Remembering the NICU
Ninety-three days. Fourteen days. Thirty days. One hundred and twenty-eight days.
Everyone knows the exact number of days. Ours is twenty-six. Parents do not usually speak in weeks or months because every day mattered.
If you have ever had a child in the NICU, no matter the length of stay, you know your number.
Today our Annabelle turns eight months old, and we just passed the seven month mark since the blessed day we unhooked the monitors, dressed our daughter in her own clothes, buckled her in the car seat, and for the first time carried her through the doors of the hospital to a new world. The event felt like a jailbreak, and I kept waiting for someone to stop us.
I often think back to the days in the NICU. Our story has a very happy ending as many families have experienced. My heart breaks for those who cannot say the same, for those who are in the middle of their stay, and for those who have not yet begun the tumultuous journey.
People cope with these situations in different ways. At times I tried to pretend we had a really awesome babysitting service. Other times I would imagine that Annabelle was with her grandparents for the night. But most of the time the harsh reality was that my baby needed medical attention twenty-four hours a day and no one could confirm when this need would end, when we could gently close that chapter in our lives. While everyone’s story reads differently, the majority of NICU accounts include the incredible care given by the hospital staff, namely nurses.
The first night we left Annabelle was one the most difficult, and our nurse made all the difference. Her name is Donna, and I truly believe she is an angel. The verse in Hebrews about entertaining angels is often read as something that only happened in the Bible. In large part because of our twenty-six days, I believe angels are still in our midst today.
A simple “Thank you” to the team who in reality kept our baby alive seems entirely inadequate. Really, how would you begin to show how much they meant? And how much they mean? And how much they will always mean? While most of these people were only in my life for twenty-six days, not one day passes without remembering.
Not only did this diligent staff take care of Annabelle but they took care of me, too. Many of you know about being sleep deprived and hormone fluctuations and breastfeeding, not to mention just trying to keep your sanity while being away from this human you just birthed. AND, not to mention learning how to care for an infant. Before having a baby I felt fairly knowledgeable but it turns out I had a lot to learn. One silver lining of our NICU stay was being taught the basics of diaper changing, temperature taking, swaddling, bathing and breast/bottle feeding. They also trained me to look at my baby to check her color and breathing status. This lesson seems simple, but when your baby is hooked to monitors you become reliant on screens when alarms sound. You NICU parents know what I’m talking about. Look at your baby to see if he or she is breathing. The monitors did not come home with us.
Additionally, the doctors and nurses explained in layman’s terms the medical side of what was happening. They were patient. They let me cry, remaining steady as I was emotional. They encouraged me to call during the night just to check in. They celebrated the victories and were sympathetic during setbacks.
A mere thank you to the team who saved my baby’s life seems entirely inadequate. But I will say it anyway.
In the grand scheme of things it was only twenty-six days. But for those of you who have a number, you know. You know the importance of being ever mindful of answered prayers, recalling God’s hand in every moment of your stay and every day since, and remembering how much of a difference your NICU staff made. While living in the past is unwise, forgetting the miracles of God is just as foolish.
To our NICU staff at BSA, now eight months post day twenty-six, we are still giving thanks for you. When we walk into our daughter’s room without having to scrub in, we remember you. When we change her clothes, we remember what you taught us. When we carry her outside, no longer hindered by cords, we give thanks. When she gets a bath, we remember the little tub in the sink and the warm blankets. We remember being greeted by name when we entered the NICU, having staff drop by just to check on us, and being treated as if you had all the time in the world to answer the same question for the hundredth time.
Most of all we remember the love you showed, the kind of love that cannot be learned from a book or taught in a classroom. It is the love you have that was instilled long before you ever set foot in a hospital.
Thank you for loving our baby for twenty-six days and for giving us the opportunity to keep loving her every day since.