This is the final chapter in my series of blog posts to celebrate the twins turning 1. So far I’ve talked about pregnancy, the birth and my time on the maternity ward. In this post I hope to touch on our new NICU routine, the reality of being a parent to a child in NICU, highs, lows and of course the all important milk production.
Though I always knew when the twins arrived, they would be admitted to the NICU unit and that they would probably stay there for some time; nothing prepared me for the sense of privilege I felt during our time there. I expected to feel fear, anxiety, sadness, hopefully some happiness as the twins made progress, possibly some frustration and definitely lots of love but not pride. I was proud of how we were all coping with the situation so far and proud to live in a country where this fantastic care is free to all.
Due to my c-section I couldn’t drive, so fortunately my Mum and Dad came to stay for the duration of the twins time in NICU. Raj decided to wait until the twins came home to take his paternity leave, when he could be of most help.
To begin with the twins were both in the high dependency unit so it was a case of getting used to the wires and alarms, learning how to change their tiny nappies while they were inside their incubators and understanding all the medical talk. Fortunately neither twin had any complications as such, other than being small and therefore needing help to feed and regulate their body temperature. For the first few days (sorry that’s a bit vague) they remained in the same room but then some progress….Arjun was moved into one of the other rooms with the hope that he could maintain his glucose levels and have the jaundice blanket removed. Too much too soon as by the end of the day he was back in with Nayan. But it wouldn’t be for long.
The next morning when we all arrived, Arjun had moved again and this time his glucose levels were stable. He would still need his fluorescent light pack for jaundice, on and off for a few more days but moving out of that first room felt like a big step forward. It was hard now though, as I felt like I needed to split myself in half to be able to see them both. Having to leave one to go and spend time with the other was heart-wrenching.
I’ll give you an insight into my daily routine now, but first let me say, I really wish I’d kept a diary of this time because the specifics are so cloudy in my mind. I guess I was just too concerned with surviving this difficult period and getting through each day. I can remember the important bits, our daily routines and the progress made to get us closer to home but I have less of an idea about the timings and small details from each day. It felt as though each day rolled into the next and all that mattered was surviving one day at a time. That also became my life mission for several months following the twins release from NICU!
Mum, Dad, Krish and I would aim to get to the hospital before 11am when the Doctors finished their rounds. Mum and Dad would leave with Krish at 1 ish and Raj would arrive between 3 and 4. Then we would both leave until morning at about 6pm. During those 7 hours at hospital I would try to express as often as I could (realistically 2 or 3 sometimes 4 times), establish breastfeeding by nursing whenever the boys were awake, have plenty of skin to skin and try to find time to eat. The breast pump quickly became my best friend and I soon started to get some good amounts so that Arjun no longer need formula top-ups unless my EBM (expressed breast milk) ran out over night. Eventually this didn’t happen anymore and both boys were nursing more and having less milk through their tubes. But it took persistence and determination. My stubborn streak came through and I was hell bent on proving anyone who told me I’d have to use formula or introduce bottles, wrong.
By the end of our first week in NICU, Arjun was out of his incubator and wearing actual clothes. Nayan had moved out of HDU but was still in his incubator.
The temperature was dropped slowly and soon he was out too and into a hot cot. A standard cot with a heated mattress. They had an advantage in regulating their body temperatures by snuggling together and Arjun particularly liked the warmth of Nayan’s hot cot.
During our time in NICU I personally enjoyed speaking to other parents in there, to hear their stories and share experiences. Often these chats took place in the “milking” room where I spent many hours expressing that precious milk. There was one mum in particular who I got on well with and we are still in touch thankfully. We mainly chatted about milk supply to begin with. She sent her husband to buy fenugreek tablets for us and I shared bag full of oat and raisin cookies!
I think the thing that helped my supply the most was actually just feeding my babies. The more I cuddled and fed the more milk I could express. Arjun quickly let the nurses know that he wanted his tube removed and was keen to breastfeed exclusively. Basically he had started waking up a lot in the night and a tube feed didn’t seem to settle him. So on Easter weekend it was decided that I should move into one of the flats. As well as a canteen discount voucher that NICU parents receive, once you are a resident in the flat you can have free meals from the maternity ward so all I would need were a few snacks and some meal options in case I couldn’t get to the ward at the right time. Mum and Dad cooked extra so there was always a spare meal should I need one. Packing my bags made me feel like I should be excited, as if I was off on a holiday. But I was quite apprehensive! What if the exclusive breastfeeding didn’t go well and Arjun needed his tube putting back in? With all the breastfeeding I was doing, I was finding less time to express. So if this didn’t work there may not be enough for the both of them. I really didn’t want to resort to formula, so for a few days I swear all I did was feed and pump non-stop! Oh and eat….a lot, especially snacks!
The set-up was that Arjun could stay on the ward with Nayan but during the night, the nurse caring for them would ring me when he woke so I could come down to feed him. I snatched sleep when I could but soon remembered that zombie feeling that comes from having a newborn baby. Thankfully Arjun really took to this new agenda and soon his feeding tube was removed!
The final week flew by! Arjun was officially discharged on Tuesday 18th April but would stay with Nayan until he was ready for discharge too. At the time, we thought it might be a couple more weeks but by the next day the staff suggested I move the twins into the flat with me for a couple of nights with a view to taking them both home on Friday!! It caught me by surprise but I was so relieved. So all I had to do was survive two nights in the flat; unfortunately on my own as Raj thought it was best to stay with Krish, breastfeed them both exclusively, with no tube feeds and as long as Nayan put on weight, then we could leave!
It was a tough couple of nights and I certainly didn’t sleep a lot but I basically fed them whenever they cried and tried to think positively that by the weekend we could all be home together. I got lots of practise tandem feeding and though I was surrounded by doctors and nurses and I was only alone with them over night, it gave me confidence that I might actually be able to do this mother of twins thing!
Drum roll please…….. Nayan put on 15 grams. Not a lot but hey, it meant that on Friday 21st April 2017 we left NICU and as a family, we all took our baby boys home.
This has been a hugely cathartic process and if you managed to read to the end of all of four posts…well done!
I wish I had a cute leaving hospital in the car seat photo, maybe with a few members of NICU staff included but I don’t so you’ll have to make do with one of them a year later.
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