Life After the NICU

When you’re pregnant and imagine holding your baby in your arms for the first time, the picture-perfect moment you envision doesn’t include incubators, IVs or breathing tubes. Yet for many moms, that becomes the reality, and those first few days or months of your baby’s life look completely different than you expected. What's it like to be a NICU parent? What do you need to know about the transition home from the hospital? And what advice would experienced NICU moms give to parents in the thick of it?

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Episode Transcript

Natalie Gross 0:03
When you're pregnant and imagine holding your baby in your arms for the first time, that picture perfect moment you envision doesn't include incubators, IVs or breathing tubes. Yet for many moms, that becomes the reality. And those first few days or months of your baby's life look completely different than you expected. Studies show that between 10 to 15% of babies born in the US will spend time in the neonatal intensive care unit better known as the NICU. And no matter how long it takes your baby to earn the title of NICU graduate, it's a season of parenthood that for many can feel daunting, isolating, and many times heartbreaking. If you're a NICU parent, we're here to help you feel supported and encouraged. Today, you'll hear from a group of moms who have been there before you as well as a nurse who takes care of NICU babies and their parents. And just to note here we are talking about sick babies, so some of the following stories may be difficult to hear. This is Newbies.

Natalie Gross 1:29
Welcome to Newbies. Newbies is your online on the go support group guiding new mothers to their baby's first year. I'm Natalie Gross mom to a three year old boy and a brand new baby girl. We've got a great show today talking about life after the NICU. Now if you haven't already, be sure to visit our website at and subscribe to our weekly newsletter which keeps you updated on all the episodes that we release each week. Another great way to stay updated is to hit that subscribe button in your podcast app. And if you're looking for a way to get even more involved with our show, then check out our membership club called Mighty Moms. That's where we chat more about the topics discussed here on the show. And it's also an easy way to learn about the recordings that we have coming up so that you can join us live. We have a wonderful panel of guests today who all wear the NICU mom badge. Mamas, welcome to the show to get started. Tell us about you your family in your experiences with the NICU. Megan, do you want to kick us off?

Megan Husak 2:24
I can. My name is Megan Husak. I'm a 34-year-old from Newport News, Virginia. I'm a family nurse practitioner for the past five years and prior to that I was a pediatric ICU and ER nurse for eight years. My husband Josh and I have been married for three and a half years. And we have one beautiful 18 month old as of today, little boy named Ethan and two fur babies named primrose and Gizmo. We had our little boy at 24 weeks in three days. And how was at my 22 week ultrasound and they found out I was two centimeters dilated and my middle membranes had already started bulging. So I was rushed to the hospital and spent two and a half weeks there before Ethan decided to make an appearance on May 16 of last year. And we spent 111 days in the NICU at Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters and on the sixth day of Ethan's life after having a great day, that evening, he coded for almost 10 minutes. And the doctors there told us there was not much more that they could do for him and that there probably wouldn't make it. But he had one more trick up his sleeve that he had seen one other time in his whole career. And that was where a PICC line had actually migrated and put fluid around the hearts. So he was actually able to aspirate five mils of fluid around Ethan's heart and immediately he came right back picked up and kind of moved. And so that was probably one of the hardest times in the NICU. And then of course, being there for 111 days. We had exhibitions re intubations going from high flow nasal cannula to CPAP to you name it, and he developed an infection. He had feeding issues. He had some cardiac issues. Actually toward the end of his stay. We were about to get the clear to go home and they found out he was actually aspirating that led us to go home on oxygen and ended my four months of pumping and attempting to breastfeed so that was a little bit difficult, difficult, but two days after his due dates, his original due date. He came home and it's been a whirlwind ever since but we loved the NICU Doc's at CHKD. I mean, some of the nurses we still talk to and Ethan still sees today. And he of course, was his room was dubbed the Harry Potter room. And I swear, every time we went in, there was always either a new drawing or something on the doors or new picture on the wall. Because once people found out we loved Harry Potter, it just kind of exploded from there.

Natalie Gross 5:27
Megan, I'm already tearing up as you're talking and we're like five minutes in.

Megan Husak 5:34
It's been it's been tough.

Natalie Gross 5:35
But wow. Yeah, no kidding. Well, thank you so much for being here, Megan and sharing that story. Emily, what's your story?

