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Challenge: NICU Parenting

Guilty of trying to forget the NICU

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As I write this I feel a sense of guilt. My daughter is almost 8 years old she’s doing fantastic. I have put our experience with the NICU away in my memory and purposely try not to think it often. The University of Michigan NICU my prematurely born daughter spent 83 days in was a place of miracles. What the nurses and doctors did to save her was completely miraculous and I will be forever grateful for their work and expertise. I guess I have put the whole experience out of my mind and have tried to forget because despite the miracles, there was an overwhelming amount of heartbreak.

Ella was born at 23 weeks. My water broke while I was asleep and I spent more than 2 weeks in the hospital trying to keep her in the womb as long as possible. When I gave birth to her she could not breathe and was born with chronic lung disease. She weighed 3 lbs. 1 oz. The first ventilator they used was a new machine in the hospital and did not work. I was worried she wouldn’t make it, but after trying other ventilation machines she showed signs of improvement and there was a glimmer of hope.

Watching your newborn daughter get poked and prodded on a frequent basis when you can’t even hold her yourself was very difficult. As days past she got stronger and showed signs of progression. I went to the NICU everyday and spent endless hours just sitting next to her incubator watching every little move she would make.

I also witnessed 3 babies in the NICU pass away in the 83 days she stayed there. I would go home to sleep and return with a neighboring incubator from the room gone and the space that remained was so overwhelmingly empty. I could barely function and the fear I felt for my own child’s life was very intense. One baby was rushed out of the building (incubator and all) during his last minutes so the family dog could meet him before he died.

I would stay at the hospital late every night and every night I would drive to McDonald’s drive through and have chocolate chip cookies and milk. Every night for 83 days! It was my way of staying awake on my drive home and a sweet treat I needed to be able to cope. I gained more weight than I did for my whole pregnancy!

When it was finally time for my daughter to leave the NICU and come home I never looked back. I didn’t visit even when I had appointments at the hospital and we didn’t go to the NICU reunions. Our family needed to move forward and the pain that was experienced was too hard to revisit. I regret this now and wish I would have followed up with her caregivers and doctors to thank them and celebrate what my tiny baby girl accomplished while fighting for her life. If I could speak to the NICU miracle workers now I would express my gratitude and thankfulness. I would introduce Ella to her angels that kept her here on Earth so I could love and take care of her. I would give them all a big hug!


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