Everest, Giving Birth & the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)
“What was harder Squash, Everest or having a baby?”. I have been asked this question so many times since Kit was born and I definitely have the answer (keep reading to find out!). But I’ve also been thinking about the similarities of both “events”.
I never imagined climbing Everest 7 years ago would have helped prepare me for this.
Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)
Kit was 8 weeks premature. I’ve been in hospital for over a month, almost 4 weeks in the NICU with her so far. She’s doing well, each day she’s gaining weight and getting stronger but this is no easy journey.
She’s out of her incubator and in a cot, she still has a feed drip in her nose going into her stomach, three electrodes on her chest monitoring her heartbeat and respiration and an oxygen monitor. There’s so many pipes and wires. I’m thankful for them, I also can’t wait for her to be free of them.
Her care is in 3.5hr cycles. And this is how my days go
- I take her out of her cot
- Change her nappy
- Take her temperature
- Check her wires and unplug her
- Weigh her
- Move to a nearby chair and breast feed for as long as she can stay awake
- Re weigh her so we can calculate how much milk she will need via her drip
- Plug her back into all the monitors
- Hold her against my skin while the remaining milk goes in through her drip
- Put her back in her cot and get the remainder of my milk using a breast pump
All the above takes anything from 1-2.5hrs. Leaving me the remaining time to eat, sleep, shower or grab some fresh air outside. This process will continue until she is fully feeding from me and then we can go home.
Everest – The Similarities
The pain of giving birth and the pain of seeing my baby, so fragile and tiny, having procedures like needles being pushed into her head because the attempts to find veins in her legs and arms failed, has been huge.
The pain on a mountain is different but it’s still pain. I remember on Everest summit day, being so exhausted and so freezing cold that it hurt. In both cases, knowing that ultimately the pain will end, gets me through.
Focusing on One Thing
Climbing Everest was all consuming and needed my total focus and attention. During the expedition, I did nothing but what was essential to the expedition. I didn’t spend time on anything else.
This past month has been all about focus and giving 100% of my energy, effort and love to Kit. I’ve not been working, I’ve been out of touch with people, I’ve barely been on social media and I’ve not left the hospital, except to get some fresh air.
The Mental Game
During the expedition a huge amount of time was spent acclimatising. (Allowing the body time to adjust to the increased altitude and decreased oxygen levels). This meant there was a huge amount of time being patient and doing v little. Once we reached basecamp there were days of sitting around, hours and hours being alone in my tent, simply acclimatising. People were around but there was still a massive amount of time spend just in my own head.
Since being in the NICU with Kit, I’ve had visitors, the medical staff around me and of course Kit next to me. But I’ve also had hours and hours of time just patiently waiting, being quietly there by her side, holding her, holding her hand and thinking a billion thoughts. Normally, day to day, I’m so distracted by so many things but here, like Everest, there’s so much time in my own head.
One Step at a Time
How did I climb Everest? I took one step at a time.
How are we getting through these days and weeks in NICU? The same, one step, one hour at a time.
Due to the altitude and physical demand on the body it’s essential on Everest to eat and drink large amounts. On the mountain I was easily drinking 5-7litres of water a day and eating non-stop to get the calories in.
Breast feeding, like mountaineering, requires hundreds of extra calories and good hydration. I’m on my 4th litre of water so far today and it’s only 2pm.
Systems & Organisation
Being organised and having good systems and routines on Everest was vital. Energy needed to be conserved and avoiding frost bite was a huge task. If gear wasn’t where it should be or something didn’t get done the consequences could be game changing to the success of the expedition.
In the same way when caring for a tiny baby in NICU everything needs to be perfectly organised. There’s so much to be done, routine and systems are key.
I didn’t climb Everest, we climbed Everest. There was no way I would have had a successful expedition without the Sherpa’s, my team mates, my sponsors and my family and friends. It was a huge team effort.
The team here in the hospital, the support from my family and friends and the support from people who I’ve never even met has been incredible. Kit’s care has involved a huge team effort.
Without doubt, Everest was the toughest thing I’d ever done in my life. Physically, mentally and emotionally. Each time I thought, ‘that’s it, I can’t go on’, I found something in me and kept going.
This whole experience is up there with the toughest too. Right from when I was 12wks pregnant; the Deep Vein Thrombosis, pregnancy issues, being on bed rest, my waters breaking early, Kit arriving early and now functioning on so little sleep. But that thing that’s inside me, so deep – I’ll do whatever it takes for as long as it takes.
Success on Everest for me was ultimately about making it home safe and well and this latest ‘expedition’ is no different. I can’t wait to be home… safe and well with our beautiful baby.
“What was harder Squash, Everest or having a baby?”
Climbing Everest taught me lessons that I have used ever since; in my everyday life and now in child birth and being in NICU.
Which was harder? This.
Climbing Everest has got nothing on having a baby!
To all you amazing parents out there, wow, you’re all my heros! Especially the women who go through pregnancy and give birth to these precious gifts.