The Moment I Knew
When I started nursing school, I wanted to do labor and delivery, eventually becoming a certified nurse midwife. But then Jarrod was born, at 23 weeks and weighing 525 grams. Jarrod was small but mighty, and he fought hard for 56 days. Then he got NEC, it was too much for his little body to overcome. My first experience with the NICU was a hard one, but I knew it was where I belonged. Jarrod had inspired me and I knew this was my calling. While I was in school, I volunteered in the NICU, just to get a foot in the door. I requested NICU as my final clinical in school and was so excited when I was offered a position in the NICU before graduation.
Isn’t It Sad?
This is the question I get asked most about my job, and yes there are absolutely times that are devastating, but there are so many more times of happiness and hope, that make the hard times easier. We see babies of all sizes, different conditions, babies who are extremely sick, babies that we expected to come to the NICU, and babies that we didn’t expect. I have cried tears of sadness and tears of joy at my job. I have held hands of moms when they couldn’t touch their baby because the baby is just that sick, and I have chased toddlers that were once babies I cared for. My first NICU primary patient just started 4th grade and I couldn’t be more proud. So yes there are sad times, but there are also so many happy times.
As a mother I can not imagine leaving my vulnerable, sick baby at a hospital and going home, but these NICU moms do it everyday, some for months at a time, and they do it with strength and grace. I will tell you, if you’re my patient, to go home. Not because I don’t want you there, but because I want you to trust me. Trust me to take care of your baby, to love your baby like I love my own babies, to advocate for your baby. Trust me to know that if you need to be there, I will make sure you are there. I tell you to go home and sleep because I need you here. I need you to be well, to be able to hold your baby skin to skin, to be ready to give your baby the first bottle, to be prepared to ask the doctors your questions and be able to understand the answers they give you. I need your body to be well enough to produce the milk your baby needs. I know that it will take time, but please trust me.
Ask All The Questions
There is nothing that can prepare a family for the roller coaster ride of a NICU stay, whether you are with us for a day or a year, it isn’t easy. I promise to be there for you and for your baby. I will answer questions to the best of my ability and if I don’t know the answer, we will find someone who does. I know you’re going through every emotion every day that you are here; I want you to be heard and I want you to feel safe and feel that your baby is safe. My advice is ask questions. This is my everyday, but I know it is all new to you, so please ask no matter how small of a question it is. Some questions don’t have answers – the NICU is full of wait and see. We have a general timeline of what to expect, but every baby is different, we let them go at their own speed, nothing good ever comes of rushing a baby, so as hard as it is, let them take their time.
After The NICU
NICU nurses have a very different experience than most nurses who only have their patients for a day or a week; some of our babies celebrate their first birthday with us. Our bond with our babies and their families last a lifetime. We get invited to birthday parties, watch our babies grow and go off to school. I have worked with nurses that have taken care of a baby and then one day that baby’s baby. We love you and we love your baby. If you have a nurse that you’ve bonded with, send that nurse pictures of your baby as they grow. Come back to visit the NICU – there is nothing better than seeing a NICU graduate come back and visit as a wild healthy toddler. So while your NICU journey might end when you walk out that door, I know you will always remember us, and you can be sure that we will always remember you and your baby as well.
*All pictures and stories used with permission*