Emily Thomeer 5:44
So I'm educational therapist, I live in Hampton, Virginia. My husband and I have been married for six years. And we have an almost two year old and a six month old today. So it's our two year old, who's our NICU baby. He was born six weeks early. But his his bigger issue was a Jejunal atresia, which just means his small intestine was not connected when he was born. We were really blessed to know about this ahead of time. So we didn't feed him when he was born, actually took him right away and did some imaging and they were able to get a read on the situation. So about 14 hours after he was born, he had surgery, they were able to reconnect his intestines as well as kind of rearrange things. He was mal rotated. So his intestines were not in the right place. They had to remove his appendix. It was like, upper left side instead of lower right. He was just kind of a mess inside. So he was in the NICU then for almost a month. And even though he did really well, we we had just like a bilirubin crisis. And He almost said to have it blood and blood transfusion. And there was just a lot of a lot of chaos and stress we had like Megan, that was our first child. So we did not know what we were in for with parenting in general. And of course, being in the NICU is its own challenge. So that is the short version of our story. We're, we're really grateful to have him.

Natalie Gross 7:08
Well, yeah. Thanks so much for sharing.

Daria-Ann Martineau 7:11
I'm Daria-Ann Martineau. I have one little girl, my husband and I had a beautiful daughter in 2020. I got I found out I was pregnant in January 2020. And by much we all know what happened. I was pregnant and didn't have my family around because they were in another country and through a lot of virtual support we were able to get through four months in the NICU. My daughter was due at the end of September and born on July 3, because I had preeclampsia. So at 27 and a half weeks I was forced to deliver. That's that's in a nutshell.

Natalie Gross 8:01
What was the hardest part about being in the NICU? Was it you know, the emotions of bonding with your baby or the logistics of traveling to and from the hospital, you know, pumping the transition home? There's just so much that goes into it. I'm curious what you guys think was the hardest part. Besides watching your baby code, I cannot even imagine.

Megan Husak 8:22
That was probably the hardest. But I think for me, initially, it was like the fear that he wasn't going to make it just because he was so early. I knew the numbers, I knew the data, but even if he was gonna make it, what was his quality of life and like long term outcome with cerebral palsy, you know, brain development, all of that, because the medical world is my world and I had worked pediatrics, like I knew too much. And that made me worry, and that made me a little bit hyper focus on things. Luckily, again, our doctors are so great. And they included me in that rounds and care, even though you know, they already made their decisions. I was still a part of that care. You know, I felt like I was doing something. But the other big part for me was that bonding aspect, I had really severe postpartum depression because of everything that had happened in the birth was very traumatic and, like, they had to put me under quickly because Ethan was breech. And so like, I didn't get to see him or anything after he was born. But I remember I didn't get to hold Ethan until he was almost two weeks old. So at two weeks, I was able to hold him and I remember I looked at my husband and I said, I don't feel anything towards him like there's no magic bond or this is my son or you know that new mommy feel. I didn't have any of it and I remember just bawling because it felt like I was home like a stranger. And I know that really broke my husband's heart to hearing me say that. And it took a couple months for me to feel bonded when holding him, and finally, you know, instead of holding him because I knew holding in that skin to skin was going to help him, I was holding him because I wanted to and I had that, that motherly feel with him, and definitely was not what I expected being the first, you know, our first baby and what we all expect of you know, that first moment of here you go.

Natalie Gross 10:39
Yeah. 100%

Emily Thomeer 10:42
Yeah, I, I'm hearing also other moms talking about having a baby during COVID. And that was really hard being in the NICU during COVID, because there was so much stress about what if we get exposed, and we can't go see him tomorrow, you know, like we were, we were being super careful. But we still had family that would, you know, thankfully drop off food and stuff. And we were trying to, to be, you know, insulated so that we would be able to go see him because I could not imagine not being able to go like, we were already limited, he couldn't have any visitors except the two of us. And it was so difficult to even imagining leaving, like, every night, when we left, I just wept and wept and wept. And then, you know, we'd get up the next morning, and we would pull ourselves together and go out the door. And we had to go through the whole temperature check and have you you know, had to have a sniffly nose, and I'm like, even if I did, I'm wearing a mask, and I'm going, you can't stop me it was just that just the fear and the anxiety during COVID of having such a fragile baby, and then all the rules and the idea that he would spend more time by himself. So that was another thing, just like leaving him and knowing that nobody else could go, there was so much burden of having to walk away, you know, my mom couldn't go or my mother in law couldn't go on hold him and kind of stand in for us, it was just that constant need to be there. And wanting to be there. But also like, I got to go home and eat some food and pump some milk and come back in the morning kind of thing that was really hard. And my husband and I both said, we just did not feel like parents at first because we didn't have any other kids. And and that was in some ways helpful because we didn't have to go home and try to balance another child. But at the same time, it meant we didn't know what we were doing. And the hospitals fantastic. They let us do as much as we could. We did all the diaper changes when we were there and tried to handle as much of it as possible. But we just didn't feel like we were actually parenting and felt like we were just observing. So that made it really hard to Yeah, to feel connected to him. And in some ways you didn't feel like you had a baby, you had just a problem, like a tiny, precious little problem that needed to be solved. And it was just a truly traumatic time.

