Sunday, Sept. 15, was National Neonatal Nurses Day. They deserve a day. The infant mortality rate can be a measure of a nation’s health and social condition. So these amazing people really do hold the world in their hands.
The CIA Factbook estimates the U.S. infant mortality rate will be 6 per 1,000 live births in 2013. When you are a parent-to-be who has already learned that statistics mean nothing until they happen to you, neonatal nurses are your lifeline.
Recently, one of our primary NICU nurses posted the above photo on her Facebook timeline. (Spoiler, it was the infamous June.)
Patience has never been one of my many virtues. So I do consider myself rather lucky that no nurse offed me in my sleep during my tenure as an antepartum inmate. (Granted, they wouldn’t let me sleep, so maybe that was a win-win for all of us.)
But then we were inducted into the realm all expectant parents are vaguely aware of, but never dream of experiencing – the neonatal intensive care unit.
NICU nurses are responsible not only for the tiniest of charges fighting for life in the incubators occupying the unit pods, but also for the sanity of terrified and stressed out new parents. NICU nurses are the front lines when your world gets turned upside down; they are there when the doctor is using “if” instead of “when” in terms of your newborn.
Our NICU nurses were, and will forever be, surrogate family. When the muppets were born, I became a mother. Kind of. In my children’s tiny, fragile state, I was not capable of caring for them on my own; they would not have survived under my care alone.
Instead, our nurses were there.
- To meet our sons before I did. And tell me the boys were okay (and already spunky).
- To be the first to feed them (by placing an IV line no thicker than a piece of thread in the tiny babes translucent arms).
- To teach me how to comfort a 2-pound baby so easily over-stimulated, by simply placing my hand over the entirety of the babe’s body.
- To wrestle that tiny person, so full of fight, into a CPAP mask so they’ll be involuntarily reminded to breathe.
- To remind freaked out parents to breathe. In. Out. Forever.
- To teach me how to change a diaper the size of a post-it note, while circumnavigating wires and sensors galore.
- To give me the opportunity to hold my son for the first time.
- To tell me, “He’s your kid, you deal with him,” and make me feel like a parent despite the austere surroundings.
- To push the kids to the limits of their capabilities. (“Oh yes he can take a bottle!)
- To get to know the charges so well they can brush off infection concerns. “He’s not sick, he just misses his brother.”
- To decode my new normal – explaining the complex world of tiny babies and medical jargon.
- To distract me with mundane conversation as alarms blared behind me.
- To remind us to watch the baby, not the monitor.
- To give the boys a voice through their early personalities.
- To parent in my absence, loving those two boys as their own. (Even calling from Hawaiian vacations to see how they were doing.)
- To tell me we’d leave part-parent, part-nurse. And show me how to do just that.
- To reassure me that we’d someday go home.
Jobs can become mundane. The tedium of day in and day out responsibilities. Repetition and stress. In the NICU, there is the added danger and real possibly of loss. I understand how that can wear on people after a while.
And while I am forever grateful to the full complement of our medical team who tolerated me from the very beginning to give Jon and me a chance to become parents, it is the nurses in the neo-natal intensive care unit who give such intensive care to the tiny babies who will forever be the true superheroes.
To the Santa Clara Kaiser NICU crew – know you have all changed my life by giving Search and Destroy all the opportunity to have a life. You change lives every day you scrub up and enter that Twilight Zone Universe of a nursery.
We wish we’d never met you. But are eternally grateful we did.