The NICU Mom Badge: What To Expect If Baby Goes To The NICU


NICU momThis year, I earned a parenting badge I never wanted. I decided to wear it proudly and talk about it because this badge can be extremely isolating and scary to experience. My baby is a NICU graduate. I am now – and forever will be – a NICU mom. Our story is of course a trigger to those who may have shared this journey, so readers beware.

I will start by stating that I am blessed to have very boring pregnancies for the most part.

They are practically textbook—right up until the end. Then things get a little dicey. With my first, I had hypertension at 39 weeks. My eager first time mom self decided that an induction sounded just great, and so began 28 hours of fun trying to get a baby out that absolutely did not want to leave.

My second child flipped the script and was late, and her eviction experience almost resulted in an unplanned C-section, but fortunately we dodged that bullet in the nick of time.

My third little bundle of joy was evicted at 38 weeks due to cholestasis, which is when mama’s liver starts to fail and delivery is the only cure. 

I wasn’t too surprised when the OB called to come in for a non-stress test after my second blood draw because my liver enzyme numbers weren’t great.

I figured that, at 38 weeks, baby was basically fully cooked, so he could “come any time” and be fine.

What I didn’t expect was that I’d earn my NICU mom badge with him. I made sure to eat a balanced meal of donuts before I went into triage that day because there was a 50/50 shot that I’d have a baby in my arms in 24 hours. When my husband got the call that the eviction notice was handed down, he walked on over since I delivered at his place of work (convenient right?).

The labor process was smooth—probably the smoothest one yet.

I knew what to expect and the doctors were very hands off. It took 16 hours and like I predicted, baby came out quickly once everything was ready to go. He was placed on my chest and he took a few seconds to cry. Once he did, everyone was happy.

But he was breathing like he couldn’t quite catch his breath.

The nurses said that he had “five minutes to get it” before they intervened. This means that we held him for only five minutes and marveled at how he was my older son’s twin. We took in his tiny hands and his strawberry blonde hair and we panicked internally because he was still struggling to breathe deeply.

The five minutes were up and the nurse took him to the basinet with the lights on him to try to suction out what might have been obstructing his breathing. When that didn’t work, we got the words no mother wants to hear:

“We are going to take him to the NICU for observation.”


Now, this particular NICU is one of the best in the state (another reason I’m really happy we delivered here). I was expecting there to be maybe a few hours of watching him before he just caught up with the reality that he was on the outside now.

Unfortunately, that is not how things played out. I became a NICU Mom.

Despite my baby being “early term” or “full term” depending on whom you ask, his little lungs were underdeveloped. They officially diagnosed him as having Respiratory Distress Syndrome, which is just a fancy term for “his lungs don’t work like they should.”

We were told that he would be observed and that he might be able to go home by the next day, but that is never how things go in the NICU.  

As many NICU survivors will tell you, one of the biggest traumas you experience is seeing your helpless baby and getting very little concrete information on their progress or when they can come home with you.

There is a constant emotionally roller coaster of “maybe tomorrow” that goes on seemingly into infinity.

You can talk to all the doctors and nurses and they will all tell you something hopeful that is also tinged in extreme caution. Each day is a marathon because a little progress is a triumph and a small setback can be the difference between life and death.

The amount of emotional fortitude a NICU Mom needs to weather that storm of unknown is incredible.

Our baby had a ten-day stay in the NICU. He survived having a c-pap machine, a breathing tube, an intubation and sedation, a punctured lung, and two rounds of surfactant to help his little lungs mature. Then he was tube fed and eventually bottle and breast fed, and when he could consistently gain weight, he was finally released to go home. While he was in the NICU, he lost a whole pound due to the distress his little body was under, and at a 7lb birth weight, this was not good.

Fortunately, he is a fighter, and he would reach every milestone the doctors set for him.

We realized halfway through that his condition resembled my husband’s first few weeks of life, and it turns out they both have a genetic predisposition to not make as much surfactant in the womb. The doctors informed us that we might want to get tested for this if we decide to have another baby.

Like most NICU survivors will tell you, the harder parts are leaving the hospital without a baby and having to go there each day and care for a child you can’t hold or touch much while you also have children at home that need you.

We would not have made it without the help of our friends and family who all rallied to help us in our time of need. That is what made it bearable, and I honestly don’t know where I would be if we didn’t have them.

Miraculously, both my baby and myself seem to have survived this process without many physical or emotional scars, but many aren’t as lucky.

Statistics show that moms who have babies in the NICU are much more likely to develop postpartum depression and they often report experiencing birth trauma. These moms need extra love and support both during and after the NICU stay.

If you know someone going through this, reach out to them.

Offer them a meal. Offer to watch their other children. Offer to stand in and watch baby so they can go home and sleep. Just be there. That’s what makes the difference between a “bad start” and a “traumatic one.” I never wanted this NICU Mom badge, but now I know I can survive it thanks to my tribe.

NICU mom