As a healthcare provider I thought I was prepared for the process of childbirth and the complications associated with birth. I soon learned, however, that nothing can prepare you for the helplessness of leaving your child at the hospital when you are discharged.
I had a typical first pregnancy until 28 weeks gestation when I started contracting. I was 1cm dilated so my OB decided to put me in the hospital for a couple of days to stop contractions and monitor baby. I was sent home on bedrest for the remainder of pregnancy. I mentally prepared myself for the prospect of having a premature baby and the NICU stay that would inevitably come with that. Two more overnight stays, twice weekly ultrasounds, stress tests, and appointments for the following 9 weeks finally, at 37 weeks gestation, it was time to meet our son! Being 37 weeks along, I thought we would be past the age where NICU was expected. I was induced at midnight on June 13th and after 16 hours of labor at 4:46 pm my precious son made his arrival into the world. He didn't immediately cry, instead he grunted which alerted the staff that something wasn't right. He let out a few little cries, and his vitals were stable, so they let my husband and I hold him and do skin to skin. He was 7lbs 8oz, 21.25 inches of pure perfection.
Over the next few hours he was stable enough to get to meet the remainder of our family and friends. He was still grunting and struggling to keep his temperature up so the nurse notified the pediatrician and he decided it was best to place him in NICU for further testing. Luckily all x-rays and ultrasounds were normal. Lab work was a different story and over the next couple of days we anxiously watched bilirubin and electrolyte levels. We celebrated when his bilirubin stayed at 5, and struggled to hide the disappointment when it later rose up to 8 and 12. On the 4th day his electrolytes were normal and we got to hold him IV free for the first time! Day 5 my husband spent his first father's day holding our son and admiring the present the staff and our sweet boy made for him. We finally got to bring our little man home after 7 days in the hospital, 6 of which were spent in NICU.
Reflecting on this journey made me realize how lucky we are in comparison to many NICU families. So many babies in my son's unit had been there for months, and did not have an anticipated discharge date. My husband and I have been nurses for roughly 6 years, with me being a nurse practitioner for 1 year, and I can honestly say if we could touch the lives of our patients a fraction of the way NICU nurses do everyday then we have succeeded. We are forever grateful for the precious staff who sang, rocked, and fed my son when we couldn't be there and who answered every question we had with kindness. They showed us how to change diapers efficiently, tricks to get him to nurse, ensured us we wouldn't cause spinal chord damage during burping, and promised he would be OK when we left him for the night. By the end of our relatively short stay in NICU, leaving him for the few hours we would go home to sleep each night got easier, my husband and I both were able to rest peacefully knowing our son was in the absolute best hands. My perspective on the providers, families, and babies who are in NICU is forever changed. There is truly no one stronger than the aforementioned group.