I recently read a blog post from a NICU mom that gave insight into the NICU, and expressed appreciation to NICU nurses for all that we do. It was so touching. Everyone wants to feel appreciated. We all want to feel like the effort that we have put in has not gone unnoticed. After reading that post I am moved to write about my appreciation for the NICU parent. I could never hope to write as eloquently as that mother did, but I do hope to make a few people feel appreciated in their efforts.
Whoever coined the term "NICU Mom," I don't know, but I do know that nobody aspires to be one. There is not one expectant mother out there who sees the two pink lines on the pregnancy test and says, "Yay, I can't wait to spend three months in the NICU watching my ever-longed-for precious gift from God experience pain and suffering that most people can't even begin to imagine." No father says, "I can't wait to be forced to choose between being with my critically ill newborn or his recovering mother," or "I can't wait to describe my child to his mother because she can't be with him, while trying to make her feel like it's going to be OK, when I'm not sure it's going to be." Nobody wants that, but when put in that situation, you step up.
You wheel your still-recovering body down to the NICU as soon as your doctor says you can, or sooner in some cases. Despite your hours of labor, followed by an emergency C-section, that have left you sleep deprived, mentally and physically drained, you wake every two to three hours to a breast pump so you can get the 2cc of milk that your baby may not be able to eat until days or weeks later. You hold your breath every time you see your hospital's name on the caller ID and think, "I only left for a couple of hours." You spend countless nights getting what little sleep you do get in a recliner or foldout sofa next to your baby's incubator.
Well, YOUR efforts have not gone unnoticed either.
I have never been a NICU parent, but after 13 years as a NICU nurse I know them pretty well. From the parents of a term baby who's only going to be there for a couple of days to those of a baby born at 23 weeks who may never know life outside of the NICU, I know your pain. I know that you are mourning the loss of your ideal. You are in a situation that you didn't plan on being in, and everything that you did plan is now unobtainable. You feel completely unable to control the situation around you. You are dependent on others to do what you so dearly long to be able to do for your own child. Everything that you would normally do to comfort and care for your baby has been taken away from you. I'm here to tell you, I understand your pain and I appreciate you.
You trust me with your most valued possession. You learn to trust my instincts and I yours. We become a team with one common goal in mind: to get your child home with you as quickly as possible and as healthy as possible. Thank you for that trust. You become my "friends" while we spend 36 hours a week together. After months of this, we have shared more conversation than I have with some of my closest friends. We have shared times of pain and times of joy. We have cried together and we have shared laughter. In some cases we share bonds that will extend far beyond the NICU. Thank you for being my friend.
You forgive me when I speak medical jargon. I've told you so many times about bradys, saturations and emesis that you start to speak the language back to me. You learn to convert grams to pounds and ounces in your head instantly (or you get an app for that). You celebrate every one of those grams gained like trophies earned; bowel movements become reason for celebration, too. Thank you for that forgiveness and for those celebrations. Most of you should have honorary nursing degrees.
On the day of discharge, I tell you to go home, stay on lockdown, screen your visitors and don't let anyone touch your child without washing their hands -- and you joyfully do so. I affectionately tell you to not come back and see me unless it's for a visit, while I secretly anticipate your next visit or Christmas card. Nothing brings me more joy than seeing you and your child thrive outside of the NICU. Thank you for keeping in touch and keeping us updated. The NICU can be a depressing place (as you know); your updates help us keep faith that all we do is for a very good reason.
Thank you, NICU parents, for all you do. You make my job bearable and sometimes even fun. Keep those chunky baby pictures coming, and thanks for the: cookies, doughnuts, brownies, candy, cupcakes and everything else too.