The Special Care Nursery- Where You Start To Get Your Firsts
After being moved from the NICU, I was a serious mess. We had been able to tour the Special Care Nursery space days before but it was such a shock to the heart when I get the phone call that my little ones had been moved throughout the hospital and I wasn’t there. When I arrived on the 13th floor, the front desk could not find my babies because they were in transitional care, awaiting some space in the nursery. I was pissed off and nervous. My little babies were moved from this safe, private room that had become our sanctuary in such a difficult time. I was overly emotional and having some serious adjustment issues.
On that first day, I was so upset. I was angry that the babies were moved without my knowledge. We met our new nurses, which I automatically didn’t like for no reason except they were not our NICU nurses. We were in this transitional room waiting for space to open up in the nursery. This room was dark, no windows and was extremely cramped. I sat there, acting miserable and praying for the news that we could move into the other space. Later that day, we could move into the actual nursery and got both of our babies situated in a nice area by a huge bay of windows overlooking the Charles River. This is where we would call “our temporary home” for the next five weeks…
The Special Care Nursery was a very different environment than the NICU for me. Pumping felt a little more exposed because I was only separated by a curtain instead of a private room. There was not a dedicated room or a microwave to clean and disinfect my pumping parts but rather just a sink in the open space of the nursery. I had to take my pumping parts home to disinfect, which was an inconvenience. It was louder due to the open concept design so relaxing during kangaroo care was a bit harder. Having conversations with our doctors and nurses felt much less private. The Special Care Nursery did not have the “Angel Eye” which was a camera over the isolette that we could call and have the nurses turn on so we could see them before we went to bed. This was one of our favorite parts about the NICU. These were very tough adjustments at first but quickly, we realized that there were also so many positives.
Let’s start with the obvious- Our babies were out of the NICU! It was a graduation in a sense and the doctors felt they were stable enough to be moved from that environment. One step closer to coming home! I also no longer felt a rising panic as Cole set off an alarm every few minutes. The nurses treated them more like actual babies instead of breakable china- you should see these nurses burp a four-pound baby! They were growing every day, gram by gram, and becoming more like beautiful, cuddly, full term babies.
The Special Care Nursery for me became a place to learn how to be a parent to premature babies. Preemies are not like full term babies in a variety of ways. They need to be fed differently, comforted differently, bathed differently, protected differently. We had hands on training in every aspect of being a parent by the best mentors imaginable. Our primary nurse, Jen, had twins of her own and she would often share helpful hints on how to manage typical baby stuff at home with twins! It’s a whole different ballgame than with one. Her advice and support was so meaningful. Many of the other nurses taught us a variety of things as well- how to dress our kids, how to hold them, how to bath them, how to feed them, which may all seem easy for a full-term baby but has its own challenged for a preemie.
After a few days in Special Care, their temperature had stabilized enough that we could dress them! I remember picking out their first tiny outfit and the nurses teaching us how to dress them without disconnecting any of their monitors. Their first outfits were preemie sized and were still hanging off their little bodies. Every night before we left, we would change them into the pajamas. (Side note- if you are buying a preemie gift for a baby in the hospital- no zippers! You can’t feed the monitor wires through the zippers!) We’d set them up in their isolette and hang a blanket over it to block out the light and sit there watching them until they fell asleep.
We were finally able to hold them wrapped in blankets, like a real baby (not just skin to skin.) This was much easier when we had visitors so not every person who came in had to see me half naked. After a few weeks, our families could hold them as well and we taught them how to hold them appropriately (holding a three-pound baby is scary shit). The nurses taught us comforting ways to hold them so they did not get overwhelmed. It was so special to finally have visitors that could hold these bundles of joy and we could take pictures of all the people who loved them so much.
At this point, we were so excited to show them off. They were over a month old and honestly, very few people had been able to see them outside of the isolette. It amazed me how many wonderful friends and family came to see us and meet our babies. The hospital could become a lonely place, especially weekday afternoons where Geoff was still at work and I sat there alone a lot of the time. This experience also helped me come to terms with who in this world would truly be there for us. There were people who I never would have expected to become so supportive and there were others, who I would have thought would have been there for us, that were not. It was a tough reality to grasp but now we’ve made peace with who loved us and our babies in this world.
We were taught how to give them their first bath. We had some great nurses who told us about all the stink spots (toes, behind their ears, in the rolls of their neck, etc.) and showed us how to clean them appropriately. Bath days were always the most fun because for a few minutes, we got to take off all the monitors and carry them around like “real babies.” The twins also LOVED their baths- they would smile, relax and be so content in the small basin that we would wash them in. It was one of my favorite times of the week.
Our Occupational Therapists taught us how to comfort the babies and how to work out their muscles to build strength. First work outs! We were taught a variety of exercises and put that on our to do list every day to help them develop. These also became very important as they came home later into an unfamiliar environment and how we had to work to keep them from becoming overstimulated.
We were finally able to feed them their first bottle! This was a major milestone because obviously, babies can’t go home until they can eat on their own and not from an orange tube in their nose. The learning to drink process is the hardest and most heart wrenching. We would come into the hospital every day to see what percentage of their feeds they had taken from the bottle. When it was high, it was so exciting but when it was low, it was just another reminder about how much more time they would have to spend in the hospital.
As I reflect back, our time in the Special Care Nursery was just that… very special care. Our babies were taken care of by the most amazing people for their first fifty-six days of life. The parents in that unit also receive special care. These nurses taught us how to be parents to premature babies. They taught us how to protect them from the outside world. They taught us how to mix their breast milk with formula to make it a higher calorie. They taught us how to administer medicine. They taught us how to get them to sleep. They taught us how to advocate for our children. They taught us how to be brave in the face of scary situations. They taught us how to be a mother and father to premature twins.
Next up…. Taking home a 4 lb baby!