As I sit down to write this post, it’s really hard to fathom that it’s been almost one year that our precious Jude Damien Cruz was born. His birthday is this weekend and I cannot believe how fast the year has flown. You know that saying “The days are long but the years are short” well that is so accurate! Sometimes, the days can feel like they drag on and you are counting down the seconds until Daddy walks through that door! But then when you look back, as I am today, it’s crazy how fast times flies.
Many of my friends and family know Jude’s story surrounding his birth, but I wanted to take a moment and share it with you all, as well as reflect back on lessons I learned while having a child in the NICU: Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. I’ve never truly understood what it’s like to have a sick child and boy, did it ever give me a greater understanding as well as compassion for those who walk through this with their own children.
Jude is our 3rd child…our complete surprise and blessing from the Lord. We weren’t planning for him, but what a joy he has added to our family. My pregnancy with him was normal, for the most part. I really don’t enjoy being pregnant…at all. With each pregnancy I maybe had 2-4 weeks max where I thought, “Hey this is fun!” and then the rest I was bloated, achey, sick, had the worst reflux and all kinds of other unmentionable problems! I was grateful to be pregnant because I knew what it meant, however, I never really enjoyed it (and that’s ok!! Doesn’t make us bad moms, those of us who don’t love the incubation process!)
Around 7 months, I started having wildly itchy palms of my hands and soles of my feet. It was so odd and long story short, I ended up being diagnosed with cholestasis, which is a gestational liver disease. While it’s of no harm to you, it can be fatal for the unborn baby. So there was alot of weekly monitoring and blood work that I had to do and at 37 weeks, I was induced.
After more than 24 hours of labor, I ended up with an emergency c-section. The cord was wrapped around his neck and his heart rate kept dropping. When he came out, his limbs were all purpley-blue and he wasn’t breathing properly. He was grunting…which is a bad thing for newborns. Once in the recovery room, I held him for a couple of minutes before they decided that he did in fact need to go to the NICU for a bit of oxygen. They assured me it would probably just be for the night (he was born late at night).
By the next day, he had been diagnosed with pneumonia and the new plan was for him to stay at least the week. I had a hard time wrapping my head around this. I had had two other babies…both were fine and came home relatively quick. The idea of a prolonged stay was just so foreign to me. I especially hated the idea due to leaving my older two at home, who were so excited with anticipation to bring their little brother home and the idea of not having my brand new baby by my side. I can remember being in the maternity ward of the hospital, hearing and seeing all the other newborn babies and their mommies and I honestly felt like my baby had died. It was the worst feeling. Further still, knowing he wasn’t in my care and there was really nothing I could do to help him, other than pump milk for them to tube feed him. Obviously I knew he was in the BEST care in the NICU (and let me say, those NICU nurses and drs are outstanding!) but there is a maternal instinct in all of us who have bore these children that when they are finally born, you want and need to care for them. I couldn’t do that. I could barely hold him.
[pullquote width=”200″ float=”left”]…I honestly felt like my baby had died. It was the worst feeling.[/pullquote]
Our 14 day NICU visit was complete with a few scares from Baby Jude, including him having an episode where he was tachycardic for over an hour with a heart rate soaring over 200 beats per minute. SO.SCARY. I shed more tears in those 2 weeks then I had in a long time. So many unknowns. So many prayers. So many fears.
He finally turned the corner after a week in there and that began our journey to take him home. I can remember on the day we finally drove him home, I had Matt Redman’s “Never Once” song playing while I just wept. God had been faithful. He had sustained us. He had healed my baby boy.
Looking back at our stay in the NICU, there are so many lessons I learned during our time there. I wanted to take a few moments to share them with you. You never know if you will ever have to face this yourself with your newborn but also, for those who have friends and/or family who might walk through this…I think these few lessons can really help someone in this situation.
Lessons from the NICU:
1. Be Present For the Mom
This is huge. And I’m not just talking about once the mom is released, to come back and visit with her in the NICU. I’m talking about visiting the MOM in the maternity ward. I only had TWO friends and my parents come and visit while I was still admitted. I was SO lonely. I was so scared. I was so bored! Because I had a c-section, I had to stay for a few extra days for recovery. I was in so much pain. I couldn’t sit for long bouts in the NICU, so I had to go back and lay down in the bed. Because we have two older kids, my husband had to spend alot of his time at home with them. I can remember wishing I had some people come and keep me company and help me take my mind off of the scary reality that I was in. Make sure you take time to go and visit momma, she will appreciate it more than you will ever know.
