Loud alarms, flashing lights, nurses rushing to a newborn’s bedside. The sights and sounds of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit are enough to cause nightmares. But for me, the “NICU” is my happy place.
It wasn’t that way on day one. I was unconscious the night my babies arrived in the NICU. I was close to death, mourning the loss of one of my triplets. I laid in the ICU, which felt a world away from my children. Since day one, my babies were cared for in a special place, tucked away on the fourth floor of the Children’s Hospital in Springfield, IL. It really is a magical place, full of medicine and miracles. It’s a place where doctors don’t give up; instead they give hope to a baby who needs it most.
While many parents will never see the walls of the NICU, a select few have to let go of their child and let others care for them in their first precious days of life. It’s a scary thought. A mother’s instinct is to hold onto her newborn, but what if you can only look at your child through the glass of an incubator?
When you first arrive, you’re greeted with the constant sound of alarms. A slow beep with a yellow light…A fast red light with a loud alarm. For many new parents, the noises cause added stress to an already stressful situation, but not for me. I find the noises soothing. I can say that because my NICU baby is a resident, not just a brief visitor. Most people can’t relate to my family. We are on 100+ days in the NICU, not just a brief two or four week stay. Month after month, my husband and I have trekked to that 4th floor, twice a day, being the best parents we can possibly be.
In the early days, we could only stare. Our two survivors, Parker and Peyton, were barely a pound each. They were so frail, all you could see were two precious miracles, only skin and bones. My babies were “22 weekers”, not even considered viable according to most hospitals. But the doctors and nurses didn’t give up on our survivors. Day after day, they treated my babies like regular newborns. Sure they were filled with wires and IV’s, needing specialized attention every second of the day. But not once did they make us feel like we should be alarmed. My husband and I quickly learned what the monitors were reading and what to look for when the alarms sounded off. Those moments when most people would be calling out for a nurse, we learned to relax. These nurses and doctors know what they are doing and we learned that trust was going to get through the toughest days.
For 100+ days, I’ve sat at my daughter’s bedside, happy to be in the NICU. Each day, means she is one day older, defying the odds yet again. I often say, “What’s the worst thing that could happen in the NICU”? Well, that’s easy–your child could die. Unfortunately, I know first hand that experience. After 55 days in the NICU, my son Parker joined his sister Abby in Heaven. Going back to the place where my son lived his short life was difficult, and it still is today, but I know the doctors and nurses did everything they could. They gave us two wonderful months with our son and a lifetime of memories.
For 100+ days, the nurses have treated my children like one of their own. When my son passed away, they cried tears of sadness with me. But the NICU isn’t a sad place. In between the surgeries and the chaos, I’ve been able to see my children grow in slow motion. A simple moment like a child opening her eyes for the first time, means so much to us. It didn’t happen when my babies were first born, instead weeks after they first arrived. The day my daughter first cried was an emotional milestone. It didn’t happen the night she was born, it wasn’t until she was nearly two months old when we first heard a soft squeak.
The precious moments many parents take for granted, have been documented day after day in the NICU. Just this week, our doctor shared the news that she thinks our lone survivor will be coming home within a month. I sobbed right then and there. Not just because Peyton was going to finally start her life outside of the hospital walls, but because I will have to leave my new family behind. The NICU is a tight knit community, where those first few moments of life will stay with you for an eternity. It’s a place where I’ve made life long friends with nurses and other parents in similar situations. And while we will no longer see our new family on a daily basis, the NICU will forever hold a special place in our hearts.