I don’t often talk about this, and I honestly haven’t told many people about this either. I don’t even think many people know that Seth was in the NICU. I’m not sure if it’s because I still have terrible anxiety about Seth’s health, or if it’s because I sometimes feel like I’m not a real “NICU mama” and our story doesn’t deserve sharing.

Either way, this is it

When Seth was born, he had jaundice. The paediatrician tested his bilirubin levels and felt that we needed to stay in hospital an extra night to monitor Seth. He was monitored overnight and the paed had felt like he would recover at home. We were given Vit D drops and told to put Seth in the sun as much as possible (this was almost impossible because it was the most miserable, rainy week).

We were discharged on the Saturday morning and we were so excited to go home with Seth. He was still very yellow and struggling with feeding but doing really well otherwise.

Although Seth latched perfectly and my milk came in quickly, he was combination fed with breastfeeding and formula for a number of reasons (at that stage it was due to his jaundice). However, I will never forget the sheer panic I felt each time we had to wake him to feed. Seth has never really been demand fed because in the beginning, he just wouldn’t wake to feed. We would try everything to get him to wake. We tried wetting him with a cold cloth, splashing water on his feet and undressing him, and often, nothing would work. It was terrifying, but the paed assured us that it would get better as his jaundice subsided.

By Monday morning, Seth was VERY yellow and lethargic and not really feeding much. My milk had come in and his latch was brilliant, so it was difficult to accept that he wasn’t feeding. He would scream through feeds or fall asleep within seconds, whether it was a breastfeed or a bottle feed.

We noticed that there was some redness and swelling around his umbilical cord and so we took him to the nurse to check it out. She said it looked slightly infected but that there was nothing to worry about and sent us on our way.

By Tuesday morning, Seth was SO lethargic and SO yellow that we took him to our GP to get checked out. Because the white of his eyes and his skin was so yellow, she sent us straight to the lab to have his bilirubin level tested. I remember being somewhat surprised at the urgency of our GP. We even debated on the way to the lab about whether or not it was really necessary to take him then or if it could wait until the morning. 

Thank goodness for gut feelings.

After a very traumatic experience of our little 5 day old baby having blood drawn, we waited for the results. A little while later, a very concerned nurse came out to speak to us and told us to immediately take Seth to the emergency room because his bilirubin levels required emergency treatment. They were in the high risk zone. 

The emergency room doctor saw us and sent us straight to the NICU at the Linkwood Hospital, where we were told a team of nurses and doctors would be waiting for us. We didn’t even have a chance to go home to get clothes for Seth and only had his nappy bag with the essentials in it.

We arrived at the hospital and Brad was made to wait outside until he had a negative covid test, which only happened a full day after this. (Seth and I had a rapid test done in the emergency room). An incubator bed was prepared for Seth before we arrived and as I walked in, a team of nurses and doctors were waiting to assess him. This in itself was incredibly traumatic for me. I lay him down on the bed and had to step back and watch while they rushed to get monitors on him, take bloods and insert an IV. I felt like I was watching a movie unfold in front of my eyes. I just wanted to hold Seth. 

Whilst the doctor was assessing Seth, she checked his umbilical cord, and despite what the nurse had told us the previous day, he had full blown Omphalitis, which is a potentially life threatening umbilical cord infection. They tested to see what bacteria had caused the infection and the results showed that is was a bacteria called Klebsiella. A fairly common hospital “superbug”. Because of the infection being in the umbilical cord, this meant that it was in his blood stream, although, thankfully it had not yet become bad enough to cause sepsis.

Seth was put on a 7 day long course of IV antibiotics and was placed under blue lights for 4 of those days. He spent a total of 8 days in the NICU. (This may not seem like a long time, but it felt like an absolute lifetime). 

The doctors suspected that the severe jaundice caused Seth’s little body to not be able to fight off the infection, and the infection in turn caused the processing of the bilirubin to take a back seat. A vicious circle. 

Leaving Seth there on that first night was the most difficult thing we have ever done. In fact, every time we left him, our world felt like it crumbled around us. It felt like the most unnatural, counterintuitive thing. I knew he absolutely needed the medical care, but all I wanted to do was hold my baby.

Whilst Seth was under the blue lights, we were not allowed to hold him or feed him. The most we could do was stroke his cheek and this was really difficult for us. One parent was allowed in at a time, and we were only allowed in during certain hours. The hospital was about half an hour away from home, so we couldn’t keep up with going up and down. This meant that we spent many hours sitting outside in our car, waiting for when we could go in. We took turns being with Seth, eating and sleeping. 

There were many difficult moments while Seth was in the NICU. It was one of the most exhausting, terrifying and  traumatic experiences we’ve ever had to deal with. And it’s caused me to be incredibly anxious about Seth and his health. I’m working on this.

I’m working on not feeling like having our baby in the NICU is as result of me doing something wrong, that these things happen, that I didn’t fail him and that we’re lucky it wasn’t worse. 

Seth is doing so well now. His immune system is weaker than some and his severe GERD is in some part caused by the effects of the antibiotics on his stomach, but he is such a happy, thriving sweet boy that we are so grateful for and so proud of! 

Consulting Social Worker