Wednesday, May 8, 2013


My son was early. Not terribly early, mind you, just a wee bit; born by emergency c-section at 36 weeks, 6 days, he was nearly full-term. But he was small - just over 4 1/2 pounds - so the attending neonatologist at his birth uttered the dreaded words: "He's coming with us." She said other things, too, but I don't remember any of them - the only words I heard were those four. We got a few minutes with him while I was being stitched back together, my husband holding his tiny swaddled body, pressing his cheek against mine so we could have some kind of skin-on-skin contact to bond us directly after the birth. We took a few pictures, then he was whisked away - my husband went with him, but I was wheeled into the recovery room, alone. 

Those few hours before I could see him again were the most torturous of my life. I couldn't go down to the NICU until I could stand under my own power, but I was weak, and tired, and completely by myself, and it seemed to take forever. My in-laws came to the hospital with my dad, but I felt so helpless - I was glad to see them, but ended up sending them away because I hadn't even been allowed to see my baby yet! After what seemed an eon, I could wiggle my toes, and got the go-ahead to be wheeled down to the NICU. I barely remember the next nine days.

If you've never been in the NICU, it's one of the most dichotomous places imaginable - on the one hand, people are elated, because they've just experienced the happiest event of their life in the birth of their child; on the other, the parents there are completely broken, smiles with dead eyes plastered on their faces, because in this happiest-of-all-moments, something's gone terribly wrong, and they are powerless to fix it.

Cue the nurses. More than the doctors, who are the bringers of information, prescriptions, and diagnoses, NICU nurses are a rare and precious breed among healthcare professionals; while caring for the tiniest, most helpless creatures alive, they also have to deal with the mothers and fathers, and be hand-holders, perpetual positive influences, walking the thin line between upbeat and not-too-cheery, reflecting the gravitas of the situation, but always with a ray of hope. Day-in and day-out, they see the sickest, tiniest, barely-just-alive babes, and every single day they are able to project the image to the vulnerable parents that everything will be all right. Thank all the deities at once for them.

We had eighteen nurses and three doctors (that I was aware of) specifically assigned to us during our stay. Our entire nine days could fill a book with the emotions and experiences we had there, but I'll keep this post short. Suffice it to say that every single staff member we encountered was loving, nurturing, professional, and rock-solid, at a time when we didn't have the strength or will to tie our own shoes. Because of them, not only is our precious Munchkin alive, but we made it through, as well.

Today was the Munchkin's 9-month developmental assessment, and he nailed it. Because he was a preemie, they're following his progress to spot potential issues and take care of them early. But today, he used his pincer grasp, followed instructions & learned out to drop a block inside a bucket, used a lot of vocalizations, stood up a bunch of times, pushed himself to sitting for the first time, and heard the darn bell he ignored at the last appointment. He's got homework to help strengthen his upper body since he's not crawling yet, but the specialist says she's not worried - he'll get there; he's observant and intelligent, and his development looks stellar. He's more interested in walking now, anyway. She said he's got the confidence and social skills of a 12-month-old! 

On our way home, I stopped by the NICU and called their front desk. I knew Munchkin wasn't allowed in because of the potential for infection, but I told the desk nurse I just wanted to say thank you for all they'd done. She told me to wait - and then two of our eighteen nurses came out to say hello! They remembered both of us, were so delighted to have the chance to see how well he'd grown, and were thrilled at his developmental assessment. It hit me at that moment that they almost never get to witness the fruits of their labor - how many families actually take the time to come back and see them? If you're a nurse to adults, you might recognize a former patient on the street or in the supermarket, but a NICU nurse would never recognize a grown child without their parent. So I'll go back, again and again, to say thank you. Thank you for holding my hands and hugging me while I cried. Thank you for putting on a brave face while sticking our son with his 12th IV. Thank you to those scrubbed-up angels for saving my boy, and our sanity. You don't know how much you've blessed our lives.


  1. A dear friend of mine is in school to become a NICU nurse; sharing this beautiful story with her! :)

    Laura Hodos

  2. Dear friend, such a beautiful tribute! I know those nine days seemed the longest of your life and I am so glad that you had such angels to help carry you!