Natalie Gross 13:05
Daria, what about you?

Daria-Ann Martineau 13:08
Oh, gosh, there's so much I mean, definitely the COVID anxiety it was so early in the pandemic for me. So it was like before we had vaccines before we really knew anything, all you knew is like, there was this new disease around and you could get it and have no symptoms, or you could die horrible. That anxiety was definitely very real. The depression which didn't make me feel strange to my baby, I had the opposite effect where I was obsessing and like just not being able to think about anything else except my child, and the stress that came with that. But I think because of the pandemic, not being able to see my family throughout my pregnancy, it was always like, very surreal. And I imagined my main mom being there for the birth. I mean, my whole family didn't meet my child till she was one because my family, I mean, my I have one to send me off. And then I have the rest of my family that lives in Trinidad and Tobago, my immediate family where I grew up, and I live in DC. So I have this vision my my sister was coming towards the end of her pregnancy in New York. So I kind of thought, Oh, I'll go to New York and I'll spend time and I'll help her with her babies. I know, learn from her. And then it was like this pandemic hits on my husband like argued with me when I tried to walk to 70 that would like you, she was like got go anyway. He was just so terrified for me. And I think that carrying over into having this very traumatic experience and like not being able to have my family around me for The Post It was devastating. But I think I just, I'm a person who I guess I focus on the one little thing I can do. And so, yeah, I just kind of come to my my daughter like, like Ross. I'm like, Okay, I need to pump milk. That's what I can do. I can change her diapers, I can visit her and spend as much time as possible and that is what I focus on. I took a million pictures and sent them to my family every day because I was just like, this is what I have. This is what I'm working with them. Okay.

Natalie Gross 15:35
Thank you, moms, so much for sharing. And when we come back, we will be meeting our featured guest Hannah Cromack, a NICU nurse and NICU mom who will be sharing her own story as well as encouragement for parents going through the experiences that we've just heard about. So stay with us.

Natalie Gross 15:57
Today on Newbies, we're talking about life after the NICU, what that transition is like and the many emotions and logistical hurdles at play. Our featured guest today is Hannah Cromack, who is a fellow NICU mom and a NICU nurse in Northern Virginia. She's not just any NICU nurse. She was my baby's NICU nurse. My daughter was born with a rare condition that caused her to have a very low platelet count at birth. And Hannah is a registered nurse and graduate of American Sentinel University. She's worked in various fields over the last 10 years but has found her niche in the NICU and has developed special interest in promoting awareness for prematurity, maternal health and mental health. Recently, she has collaborated on a project to develop positive experiences for NICU parents. And we'll hear more about that later in the show. So Hannah, welcome to Newbies, thank you so much for joining us.

Hannah Cromack 16:47
Thank you so much for having me. I'm really happy to be here. My heart goes out to all of you moms, because those stories are heartbreaking, just to hear as a NICU nurse.

Natalie Gross 16:59
So Hannah, what's your experience with the NICU as a parent? And how did that influence you to become a NICU nurse.

