow her on Instagram @littlelifelearnings