How do you describe the NICU to someone who has no idea what lies beyond those heavy double doors?
I will never forget my first time in a NICU.
I was a new mother, still recovering from an incredibly traumatic delivery of my first rainbow baby. We barely escaped a NICU stay but that was not why I was in the NICU. I was actually visiting my husband who was a brand new pediatric resident. He was on his NICU rotation and I hadn’t seen him in what seemed like forever, so I had gathered up our newborn and headed to the hospital to grab dinner in the hospital cafeteria with him.
As I stood just inside the NICU at the clerk station waiting for him a nurse walked past me holding a little newborn kitten. I remember thinking it was so odd that a tiny kitten would be in a “baby nursery”. I had NO IDEA and NO CONCEPT of what I was seeing. I remember asking my husband why the nurse had her kitten there. When he told me she was holding A BABY the lump in my throat was impossible to swallow. I immediately teared up and felt overwhelming sadness and compassion for the parents of that tiny little baby. A baby that fit into the palm of her hand, that didn’t look like any baby I had ever seen. I was stunned. I thought about that baby constantly. I couldn’t ask anything about the baby, but my mind dwelt on this tiny little person and my interest in the those that are the tiniest and mightiest among us never left me.
When my husband told me he had decided to specialize in neonatology I couldn’t believe it. After the shock wore off, I started amassing books to read about this new adventure we were about to set out on. I wanted to know more about the survival of the babies, but I also was very interested in the well being of the parents. While our own journey into parenthood had been heartbreaking because of two losses as well as joyous because of 4 healthy boys, we had not personally known and loved someone who had experienced the NICU with their own children. That is not until 2007. That was the year our dear friends delivered premature 24 week twins. My first visit in the NICU where I encountered that tiny little person was suddenly magnified a million times as I watched my friend’s precious twins struggle for life. I was a godmother for one of them and I prayed for all of them constantly and watched the struggle of baby and parents as the reality of this fragile life and the experience of the NICU affected the entire family.
NICU Awareness is so important because it changes you when you truly understand what happens to babies and families behind those doors. Miracle and tragedy walk hand-in-hand through the hallways of a NICU. Parents never know which one is going to stop first at their child’s isolette. To say “the struggle is real” is truly an understatement.
There are babies so tiny that their fingers are webbed, their eyes are completely fused shut and their skin is shiny and translucent. There are also babies that are big, close to or perhaps even slightly beyond full term that are teetering on the edge of this world and eternity as well. They should be healthy because they made it to 36 weeks, 38 weeks, 40+weeks gestation…but their life hangs in the balance just like the 22 weeker. Perhaps they have a congenital heart defect or a genetic disorder. These babies look oh, so different…but the struggle for this family is as real as it is for the family with the baby on the brink of viability. A different scene..but the emotions the same: fear, loss, grief, guilt, anger, sadness, frustration…the list goes on and on. Different babies, gestations, and complications but the common, shared experience of loss. Loss of an ideal pregnancy/delivery, loss of a healthy baby, loss of cuddlings and bonding immediately and whatever else they may have longed for with this child.
So what should we all learn during NICU Awareness Month?
Here are a few things that I think are important:
- Every baby and every family, no matter the gestation at birth are struggling with being in the NICU.
- Parents need intensive care just like their baby. It is IMPERATIVE to the long term health and well-being not only of the parents but the baby as well.
- Parents of NICU babies have all the desires and wishes of parents who don’t have NICU babies. They long to hold their child, to feed their child, to be the first one to give them a bath, a feeding, a diaper change. This is an innate part of being a parent.
- We should do EVERYTHING to make PARENT moments available in the NICU. In spite of the wires, the extra work and the extra time it takes to do it we MUST make it a priority. They are still PARENTS while in the NICU. Every opportunity to parent their child they would normally have at home should be no different in the NICU. We must validate, equip, encourage and support them as they begin their parenthood adventure. They will be the ones left to care for this child after the NICU so they should be supported in these activities while still in the NICU.
- Baby Vitals = Parent Vitals: Every time we access a baby’s vital signs and cues we should be accessing these in the parent as well. Parent well-being = Baby well-being.
Do you know a NICU parent? Take some time to connect with them and learn more about the NICU and their experience there. Your time will be well spent and this simple act of kindness will mean the world to a parent who has made or is currently making a journey through the NICU.
Please contact us at [email protected], by phone at (817) 668-5191 or visit www.nicuhelpinghands.org for more information.
NICU Family Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund
NICU Helping Hands are accepting designated donations for NICU families impacted by Hurricane Harvey. 100% of your donation (minus credit card transaction fees that we must pay) will be given to families impacted by the Hurricane. There will be a great need for these families, not only right now but for many months to come.
If you would like to be a part of helping NICU families affected by Hurricane Harvey please be sure that when making your online donation you designate it for NICU Family Hurricane Harvey Relief or donate directly HERE. If we can answer any questions please contact us at [email protected].
Thank you for making it possible for us to assist Tiny Texans and their families.