Hannah Cromack 17:05
So my pregnancy did not go as planned. Preeclampsia actually runs in my family. So we kind of had an idea, it was always a risk factor. Things went smoothly until about 28 weeks, and then the pairing otologist that I was seeing, because I have hypothyroidism, which also makes me a high risk. Throughout all pregnancies. Notice that I had some abnormal Dopplers. And she just happened to ask me about my blood pressures. And they were off, which prompted her to do several more frequent visits. By 32 weeks, I was at home on bed rest. And then by 33, I was actually admitted to the hospital, Charlie made a grand entrance. I literally wake up in the middle of the night to the nurse saying roll over onto your side, your baby's heart is dropping. Here's a oxygen mask. And then by 8am, my OB had walked in and decided that, you know, I had two options. Essentially, I could go ahead and we could induce labor, or I could just go for a C section. And I was about to just commit to the C section. I was like, I don't want any emergency situations like, just spare me. Let's just do the C section and the nurse walks in. And she's like, are you feeling anything like it? Is that what this annoying pain is? Just like, well, you've been contracting for a little while now. Every six months. Doc got all excited. She's like, let me check you. And I was actually dilating. So she was like, Well, you know, we could probably do a vaginal delivery now. And I was like, Okay, well, if you think we can do this without it turning into an emergency then, okay, let's try it. I made it till about 10pm. He had a very long D cell. It turned into an emergency C section. I was on mag through this. So they rolled me back to the O R. And then the next thing I know, you know, babies out. I didn't see my son until after 1pm. The following day, like I wasn't even allowed out of the bed because of the magnesium. And when I did come to the NICU. I wasn't allowed to hold him because he had a line that goes into his belly button giving him very concentrated sugar water called dextrose. Because when he was born, the stress of the delivery resulted in a condition called hyperinsulinemia that we actually did not discover until like day five of life. And we spent 20 days in the NICU and And we were home for 10 days. And then I had got a cold. And I remember go to the pediatrician, like, early Tuesday, Wednesday of the week. And I was like, I'm afraid he's getting my cold. He goes well, as long as he's eating, as long as he's, you know, not lethargic, everything is fine. By Friday, he was definitely sick. By Friday afternoon, I was at home alone. I was actually doing like holding him on my chest. And it just so happens that when I pulled him away, he was blue. I didn't know at the time that that is called an apparent life threatening event. I honestly because I was so sleep deprived. I thought I was hallucinating. I was not a nurse in that moment. I panicked. I remember just getting in the car after my husband got home. And I was like, I need you to get into a hospital. I don't care where we go. And he was like, Well, I know how to get to fuck you. And I was like, I don't care. But if I tell you that we need to pull the car over, you need to pull the car over so I can start CPR. And I feel like those are words that you should never have to say about your kid. And we get to faqeer we get into triage, the nurse checks a rectal temp, and it's like 95 Five. And for anybody who doesn't really know, temps that is very low. And I knew it was very low. And to my amazement, instead of taking us back immediately, they stuck us in a consultation room. And it felt like an eternity. I remember just staring at him like covering him with all of the blankets that I possibly could, and trying to keep him warm. And I didn't do babies at the time. So I didn't know what I was looking at. But knowing now he was doing this thing called periodic breathing, where they kind of breathe a couple times, and then they'll stop. They finally pulled us back into a room. And at this point, my pediatrician actually called the check in. And I explained to him the situation and how like in shock I was that he's laid out on a stretcher, and he's like, he needs to be on a warmer and I'm like, I don't know how to get one. He's like just ask, they should have one in the ER. And so I did ask, and I was declined. So his other suggestion was if they told me no do skin to skin, I actually put him skin to skin to keep him warm. And then they came in and said that they needed to do a lumbar puncture because they thought he was septic. I have pretty much gone into nurse mode. Like I was no longer mom, I was just there. Being the nurse, essentially, he was still on the monitor. And he had been swinging his oxygen saturations the entire time prior to this that nobody did anything about. But we started the lumbar puncture. And I remember kneeling on the floor and the monitor starts alarming. I look back at him and the nurse practitioner, then turns to me, she's like, it's okay. It's just because the way we have him positioned, it's just not picking up and I the only words I could get out of my mouth was blue, he's blue. And the next thing I know the physician is saying I need a pediatric code card patient has been APNIC which means he was not breathing for 30 seconds. And I am still getting goosebumps just telling the story but everybody rushes in. And what makes me absolutely furious is I came in for a blue event at home. And they never set up for a neonatal arrest. In his room, we had no Ambu which is the bag valve mask that you see in the movies where you know, they're actually like breathing for the baby. There was none in his size. So when they went to go give him the Ambu to help him breathe. All they had was the cord to the oxygen. I ended up almost climbing over the stretcher to grab this stuff. And I actually had the Ambu in my hand when they finally brought me an appropriate size mask and attached it to the Ambu and provided him two breaths before the nurse practitioner took over. It was a very traumatic experience for me. They wanted to admit him to the NICU there and I said absolutely not. We actually were transferred by a neonatal emergency response team that was dispatched out of UVA and we spent five days in the NICU and then we went home after a total of seven. It was quite a time I experienced a lot of postpartum depression. Right before I had to go back to work I actually had to test out for BLS again just to recertify, which is basic life support CPR, if no one is familiar, that triggered me. I sobbed through the whole thing. And the entire infant portion, I realized, like, I didn't do any of those steps. I'm a nurse, how could I possibly have not done those things? And that the guilt that I had, for not responding the way I had been educated for years, ate me alive for two years, and I actually ended up seeking help after the birth of my daughter, and starting medication and everything, and we're in a better spot now. But I faced a lot of challenges, having competence in my own skills, because I felt like I questioned my abilities as a nurse because I the way I responded in that moment when he was blue, but he's four down, he's healthy. I'll end with that.

