It’s a familiar place for the select few; a quiet atmosphere mixed with the hustle and bustle of doctors and nurses. It’s a place not for the faint of heart, where parents become stronger than they could ever imagine. It’s a place where happiness can turn into heartache in a matter of seconds, and where those tears of sadness can transform back into joy within minutes. For the families who experience the neonatal intensive care unit, a roller coaster of emotions is a guarantee. It’s a place I remember vividly, as my family called the NICU “home” for nearly four months.
It only takes one breath to bring back the memories of my experience as a NICU parent. The distinct smell of the hospital will always stay with me, and the alarms and beeps of the machines bring back a rush of adrenaline and fear. In 2013, I gave birth to triplets more than 17 weeks premature. My first-born never made it to the NICU; she passed away in our arms in the hospital delivery room. Her brother and sister were whisked away to the NICU. At 22 weeks 6 days, they were the youngest babies our hospital was treating. Our son never experienced life outside the hospital walls; he passed away just shy of two months old. Our lone surviving triplet spent 116 days in the NICU. She’s now a healthy 4-year-old, a perfect testament to overcoming the toughest obstacles. The NICU will always hold a special place in our hearts and that holds true for so many other families. Here are 12 signs that you are a NICU parent:
1. You measure your child’s weight in grams, not pounds.
You keep a conversion chart handy or download an app. You cry tears of joy when your child reaches that 2000 gram mark (over 4 pounds).
2. You know so many medical terms, strangers assume you’re a medical student.
TPN, CPAP, NG are more than just initials. When a doctor explains your baby’s latest setback, you begin feverishly researching. You even consider becoming a nurse after spending so much time getting to know your baby’s conditions.
3. “Do you want to hold your child?” takes on a whole new meaning.
It may be days or weeks after birth when you first hold your child. Your heart feels like it may burst with love as your baby melts onto your chest for that first “Kangaroo Care” experience.
4. When you see a syringe, you think it’s for feeding.
Food is measured in CC’s for the littlest babies. You jump for joy when the measurements change over to ounces.
5. Your child’s first clothing comes from a doll.
Too small to fit into preemie clothing, you find that Build-A-Bear makes adorable outfits that can be used for more than just stuffed animals.
6. You see a full term baby and he looks like a giant.
5 pounds seems large, but a typical 7-8 pound healthy baby? Whoa! Are you sure he's a newborn???
7. You time your breast-pumping schedule around the NICU in order to use hospital grade pumps.
Sure, I have a breast-pump at home, but you can get 5 ounces more by using the powerful pumps in the NICU. Plus, the pumping room provides hours of entertainment and hospital gossip!
8. You cringe when you pass a pregnant women complaining about her third trimester.
You would give anything to make it to 32 weeks. For micro-preemie parents, the thought of even making it to your third trimester would be a dream come true.
9. Your car is on autopilot—you could drive the hospital route in your sleep.
Even after leaving the Nicu, you drive half way to the hospital before realizing your child is home and you actually meant to drive to the grocery store.
10. You buy hand sanitizer in bulk when you hear your child will be coming home soon.
You place giant containers of hand sanitizer at the front door, in the nursery, living room, kitchen and every other room of the house. You also have a box of surgical masks on hand in case you feel a cold coming on.
11. Your child wears newborn size diapers for six months.
Friends start giving you their boxes of diapers that their newborn baby never used. You celebrate when your child finally gets to wear size 1 diapers.
12. You believe in miracles.
Every child is a miracle, but experiencing the NICU gives you a new appreciation for all babies. Your child beat the odds and has proven that the smallest babies can put up the biggest fight.
A version of this appeared at Her View From Home.