2. Be Present For the Newborn
Once I was released and as time went on, we did end up having more visitors come to the NICU, which was awesome! I remember calling our old boss, who was pastoring about 2 hours away and also had a son that had spent 6 months in the NICU, and telling him what was going on and he came the next day! He spent most of the day with us, bought us all lunch and paid for our parking. He prayed with us and let us just cry with him and share our fears. It was SO nice to have someone there who had walked that road (and his was much scarier as his son was born with half a heart) just be there with us and with our little fighter.
3. Offer to Help
It was so great when my parents were able to come and stay for an extended time to help with the older kids. We aren’t used to having family support around as we don’t live near any…so it was extra special having them there. Doing practical things like laundry and meal prep and just loving on the older two kids. Even if mom’s say they are fine and don’t need help…help out in some way.
4. Make Meals
This was huge! Especially as I spent most days and evenings at the hospital, once discharged, I wasn’t able to cook for the family. My husbands team at work did a week’s worth of meals! It was so awesome to not have to worry about dinner…it would just show up every night! I also had a friend who lived out of town send us a $50 Swiss Chalet gift card! She said what she knew to do in moments of crisis was to make sure people were fed…and because she couldn’t physically cook for me, this was the next best thing! Do you know how awesome that was? Such a blessing! And we got TWO meals out of that! There’s really no excuse in today’s technological age where you can purchase gift cards online and have them show up in someone’s inbox! Since then, I’ve done this for a few friends who have gone through tough times that don’t live near me…and I know what a blessing it is, having been the recipient of it!
5. Offer to Pay For Something
If you can, offer to help pay for some of the NICU costs. We are SO blessed in Canada to have FREE healthcare, which covered the actual hospital stay and medical treatment. But what people don’t realize until they’ve walked through it are all the other costs that healthcare doesn’t cover during an extended hospital stay. We calculated that we paid close to $500 in parking alone when you count all the hospital visits I had to make in the weeks leading up due to the cholestasis and weekly monitoring, plus the NICU stay. That’s INSANE! Then you add in food, because once I was discharged, I wasn’t given any food, I had to buy it all from the restaurants in the hospital. Then there was all the gas back and forth between home and hospital. Add in paying for babysitters/daycare for a few days where no one could watch the kids. My husband also had to take a week off of work as well as use a few sick days. Thankfully, he had enough and his workplace is super understanding and flexible. But many aren’t in those kind of situations and would have to take a leave, some without pay. So if you have the means, offer to pay for a day of parking or meals or a gas card. Every little bit will help. We had a friend give us a parking pass that was valid for two more days at the hospital. That was like giving us $50! Huge!
6. Listen, Comfort & Pray
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, be that emotional support for your friend. She needs it. Whether you are physically present or not, you can always send a message offering encouragement and prayers. I was posting daily on Facebook updates and it meant so much to read all the comments, messages, emails and texts that would come in of people praying for us and offering comfort. I called up a dear friend and asked if we could go for breakfast together before I went to the hospital that morning and she just sat there and listened while I shared everything that had happened. We laughed and cried together and she didn’t have to say much…just her being there to listen was all the comfort I needed.
Well there you have it! I hope you can take away some good ideas on how to help mom’s and dad’s who are going through the extremely difficult journey of babies in NICU. And truthfully, everything I shared can be applied to ANY critical care/hospital stay situation. Doesn’t have to be just parents with NICU babies. We had another scare with Jude just before Christmas where he spent 5 days in the hospital for asthma (since birth, asthma has been an issue and he is on daily medication and under specialist care to keep it under control). That was a crazy time right before the holidays, but we had the help of some fabulous friends who came to babysit the kids as well as bring meals so that we could be with Jude in the hospital.
People need people. We are better together. That’s the takeaway here. Be present in your friends lives. I know that life is crazy and it’s busy and there are about a million things that cry out for our attention every single day. But your friends are one of those that need our time and energy, especially in tough circumstances. So be there for them, in whatever way you can be!
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Much love to you all, my friends!
Love & Blessings,