Natalie Gross 26:19
Wow, thank you so much for sharing. I'm so sorry. You had to go through all of that. And so you became a NICU nurse after that, because of those experiences. it sounds like.

Hannah Cromack 26:30
At some point during his NICU say there was two nurses that I bonded with. They were phenomenal. And they looked at me at one point, they were like, Oh, my gosh, you should come be a NICU nurse with us. You're good people. And I looked at her and I was like, You are insane. I do. Adults. These are tiny humans. Absolutely not like, no. And then I went home and I thought about it. And I was like, No, I think I could do it. And then my first day back after maternity leave, I remember walking into a patient's room and he was covered head to toe in poop. I was like,

Natalie Gross 27:05
Your adult patient?

Hannah Cromack 27:07
Yes, he was confused, covered in poop was a surgical patient. And I was like, this is it. I'm good. I'm done. And I ended up applying to work at the NICU at UVA. And I worked there for two plus years before I left.

Natalie Gross 27:28
Well, based on your professional and personal experiences, how do you prepare parents for life after the NICU and that transition home?

Hannah Cromack 27:37
I do my best to educate them, like from the minute they hit the doors, like I want them to understand as much as possible. Because of my event with Charlie, like, my biggest fear is to have a parent go home and have their preemie or newborn gets sick, and then have an identical experience. So I would say most of my education is focused on like, infection prevention, what to look for, like SIDS. Because you know, that's another thing that can lead to a terrifying event where your kid is blue. car seat safety, like all the things that are going to immediately put your kid's life in danger I'm like, hyper focused on.

Natalie Gross 28:24
Well, I would love to give you a chance to talk about Project Hope, which I know you and your co-workers started. What is it? How can people get involved in what you're doing?

Hannah Cromack 28:34
Project HOPE pretty much came about as a NICU mom. There's a lot of things I didn't get to do. Like normal baby stuff. Like there was no newborn photos, I was too scared and too anxious after he was born to even consider that. I honestly didn't leave the house for like six months. And so I just try to bring normal baby things to parents in the NICU and highlight like, milestones that are significant because when you're in the NICU, every little step forward is such a big deal. So like weaning out of the isolette or coming off of the warmer, taking their first bottle, getting the tube out of their nose, if they're getting feeds through that coming off of respiratory support, like all of those things, but I absolutely love taking pictures for the parents. Because usually it's like I catch them doing a little social smile in their sleep, or something really cute or I get them a bow and get them all cute and dressed up and I'm like the parents need to see this and they're not here so I want to share it and that way they end up just having these keepsakes, so I ended up developing a Instagram page and with consent from the parents after Their kids are discharge. They've allowed me to share some of the photos with the public so that they can see like what I mean when I say, I want to give parents some sense of normalcy. But we developed a GoFundMe page. And basically, we're just looking for donations so that we can put together any additional crafts because up until this point, everything has been coming out of our pockets. So props for photos, costumes for like Halloween, there's things we want to do for Christmas and Thanksgiving, and all of the holidays in between. So it's just, we want to bring joy and happiness when everything sucks.

Natalie Gross 30:49
Well, we are going to take another quick break. And when we come back, we're going to keep hearing from Hannah and bring back moms Megan, Daria, and Emily.

Natalie Gross 31:03
We are continuing our discussion with NICU nurse, Hannah Cromack and our moms today. Ladies, I want to revisit the topic of bonding with your baby. I didn't bond with either of my babies instantly. I think maybe that's taboo to say. But especially with my NICU baby, it took a lot longer to feel like I actually knew her exactly like what Megan was saying earlier. So how long do you feel like it took to bond with your baby after coming home? Or in the hospital that happened there? And how did that affect your postpartum recovery? Like how long did it take you to feel like a quote unquote, normal family.

