We became very familiar, even comfortable, with the NICU during Thomas' four month stay. We assisted with his feedings and with anything else the staff would allow us help with. We learned what to watch for (and what to ignore) on the monitors that he was connected to 24 hours a day. Basically, we learned how to be NICU parents following the example set by the other parents we saw in the NICU.
Thomas was fed breast milk through a small tube (see picture this page). The tube was passed down his throat by the nurses, directly into Thomas' stomach. Babies at this stage have no gag reflex, so it is not thought to be uncomfortable for them. At this point, he was too immature to be able to "suck, swallow and breath" the way a more mature baby would to accomplish eating.
When Thomas was first born, we were told of the advantages of feeding preemies breast milk and encouraged to provide it for him. Natalie rented a special breast pump and began pumping her breasts every 3 or 4 hours. She was instructed to save all of it, even if she only got a little. The milk was marked with Thomas' name and the date, then frozen and put into storage.
My wife's persistence made it possible for Thomas to receive breast milk, exclusively, for the first seven and a half months of his life.
Having a baby in the hospital completely disrupts your life. We ate out, ordered take out, or ate one of the care packages we received from well wishers, most every night of the week. We had little time for normal things like cooking dinner. We made light of the situation and joked that we had the best day care money could buy and could still go out anytime we wanted. What we really wanted, of course, was a healthy baby and a return to a somewhat normal life.
For the first ten weeks of Thomas' life, his mother was on maternity leave and able to devote herself to Thomas 100%. Knowing she was at the hospital everyday made it easier for me to go to work. I knew that she would call with updates and progress reports if anything exciting happened. Then every day after work, I would go directly to the hospital and stay for about an hour or so.
We found the first five weeks of Thomas' hospitalization the hardest. He gained weight very slowly after dropping to as low as 1 pound 6 ounces two days after his birth. Everyday we would visit, but he would always seem the same. People would continuously ask if he weighed 2 pounds yet. Our answer was always no.
We were assured by the nursing staff that he was doing great and that progress would come before we knew it. We knew the nursing staff had seen this all before and tried to trust what they were telling us. They were right, of course, but it was hard to see it at the time.