This title is the best possible summary I can give of our time in the neonatal intensive care unit or NICU - it is simply said, a place that changes lives forever.
I am glad to say that for us, it changed our lives for the better.
We were thrust quickly and suddenly into the environment of NICU immediately on the arrival of our little girls, the ward itself was not such a surprise as we had done a tour in preparation for the arrival of our twins at Wellington Hospital, what was a surprise was the overwhelming emotions that run through your body.
Your body becomes a swirling mix of adrenaline, love and worry - none of which you have any control over. As the doctors and nurses quickly set to work making our babies stable and happy a lovely Irish nurse came over to me, I must have looked as white as a ghost. She pulled out a stool and sat me on it, "you sit here and don't move, we will tell you what we are doing as we do it, and remember, we are just running through standard procedures here, we will tell you if there is anything to worry about and at this stage there is not."
Looking back in the days following I now realize that sitting me down was more about keeping me out of the way than it was to calm me, but never the less the by-product of a calm new-dad was no doubt a good one for all involved!
NICU is full of flashing beeping machines, all very quiet though as to not upset the little babies in there. If you were to visit a unit or do a tour, it would be all too easy to overlook the miracles that are occurring around you every minute of every hour of every day. Part of the etiquette of the unit is that you only look at your babies and you try to keep to yourselves. Once you are a parent of a baby in the unit you appreciate this. All you care about it is your baby getting to the point of discharge and carrying them out that front door, nothing else matters. But you can't help but become slightly invested in those around you, hoping and wishing the best for them. You watch mums and dads having kangaroo cuddles and loving their little bubbies, love is plentiful in NICU.
We were very lucky to have a short stay in the unit, and Sarah and I both send our love to all those who still have a baby or babies in there. As a parent it feels a little like there is nothing you can do to help your child, but there is so much! Here's a few things I picked up while in NICU.
The first thing that the nurses in the unit teach you is that the colostrum that mum is producing is 'liquid gold'. It is by far one of the best medicines that you could ever dream of, so the more you can get, and the quicker you can get it to them, the better. When I say quicker, I mean Sarah was literally expressing in her room and I was running down the hallway to our babies' nurse who was feeding them. Although this is the best and most amazing gift you can give your babies, please don't let anyone tell you that it is easy! Breast feeding is far from easy and certainly in the first week while your milk comes in, it seems like one of the hardest things you will ever have to endure, but it is worth it! Of course, Sarah, the classic overachiever, was producing enough colostrum for the whole ward!
The second thing you can do, and this one is particularly important for the dads out there, learn all you can from the NICU nurses! They are the best parent trainers in the world! Clearly they have a very important job to do and you never want to get in the way of doing it, but they love to help and they love to teach you all the little tricks they have learnt over the years - soak up the knowledge!
I almost wonder how we would have got on without being in the unit. The staff are amazing, between helping our babies get stronger by the day and making sure everything is noted on their oversized charts (if you end up in NICU, you will know what I am talking about), they take the time to treat you like a human. Something that seems to get lost in much of the rest of the hospital. It's the small things that they do that make a huge difference.
After one particularly hard night where we had been up and down to feed the girls for or five times, Sarah and I woke up as complete wrecks and wandered down to the girls' room, no doubt looking like zombies. On arrival we got right onto doing the girls' cares; washing their face, changing nappies etc., only to find that one of the wonderful nurses had taken the time to decorate and name the girls' little plastic tubs! Small I know, and I am sure some of you are thinking I might have gone crackers - but it is little things like this that just remind you that you are not on your own and that there are people who care all around you!
As I said, our stay was short. Before we knew it we had the girls in our room at the hospital, and in a flash it was time for us to be on our way home.
The last thing to do before leaving was to load Gracie and Aurelia into their capsules and have the hospital check them. That's right, not many people know that you have to have your capsule checked with your baby in it before you can leave.
So the first thing was to set up the straps to the smallest setting, after all our little girls were very little! Then in they went. After 10 days in the NICU all we wanted to do was load the girls in the car and head home, so it was a blessing with how easy it was to get them in the capsules!
But as you are no doubt used to, I have a warped sense of humour. The hospital does indeed make sure you have a good capsule, they also make sure you know how to put your baby in it and strap them in correctly, but that's where it stops! I could not believe this... Once they had checked the girls were in the capsules I asked if they were coming to make sure I had them attached to the car correctly, the answer was no! Outrageous! I mean we could have the girls perfectly secure in their capsules and then walked down to the car and thrown the capsules into the back unattached and driven off. Clearly we would never have done that, and I had already installed our bases and had them checked, so it was as easy as clipping them in, but still. If you're going to make sure the capsule is fine and the baby is strapped in correctly, you surely have to make sure it is attached to the car correctly as well?? Don't you??
Anyway, my recommendation to you is that if you have any worries over your car seat or capsule not being fitted correctly or how to strap your bub in to it, seek someone who can check it before you go driving anywhere with your baby in it. They are precious cargo after all!
So after me joking with the hospital staff that we may just throw the capsules in the boot of the car, and Sarah telling me to stop joking around or we would have child services knocking on our door, we had our girls loaded in the capsules and the capsules in the car. We were finally taking our beautiful little family home!!!
Let the crazy times begin!