Megan Husak 31:37
Um, I think for us, since since it was such a long stay. By the time we got home, the bonding aspect was a lot easier, because I felt like I could be a mom, like Hannah said in in before, you're kind of just you're not really the mom because you can't really do everything. So when we were able to bring them home, it was like, Oh, I'm a mom. Now I can do everything. But in the NICU aspect, it took about two months before I had that bonded feel and you know, was excited to hold Ethan and in finding every cute little thing that he did. I guess I think of like that the Grinch where his heart like swelled and, you know, grew with Christmas stuff. And that's kind of what I thought after the two month mark where I every little thing he did, I was like, oh, super cute. I love it. Let's take a picture. I swear I have like 1000 pictures from the NICU and they're probably all the same, but it didn't matter. In regards to feeling like a normal family, I still don't feel like we're normal family. Because we're constantly worried about, like eating getting sick, before it was COVID. And now it's RSV, and with his lung disease. Getting one of those could be detrimental and us back in the hospital. Unfortunately, he's already had COVID and luckily he was fine. But the big big kicker for any NICU baby and any premature baby is RSV. And RSV is such in full swing right now. And more prominent that I kind of bubble wrap him a little bit. Um, so I feel like we're still not the normal family. It took Joshna about six months after being home before we both started feeling like real parents and getting to enjoy the family things of going to the park or going to church was the big thing of being able to get back into church. Even though Ethan was with us, it still was nice to be around other people and kind of do normal things. But again, I I don't know if we'll ever feel like a normal family with Ethan because of our journey, but it's our normal, so we'll accept it.

Emily Thomeer 34:08
I also feel like it took about six months after we got home of that timeframe. I just saw him as a NICU baby instead of just as a little boy for the longest time. That was a hard transition for me to make. I think we started parenting from a framework of anxiety because like I said, we we had the it was kind of a blessing slash curse to know about it ahead of time. Obviously that made the medical care part easier. But just from an anxiety standpoint, it was really hard. We found out at about 18 weeks that something was wrong. And then, you know, slowly kind of narrowed down over the weeks to to determine Oh, it's in a treat. At first I thought it could have been Spinal Bifida it could have been several other things and then okay, it's in a treasure but they still didn't know exactly how bad it was going to be or what the NICU state could be like and so The entire second half of the pregnancy was stressful. And then obviously the NICU is stressful. And they did. They put him on my chest when he was born, but facing away from me. I saw his back. It was very cute, but just not his face. And that was, that was hard, then they took him pretty much right away, because they were very concerned about intestinal rupture, because of the blockage. And I, I actually, it took him and I think within minutes, I just fell asleep, which was not my plan. Just like I was hemorrhaging, there was a lot going on. And I ended up falling asleep and I woke up just panic, like, where is he? So that so everything from that season was started on the foundation of anxiety. So it did take a while for that to turn into joy. Like Megan was saying, like after, after some time, I was like, Oh, he smiles. And he's like, he's a normal baby in so many ways, like he has, has his little issues, of course. And at one point, those are very big issues, but, but he's doing normal baby things. And he's hitting his milestones. And so it did take some time. But when we got to that point, it just was it was a really big deal. I've even noticed we have our daughter now. And just my early days with her were just so much simpler, like laughing with her and all. Oh, she smiles and I just have this much easier time building a relationship with her because it didn't start out from exactly the same place. So it took it took about Yeah, six or eight months.

Daria-Ann Martineau 36:33
I actually, I don't know if I was kind of because I was between jobs. So I was able to spend so much time at the NICU. But I feel like by dt to have the NICU visit, I think I just kind of was obsessed with my daughter. And it was funny because yeah, like the first time I got went to meet him just been drugged out. He's kind of still and it's all very surreal. And I kind of just saw her she held my finger for a minute. And that was kind of it. And then the next day, I see then she just held onto my finger for maybe an hour I was by her bedside. And I was just in the NICU. I wouldn't be there like 567 hours a day. We just were close at my girlfriend, she was very quiet, she never cried. And as she started to develop more, started to act like a normal baby. And it was like I would be sitting with her doing skin to skin and then I would leave for a minute to go get a drink or run to the restroom. The nurses were just here screaming and making that desert. So I think by the time she got home for months, she was a month past her due date. And I was just ready because it was a straightforward thing of you know, we knew she was going to be okay, she just needed time. Whereas I It was strange, because I've never really thought I want the children. Somewhere along the road that change. But my husband was had always wanted kids, you know, had three younger brothers and was like a wrestling coach, I did all these things. And it was very jarring for me. And I think this was a weird thing for our marriage to go through because he was the one who was more distant with her. And I think it was just he didn't know how to handle this big scary situation. And that was kind of a shocker for me is it took him a long time to kind of by now. She's two years old, and he's just like, wants to do everything with her. But it was just like, kind of the opposite of what I expected. But when I was in the NICU, they would see visiting all the time and be like, Oh, we haven't seen that for a while. And I'm like, Yeah, I think he's, he's still processing. I'm the social worker. And that's no longer that happens with a lot of dad.

