I am the mom of a Preemie...there I said it. It has taken me almost a year to admit this fact. My experience in the NICU was short compared to my friends who spent weeks and months sitting at the bedside of their super early micro preemies. I think that's why I had a hard time admitting that my baby boy was indeed a preemie. At 6 pounds 13 ounces he did not look like much of preemie but he certainly acted like it. A decade ago I spent 4 years as a RN in a wonderful NICU in Ft Worth, TX. I never expected to sit on the other side of the isolette watching my own child struggle for each breath. A year later as the fog of new mommyhood has lifted I am looking back at what I learned those long 10 days in the NICU.
1. Denial. Our brains do amazing things to keep the peace. On December 16, 2013 at a little over 35 weeks gestation I started bleeding at home. My brain immediately knew what was happening. The fear in the eyes of my 6 year old as I began to panic brought me to the reality that I had to remain calm. As I called friends and family I simply told them my water broke. I never said the words "placenta abruption". It was too scary. When I first saw my sweet baby in the NICU the day after his birth and he was breathing 120 times a minute I wasn't scared. My brain could not process how much distress he was in. Think about that. Normal breathing for a newborn is under 60 times a minute. He was taking 2 breaths every second. There was always a nurse and a respiratory therapist at his bedside the first 3 days of his life. I remember thinking "oh this is nice. It's a small unit and it's slow so his nurse can be here every second." She was there because he was the sickest baby they had those first few days.
2. Control. I like to be in control. As they were wheeling me down the hall to have an emergency c section I was shouting commands to my husband as if I were still in control. The nurse anethesist grabbed my head looked straight into my eyes and said "STOP. We are doing this right now and you must focus." From that moment on nothing was in my control. But in the NICU they gave me choices. Do you want us to give him formula if we don't have enough mommy milk? Do you want a PICC line or regular IV? Do you want us to give him a bottle if you are not here to nurse? For a mom whose entire world was spinning out of control it gave me sense of balance to make decisions about his care. I don't know if they did that for every mom or just because I was a nurse and spoke the language but it made me feel involved.
3. Nurses. I have been a nurse for 14 years and I spent 4 of those years working in the NICU with sick preemie babies. From the nurses who remained calm in spite of the fact that they had a bleeding pregnant woman on the bed in front of them to the nurses in the NICU who silently handed me a box of tissues and patted me on the back at 3 AM I was blessed with caring compassionate care givers. I cannot remember their names or even all their faces but I remember the way they made me feel. Calm in the midst of the storm.
4. Prayer. Roman 8:26 says that when we do not know what to pray for the Holy Spirit knows and intercedes on our behalf because He knows our hearts. There were many moments on this ride that I did not know what to pray but God knew my heart. The Bible also talks a lot about praying for other people. Due to the wide use of the internet I had people across the country and across the world praying for my little man. I would ask the nurses what my people needed to pray about today and by then end of our stay they would say "well you need to ask people to pray about..." before I could even ask. They were amazed by the answering of prayers and I believe it was a testimony to the power of the God I serve.
5. Time. Lots of people talk about how they wish they had more time. More hours in the day. More days in the week. Last year I was given more time. A placental abruption is life threatening to both mother and child. Yet God saw fit to spare us both.
6. Village. There is an old saying that it takes a village to raise a child. When my family was in crises we had family and friends coming to our aid instantly. Our "village" stepped up and loved on us. There were those who helped with chidcare of our other two children, there were those who cleaned the house, there were those who fed the dog (it was 3 days after the baby was born before I remembered that the dog needed to eat), and there were those who brought food the week we went home. They will never know how much they mean to me.
As December 16 approaches and I remember the fear and trauma of that day a year ago I will look into the smiling face of my 12 month old and say a prayer for all those mommies and daddies living the NICU life and I will thank God for my preemie and the lessons I learned on the other side of the isolette.