As I sit down to write these words, my precious girl is home, sleeping on my chest, and healthy. I know for many a “NICU mom” they don’t get this chance for a very long time, and some maybe never… So I’ll preface this by saying I know how truly blessed we are that our stay was short and Kennedy has made a full recovery. At the same time, that doesn’t make the experience we went through any easier.
It’s taken me a while to get to the point where I can even look at these photos. Even a week or two after being home, I would open up the file and immediately close it again. It took my mind right back to that delivery room and I just haven’t been ready to process it all. But here we are and I know this is what I need, to talk about it. Throughout this process, I’ve learned so much as a nurse, grown so much as a person, and learned a greater love for my husband and daughter than I ever thought possible.
For those who don’t know, I’m a nurse. Most of my background is in the Pediatric ICU (babies through teens). With our recent move I started a job in our local NICU; the same NICU in which we spent the first few days of Kennedy’s life. You would think, being a nurse in this field, I would have had some thought in the back of my mind that it was possible something would happen that would buy her a NICU stay. But no, that thought literally didn’t cross my mind.
My pregnancy was just about completely uneventful. I had every test known to man to check for complications and she was overdue. In my mind, not a single risk factor and I couldn’t wait to see her face and spend that first night together as a family in our little hospital room. We had our pink champagne and cute floral swaddle all ready to go. Still, not a thought crossed my mind that we wouldn’t be using those.
Labor was also pretty uneventful besides a fever that I spiked toward the end. Again, though, this didn’t bother me. If we needed to get her out quick, I was completely okay with that. Just as Kennedy was seeming to not appreciate the fact I had a fever, I was ready to push. Twenty five minutes later, she was out! She did have her arm up by her face, which made for a little bit of fun after her head came out, but my midwife coached me through that perfectly. They immediately placed her on my chest and I am so thankful for those few moments we had together.
I realized quickly though how quiet everything was… no crying just some coughing and sputtering. Then before I knew it, I heard the words no one wants to hear, “I’m just going to take her over to the warmer for a minute.” I was happy to hand her over figuring just a little suctioning and she would perk right up. As silence in the room only grew, my heart sank lower and lower. I couldn’t see over to the warmer and kept asking Nate, “What are they doing? What is happening??” My questions were met with more silence. Of course he didn’t really know what was happening either. Eventually the NICU nurse, my coworker, said, “I’m going to need to take her back with me to have her checked out more thoroughly.” They wrapped her up, let me kiss her goodbye, and then they were gone.
I laid there completely numb. Everyone told me how I would fall deeply in love with her at first sight, but honestly I felt nothing. I didn’t feel like it any of it was real. There I was, still delivering the placenta and getting sewn back together with no baby in my arms or her father by my side. After what felt like years, the texts from Nate started to come, photos and videos of her happily sucking on a pacifier and on oxygen. She looked so much better, but when the neonatologist, again a physician I work alongside, came in to update me he said she would need to stay. They assured me I could go visit her as soon as possible, but no one wants to go “visit” their brand new baby.
Finally I got the green light to hobble myself over to the wheelchair and be wheeled down the hallway toward the NICU. As we rounded the corner to enter the NICU I realized I was no longer a NICU nurse, I was a NICU mom. I could feel the look on my face and knew it matched so many of the other moms I have seen in the past coming in to see their baby for the first real time. A mixture of sadness, exhaustion, excitement, and defeat all at the same time. We weren’t able to hold her that night which was hard for me to swallow, but I had to keep reminding myself, I’m the mom not the nurse.
Over the next 48 hours I think all of the hormones came crashing down. I spent very little time not crying. Every person I saw with that “I’m so sorry” look in their eyes brought me to tears. Every question, hug, and gesture brought me to tears. After the tears came anger. Why was she still there? Why wasn’t more being done to help her improve so we could take her home? She looked fine to me, and hey this is what I do for my job, I can take care of any of this at home.
Then, in the middle of another cry/anger session one of the nurses I work with there said, “You know that this experience is going to make you an even more amazing nurse, right?” Nope, I hadn’t really thought of that.
I thought back on an interaction I had with a very angry father a few weeks prior. He was yelling and cursing at me because he didn’t understand what was keeping his son there in the NICU besides feeding and whenever he saw him eat, the baby did fine. Over and over I tried to calmly explain how things especially like feeding take time. And that a few feeds can go really well, but totally tucker them out and eventually it’s a little too much for them and a feeding will need to be given through the feeding tube. I know the anger came from fear and exhaustion and I get it. It sucks.
But now I’ve been in his shoes. I’ve sat there and held back screaming at my coworkers. Kennedy would feed so well with us and then a mere 6 hours later her feeding tube would be back in and we, again, would be prevented from holding her. Her breathing would be perfect and I would beg to wean her oxygen only to have it turned back up. Those same mean, unfair words coming out of his mouth went through my head as well.
Before now, I had never been on the other side. I’d never experienced first hand how different each nurse and physician do things and how frustrating that can be to a parent. I’ve never realized how a slight change in a tone of voice can make such a huge difference in your trust for the person caring for your child. I’ve also been able to look back and see how we needed those different personalities to succeed. We needed the nurses who would push her to her limits as much as we needed the super conservative nurses.
My perspective is forever changed. I know that this has changed me as a nurse, probable more than I even realize quite yet. And while I would never want to go through all of that again, I am trying to be thankful for all the empathy I’ve acquired. I pray that my experience will make a difference to even just one family, when I am their nurse. And as a mother, I pray that this experience will allow me to enjoy the times I spend with our little one that much more.