Natalie Gross 39:08
I bet Megan and Emily, what you were saying how you put them in bubble wrap or you you know see them as this NICU baby Hannah, you have the oldest NICU baby of all of us? Is this something that you still regularly think about and doesn't affect how you parent him? I'm curious.

Hannah Cromack 39:24
Oh, gosh, I wish I could say that it didn't affect how I parent him. I think because of the traumatic event at home by myself with him. I developed postpartum anxiety. I didn't realize that then but and depression. So like I had a lot of feelings of guilt and failure as a mom. But I remember like sitting on my floor and just staring at him and thinking like, you're the only reason I'm alive because I I don't know what else there is for me. I mean, like, I couldn't leave the house for gosh, it was like six or eight months was our first outing to target. And the second he started crying, I couldn't deal I had to leave. And if I wasn't working, no one could watch him at a had to be me. So I never gave myself a break. And I think it was just because I felt like I needed to have control. Because when he was so sick, I had none. I would say, you know, as he got older, and my anxiety and depression got a little bit better, things did improve, but I still dread when he gets sick. I mean, like, this year, he's had numerous illnesses where I had to take him in. And I felt like I was being so dramatic, because I now have some medical anxiety when it comes to him. And I am very protective when it comes to him. It's something that I don't think ever truly goes away. I hate to say it.

Natalie Gross 41:00
Well, I want to end this conversation here with some encouragement for listeners, you know, we may have some expectant moms listening who don't know it yet. But they're about to go through the NICU experience or, or moms who are currently in the thick of it, I want to leave our listeners with, you know, some advice, some encouragement, anything from practical advice about pumping schedules, or managing logistics of the hospital stay, to you know, how to prepare Emotionally, I think would be really helpful. So let's end on that note.

Emily Thomeer 41:33
My advice would be kind of the traditional, you should have a counselor, I just waited a little bit after the NICU to find a therapist, but I wish I'd done that a little bit earlier. There's just a lot to process and you know, you're still recovering from having a baby. And then it just becomes all about the baby, which is appropriate. But also, you need a place to process all of that. So that's that's one piece of advice. And then the other thing I would say is to lean into everything the NICU offers, we had such a fantastic team of people, and there were classes, you know, we had a social worker, we had a chaplain, we had so many people. And I think if I had taken advantage of more of those things, I would have felt a little bit more prepared. But just emotionally I wasn't I wasn't thinking outside of our NICU room, people would come in and offer help. And I just didn't know how to access all of that. But I think leaning into those things is helpful, especially in in that moment, maybe the tendency would be to, like, I just wish this wasn't happening. So I'm stepping back. But I found it helpful the moments that we did say, Okay, we're actually going to have a conversation with the chaplain or we're going to take this class that we don't have to take, but it might be helpful in some ways. I think those things always made us feel a little bit more connected to him and a little bit more prepared for when we did bring him home.

Megan Husak 43:01
I definitely second the therapy. I was in therapy before having Ethan but definitely after my husband and I went together, and that helped us work through it a little bit better. And the other big thing is, you know, most NICUs have some form of like family parents support group. Ours had like a parent support group and then like a mom support group. And getting involved in that right away. helps you kind of process through it answer questions that you might not feel comfortable asking during rounds. Or, you know, might think the question is stupid, but the it's usually ran by like a social worker in a smaller setting so you don't feel uncomfortable asking things. But I think the other biggest factor is you meet other parents that are in the NICU that are going through the exact same thing that you're going through. And some of my closest friends now are moms that I met during our NICU stay who understand everything that I'm going through, and we share in each other's victories we cry in each other's you know, with the downfalls that we've had the setbacks, and having that support has been the biggest Lifesaver and really helped my postpartum depression. We also journaled our NICU gave us journals, and I swear I don't remember much from the NICU. But when I go back and look at the journal, I wrote bad things, I wrote good things. I marked his milestones. And so it was able to see him get reminded of our journey. And it helps me during the time if there was something that had changed because I would write down information from his rounds and his vital signs and all of that, that if something changed, I was able to be like, hey, yesterday, you know, his blood pressure was ranging here. A little bit off today. Is this something we should be concerned about? And it helps me feel like I was in some form of control. And so I always encourage parents to get involved in rounds write things down in journal, so that they can one feel like they're being involved in their child care. But to look back on it later in, in, see the journey progress from the beginning to discharge will really kind of help with making that experience a little bit easier.

