You hear me mention the acronym, “NICU,” almost daily, if you are around me, but do you know what it refers to? The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit specializes in the care of ill or premature infants/newborns. Just reading the definition, still gives me chills, because you know there must be some serious issue, for a baby who has to spend time there.
I most certainly never thought in a million years, my baby would need to be in the NICU. The first time I was able to tour a facility, was within two days of me being admitted as a patient, due to my high-risk pregnancy. It seemed so sad at first glance. I hoped and prayed that my son would be born at a safe gestational period, healthy enough, to go directly home with me. I recalled seeing many friends on my social media, share their childbirth stories, and the images were in my head. Would I have the same experience?
Then the day came, for Rio’s birth. Of course, I had to be induced, and that began on a Friday morning at 5:30AM; he was born on the following Sunday close to the same time. Needless to say, I was so tired, but the memory of it all is so vivid. I got a quick glimpse of my baby, then a team of health professionals had to quickly take him away, down to the place I didn’t want him to go.
It took me a while to recover, but finally, I was able to go to the NICU, to visit my son. My glimpse of him at his birth was so quick, that I wheeled past him in my wheelchair; not recognizing him. He rested in a clear bassinet, he was so tiny, four pounds, fifteen ounces, very fragile, but the sweetest sight to my eyes in my life.
The nurses gave me the rundown, on his progress, and helped me feel comfortable. I was actually very afraid to hold him, being that he had so many cords attached to him, and IV; I just didn’t want to hurt him. Needless to say, I got the hang of it pretty quickly and I was in love. I stayed until visiting hours were over, with my family, then went back to my room, exhausted, but smiling!
The next day, when I arrived, things were different. Rio had a feeding tube, and he was moved to a special bed with a blue spectrum light, known as Phototherapy. Immediately, my heart sank. I asked the nurse, “what’s wrong? Yesterday, you said he was doing well?” Now his weight has dropped, he has a feeding tube, and he doesn’t look so good?” I learned that he wasn’t eating well on his own, and that he also had Jaundice. Jaundice is a yellowing of the skin and eyes, from the breakdown of the red blood cells. This usually results because of the baby not feeding well, or the mother’s milk not being in yet. It is commonly found in newborns born prior to 37 weeks of gestation.
Each day, while visiting Rio, I had so much hope to hear, “you can take him home now.” I had his room ready, his car seat, clothing, my family was all here visiting out of state. The only thing missing to paint the perfect picture I imagined, was my baby. The sadness I felt, I really couldn’t convey in words, as it was married together with me not wanting to share with anyone, that he wasn’t home with me. I had nothing to be ashamed of, it was more so protective instinct, so I can’t quite explain why I felt that way? I just wanted to be a Mom, and with him not being with me 24/7, I felt that I was not. I actually recall crying one day, as I was so proud to bring him milk I pumped. Even though I walked in on time, a nurse was already feeding him formula.
Weeks went by, I started feeling at peace, but also noticed my surroundings. I noticed the staff helping everyone, I saw happiness, more than the sadness in so many. Even though I noticed many babies alone, which drove me advocate for the cause in preventing Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, I saw the love of volunteer “Cuddlers.” Instead of thinking about my feelings, I had a clear moment of understanding. I felt appreciative, and safe.
We got the phone call, to bring our car seat, to test if Rio would fit in it, to go home for safety. We were also told we would be rooming in at the hospital before he went home. We were thrilled, panicking to get everything perfected, as our families had already returned home. Rooming in, gives parents who have checked out of the hospital without their babies, the opportunity to have the experience of staying with their baby in a room. You get to have a little practice overnight, with medical personnel present, should you need them. They also teach you things you need to know about bathing, feeding, etc. (things you may have questions about).
I had gone alone to visit Rio during the daytime hours, as Robert, had to work. He passed his car seat test! Then later, that same day, the nurse removed his feeding tube, and told me, “well, you don’t have to room in, he can actually go home today!” I happened to get a picture of Rio, immediately after his feeding tube was removed. Can you believe this face? He smiled!
We brought our baby home, it was so exciting! We got to be parents, and I finally felt like a mother! I still had the urge, to go back to the hospital, weeks later, to share my baby’s progress with the nurses who helped us. I also, decided I wanted to volunteer to help others, who would have to experience the NICU. I realized what that experience meant, not only to my family, but all of those involved, past, present, and even the future. Thank you for making me start a journey unforeseen, and so special. You started my destiny from what I thought would be negative, into a positive energy that is limitless. From being a proud parent of a healthy boy, now four years old, to a volunteer cuddler, advocate, and inventor of products to help our babies; it started because of U in the NICU. I guess because there’s and I and U, in NICU, it’s because of us! 🙂
Happy NICU Awareness Month, to all of the babies, families, medical professionals, and volunteers, saving and changing lives forever!