Our NICU Journey Changed Me
I remember the first time my husband wheeled my chair to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). My heart felt like it was about to pump right out of my chest. I didn’t know what to expect. He pushed the button outside the door. They asked who we were there to see, and as they buzzed us in, the double doors opened. There was incubator after incubator filled with babies too tiny to see with all the blankets and equipment. It was incredibly busy but quiet at the same time.
Seeing my daughter Isabelle’s micro preemie body hooked up to machines and tubes and wires induced intense anxiety in me. It was a surreal moment that didn’t feel as though it belonged to me. My heart was so full, yet so broken. I could have never imagined how much love I would feel for her the moment she was born. That love transferred to pain. She captured my heart, so if she hurt, I hurt.
“You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.” I believe this is a NICU parent mantra. I found hidden strength I never knew I possessed. The NICU changed me, deep down to my core.
A few weeks into our journey, Isabelle wasn’t doing well. We spent our days at the NICU and only went home to sleep. In that short amount of time spent at home, we were called to come to the hospital twice. Twice, we thought we might lose our sweet baby. It was all happening before our eyes. Nurses and doctors ordering all the parents out of the pod. Isabelle’s alarms screaming while they surrounded her bed like a swarm of bees. Feeling more helpless than I’ve ever felt in my entire life. I slowly walked into an empty, dark area that wasn’t being used, dropped heavily to my knees and cried and begged and pleaded. And in those moments her lung was collapsed and her oxygen stayed dangerously low, and they were manually pumping air into her miniature lungs, they figured out how to save her. It’s still hard to wrap my head around eight years later. She had meningitis, a heart infection and pneumonia all at the same time while only being a 2-pound baby.
Another time, my world changed again. Isabelle had been doing well, her infections were under control, she was eating and gaining weight, and recently upgraded from the incubator to an open bed. As we walked into Isabelle’s pod, we immediately noticed a new incubator was occupied right next to her. As the day went on, the privacy screen was put up around the baby’s bed, and the parents came in. We noticed the nurses silenced the alarms. Extended family gathered around them crying. My heart felt like it was shattered into a million little pieces. The next day, we walked into our pod to find an empty bed.
All of this changed me.
I learned to take life one day at a time, to focus on today. I learned family doesn’t always have to be blood. The staff became our second family. Isabelle’s primary nurse called me on her days off to ask for updates. She took me aside on a day I felt defeated and told me I have to stay strong because Isabelle needed me to believe in her. She gave Isabelle a room to herself when she was really sick. They took the time to include me in their morning rounds with the doctors and taught me as much as they could about her care plan. They asked my opinion and took my suggestions when I didn’t feel like something was right.
I learned I’m stronger than I ever thought possible. I still look back and wonder how we got through it.
The NICU changed me. I rock my babies a little longer, I hold on a little tighter, and my eyes are a little clearer.
Our sweet Isabelle just celebrated her 8th birthday. She continues to teach me how to be brave and strong, to be confident in who I am and fight for what I want. I couldn’t be prouder to be her momma.
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