My daughter was born at 34.5 weeks. I was planning a home birth, so when my water broke early I was in deep conflict about what to do. I decided to stay home because I have worked in hospitals before and knew that if I went to the hospital she would be immediately whisked into NICU and probably kept there just based on her gestational age. My midwives agreed to support me (I am also a midwife). I knew that chances were she would be absolutely fine and trusted that if she was not, we could transport. The birth was fast and she was fine- 5lbs 11oz, came out crying, latched right away, etc.
But, she lost a full lb in the first week and despite vigorous breastfeeding and exposure to sunlight, she developed severe jaundice. So at 7 days old we had to bring her in to the NICU to be under the bilirubin lights. The experience was horrendous from start to finish. We went to the hospital that my pediatrician has privileges at, instead of the one with the best NICU- so this was mistake number one. We should have just walked into the ER at the better hospital. Anyway our NICU stay went like this:
1. When we walked in they brought her into the back, wouldn't let me go with her, and gave her an umbilical line without my permission because they thought they 'might' need to do a full blood transfusion. I understand that it gets harder and harder to put in and was basically a miracle that they got it in at all at 7 days old, but I would have preferred to put her under the lights for 5 hours and then retest her bilirubin to see if it was going down enough to avoid a transfusion- which is exactly what happened. Her numbers went down steadily and she never needed the transfusion.
2. The NICU did not have CHAIRS in it for parents to sit in. Nor did they have a waiting room. They simply had a few chairs in the vending machine room down the hall. So there I was, 7 days post partum having to stand for hours on end and my mother was sleeping on a chair next to the pop machine. I was the only parent who refused to leave the room when visiting hour (singular) was over, so the nurses hated me, but I really didn't care. I felt like if my baby was going to experience this trauma, I needed to at least be there with my voice and smell as a constant presence. We had already had a week of breastfeeding and cuddling under our belts. I stood for 12 hours the first day that she was there. That is just cruel. One of the nurses asked why I didn't just go home and sleep and I explained that I felt my presence and constant touch (albeit one hand through the incubator) was comforting for her and crucial to attachment in this early phase. The nurse said "you don't actually think she knows you are here or can hear you and recognize your voice, do you?"... uh, she has jaundice, not deafness. At that point they called in some random midwives from the L&D floor to try to coerce me to come hang with them- anything to get me out of there so they could talk shit about the patients/parents in peace, which is what they did with me in the room anyway.
3. While pumping was encouraged, I was not allowed to breastfeed. Ridiculous. She wasn't hooked up to any machines other than the lights so they could have just shone the light on her while she nursed but they were not having it. Not that I could have breastfed- there were no chairs! I remember one day I walked into the pump room (basically a closet with a curtain) and the pump wouldn't turn on. I popped my head out to the nurses station to ask for help and the nurse said verbatim "Even if I wanted to help you, I wouldn't know how".
4. After my making a fuss about the umbilical line being placed unecessarely and without consent, the doctor tried to convince me that the up side of the line was that they wouldn't need to do a heel stick every time they had to take her blood (every 4 hours)- so she would be spared a bunch of needles. This was comforting until the nurses started coming in and sticking her heel. When I asked them to use the line since that is what it was there for, they said they were told not to use it because it increased risk of infection. I asked that they then remove the line, but they refused. So basically everyone was full of BS and everyone hated me because I was the only parent who questioned what they were doing to my baby and attempted to advocate for her. I felt like everyone else was just in too much shock and did whatever the doctors told them too because they just wanted their babies to be ok.
5. Her numbers went rapidly down. By day two they were at a reasonable/normal infant level. By day three they took her off the lights. They wanted to keep her in the hospital another day so that they could observe her and make sure her numbers continued to go down. I requested that since her numbers were low and they weren't going to test again for 10 hours, they let me bring her home where I could breastfeed and hold her and I would bring her back they next morning so they could retest her. To me this seemed perfectly logical- but the doctor refused to sign off on it because once they discharge her I couldn't bring her back into the NICU for testing. I told them I would bring her to my pediatrician for testing, or outpatient or ANYwhere, just let me hold and feed my baby and get some sleep! I had been awake for 3 days and standing basically the whole time at a week post-partum. The doc refused, so after consulting with my pediatrician and my sister who is an internist who both thought it was insane that they were holding her, I decided to take her out AMA. Apparently this is against hospital policy, so they told me if I took her they would call the police and child protective services on me. They then literally locked me out of the NICU saying there might be a fire drill and I couldn't be in there if there was. WTF???
This really set me into a post partum, hormonal, mama bear rage. I called a friend who is a lawyer and she got in her car to come down. I called a friend who is the editor for one of the cities largest newspapers to come down and write a story on how this NICU was completely un-mother/baby friendly. I called a friend from medical school who is the head of child protective services for the city to come down, so that when I walked my baby out they couldn't threaten to illegally arrest me (it's not state law that you can't sign a baby out AMA, just hospital policy) or call cps, because they were already there.
So when these three people walked into the NICU, the doctor immediately signed her out and made arrangements for me to bring her in the next morning for retesting. I was followed out of the hospital by some super apologetic administrators who kept saying "we can't have a newspaper article about this".
We went home, got skin to skin, nursed to sleep, and came back in the morning to retest and her numbers were great. She had an umbilical hernia as a result of the line for several months, but it eventually went in. I think in the end, I was way more traumatized than she was.