Natalie Gross 45:33
Daria, do you have anything?

Daria-Ann Martineau 45:36
One is, I recommend to preeme moms all the time. This book, just sweet little children's book called "I am Early" by Joi Brown. So joy is spelled with an "I." A friend among friends sent to me when Devin was in the NICU. I know Devin loves it, and she asked for them. But then she's like I had any. So I'm really a sweet book. If you just want to give that to another premium mom in your life. I would also say the big thing calling back to thing on the therapy trend is to give yourself grief. I was in therapy before also I'm a big proponent of therapy. And one thing that happened, maybe like a month after my daughter came home, I was talking to my therapist virtually. And she's like how you feeling analysis? Like, I'm so overwhelmed. And she was like, Well, did you expect not to be? And I was like, I guess I did. And I like as soon as you say it out loud, you're like, that's crazy. Why, like I have a new baby. This is my first child. I don't know what I'm doing. I just went through this traumatic four months, I went in for a regular doctor's appointment. And then they told me my blood pressure was like 160 over something and I couldn't leave. And I couldn't eat for three days. And I had a massive headache. And I went through all this. I'm sorry, you said keeping up listening. Point is give yourself grace. Because I was like, why would I? Yeah. So she said, I was like, why would I expect for me to just go back to normal and pick up and move on and be 100% And like, hit the ground running. That's not realistic. So yeah, give yourself time, give yourself patience, celebrate every small victory. And just see, I'm a human being having a human experience.

Hannah Cromack 47:47
I'm just going to echo what everybody else said. Because as someone who did not seek therapy for three years after that whole thing, I cannot stress it enough. Everyone has their own different thresholds for what is traumatic for them. And so I feel like oftentimes you hear people tell these gut wrenching stories and you're like, Well, gosh, my story isn't that bad. So let me just rub some dirt on it and move on. No, you your situation was hard for you. And I feel like every mom, if, if it is difficult for you to process, please just go talk to somebody. If you need meds, there's no shame in the mid game. And a much happier person now. But it's just, you know, make sure you're taking care of yourself. You can not be a good mom, if you're not taking care of yourself first. Happy mama happy baby. If that means that you need to give up a feeding at night so you can get more sleep because sleep is a major player in mental health. Then do it. There's no you don't need to have guilt about it. We have so much guilt with everything. Especially everyone having opinions on how we parent, just do you. And then like make sure you're eating decent food if you can, or not. Whatever. Whatever your heart desires, get massages, go for a walk. Take care of yourself. Just be kind to yourself because you you've been through a lot.

Natalie Gross 49:26
Well, that's excellent advice. Thank you so much to all of you Hannah, Megan Daria, Emily, who joined us for this episode. Thank you so much for sharing these at times heartbreaking stories. I'm so glad your babies are all doing well. Be sure to check out Hannah's Instagram page @Project HOPE_NICU for more on what we just discussed and be sure to check out new mommy where we have all of our podcast episodes plus videos and more.

Natalie Gross 50:00
So that wraps up our show for today. We appreciate you listening to newbies. Don't forget to check out our sister shows Preggie Pals for expecting parents, Parent Savers for moms and dads with toddlers, the Boob Group for moms who give breast milk to their babies, and Twin Talks for parents of multiples. Thanks for listening to Newbies, your go-to source for new moms and new babies.

Disclaimer 50:28
This has been a New Mommy Media production, information and material contained in this episode I presented for educational purposes only. Statements and opinions expressed in this episode are not necessarily those of new mommy media and should not be considered facts. While such information and materials are believed to be accurate. It is not intended to replace or substitute for professional medical advisor care and should not be used for diagnosing or treating health care problem or disease or prescribing any medication. If your questions or concerns regarding your physical or mental health or the health of your baby, please seek assistance from a qualified health care provider.

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