If you are a parent, then you understand the anxieties and concerns we experience as mothers and fathers when it comes to our children. Just the idea of something dreadful happening to them can cause us to grasp our chests in panic. I can not even begin to count the number of times I have woken up in alarm and found myself heading to my own child’s bedside, for no apparent reason other than to extinguish frantic thoughts. As a new mom, time away from her isn’t exactly met with relieve and aspirations of freedom. Instead, I tend to be nervous about the potential for disaster that could occur while I am away. It is certainly not a pleasant experience.
Imagine the pain a parent must feel, after finally meeting their adorable bundle of joy on their day of birth, only to find something is devastatingly wrong. Maybe, instead of excitement about meeting their little one for the first time, the parents are met with the anguish that their unborn child is in immense danger. No words could openly describe the feeling a parent experiences during these moments of chaos and confusion.
Newborn babies can be admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for several reasons that include being born premature, respiratory concerns, life threatening conditions, serious infections, and abnormalities that require intensive care. Babies who are admitted to the NICU are separated from their parents for long periods of time and are surrounded by machines, tubes, IV’s, ventilators, and monitors. The baby may or may not be placed in an incubator which stabilizes the environment for newborn babies.
Watching helplessly as your infant is poked, prodded, and turned into a human science experiment is heart wrenching and it’s psychologically painful. It amplifies the battles your baby is fighting, and you have no control over it. It’s a waiting game as you watch this tiny little being you already love so much, overcome such a tremendous obstacle. All you can do is hope that all the scary boxes, tubes, needles, and ventilators do their job effectively. The whole experience is overwhelming for any parent.
I cannot claim to understand what it must feel like to sit helplessly beside your baby, who may lay in a plastic box, unable to touch them or hold them close. Just imaging my little one wrapped in tubes and IV’s sends an intense pain through my chest. I do, however, understand, to some level, what it’s like to be helpless and scared for the little life I created. Our story begins before she was born and thankfully it ends in happily ever after.
I was diagnosed with Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) at 7 weeks pregnant. Thanks to prenatal care and medication, HG has become less fatal. My body was trying to rid itself of my unborn child; at just 7 weeks gestation, my baby was already fighting for her life. Babies whose mothers are diagnosed with HG can suffer from malnourishment or be born prematurely. A fear that hung over my head for the next seven months. Thankfully, my stubborn little girl made it to 42 weeks before making her first appearance, but our troubles weren’t over. We were just defeating our first battle when we we’re plunged into our next one.
After 32 hours of labor, my body began to shut down. My temperature spiked, and my doctor was concerned about a potential infection that could affect the baby. So, I was wheeled into the Operation Room to undergo an emergency Cesarean Section. At 12:30 am, my little soldier was born at a wonderful 7lbs, 9oz. My husband and I were amongst the lucky ones, who had the ability to bond with our newborn child and for that we are thankful. It wasn’t until the later hours of the morning, after our little bundle was whisked away for testing, did we discover something was wrong.
My husband had left to give our dog her medication, so when they brought my little girl back in with an IV strapped to her head and swaddled around a phototherapy blanket, I was completely alone to drown in my own thoughts. I watched painfully, as my still child lay silently in her glowing cocoon with a mask shielding her eyes and a tube sticking out of her head. I barely listened as the nurse went over her medical complications. I tried to focus on the details, but the words just mushed together in a mess as I tried to comprehend the severity of her condition.
Thankfully, jaundice is common and easily treatable, and the infection that my baby contracted disappeared within a few days. Although extremely concerning, her conditions were not life threatening and we were able to bring our baby home when I was discharged. She conquered her battles and walked, (realistically, was carried) away with a only a scar left behind by the IV catheter.
Some parents are not this lucky. Some parents are forced to leave the hospital and enter an empty home, one not filled with newborn cries. Bassinets remain empty, newborn outfits are left hanging in the closet, and there is no sweet snuggles. A realization that no parent wants to think about, let alone experience.
The NICU is responsible for caring for and treating babies who need extra medical support. Thanks to the nurses, practitioners, and doctors who work around the clock, caring for the babies who are admitted, many newborns can eventually make their way home. All the scary machines and medical devices are there to treat the infant and help improve their condition. Tiny little beings, overcome tremendous obstacles with the help of some very important people and the unconditional love from their parents, standing by their sides every step of the way.
September is NICU awareness month, which was created to bring attention to the important care given to premature or ill newborns. It also honors the families who relied on the care. If you would like to find out more information, or get involved, please visit https://www.nicuawareness.org/.
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