On January 31, 2010 I gave birth to two beautiful baby girls 8 weeks early. Although one of them never came home, I owe every moment I spent with Samantha, who passed away when they were 5 weeks 5 days old, to the neonatal nurses who cared for her every day and every night of her life. I know that caring for my babies was more than a job for them.
These caregivers loved my daughters.
Preemies are babies born before 37 weeks. They need very intense assistance to live. This care is provided in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Let me introduce you to the NICU where these angels do their work everyday.
First you walk through a waiting room and there is a sink for washing your hands before you enter. This is not your usual hand washing though.
There are brushes available and instructions about how much time you should spend on each part of your hand and forearms.
Take off your jewelry.
Scrub front back and between fingers and all the way up to the elbow.
Then you put some antibacterial gel on your hands and you may enter. No children allowed, and only parents and grandparents are permitted depending on the hospital. A nurse checks your hospital bracelet until they get to know your face.
There are cribs and incubators spaced out along the walls and little curtains that you can pull for privacy when nursing. There are even rocking chairs and breast pumps available. Small windows up high let some light in but there is not a “viewing” window for visitors like the regular nursery.
The first time I saw my babies was terrifying.
They were so tiny and sprawled out in incubators. Touching them was prohibited except during feeding time because of the stress it put on their fragile bodies. When I finally got to hold them I needed help to pick them up because of the monitor wires were connected to them and the nasal cannulas, tubes in their noses, which were helping them breathe. Mostly it is quiet, cool and dim. These babies need a womb environment and only the beeping of the monitor’s alarms and an occasional baby cry interrupts.
In the NICU each nurse cares for many babies, depending on the level of care required and how many babies are there at the time. They change diapers, heat bottles, feed, burb, and hold babies. In addition they check temperatures and keep track of any problems to which the monitors alert them.
Then there is the love they administer. Gentle soothing voices caressed the little babies’ ears. Sweet comforting touches told them they weren’t alone. The nurses made signs for my daughters to put on their incubators announcing their arrival. They made a little sign for Hannah to celebrate her reaching 4 lbs and celebrating Samantha’s return to the hospital where Hannah was. They took pictures of them and gave them to us. And when Samantha passed away, they came to her funeral. These are only a few of the things we saw and I know many happened when we were away.
Another full time job these nurses perform is parental care. Teaching specialized preemie care and explaining strange words like bradycardia. Also, they are counselors. I asked them within the first few days, how do you recommend I handle juggling two babies here in the NICU and a 2 year old at home? They gave helpful suggestions and pointed out that I would be no good to my babies when they came home if I didn’t rest and take care of myself. They always smiled and asked how I was doing. They offered me every opportunity to mommy my babies. They gave me privacy when I needed it while making themselves available to help.
Then there is the trauma factor. When Samantha got sick the day she would die, it was a nurse who recognized her sickness and comforted her as she suffered. It was a nurse who explained to us clearly and compassionately what was happening to our baby. A nurse brought us drinks as we sat alone in the waiting room in shock as they prepped her to transport back to a level III NICU.
Neonatal nurses celebrated life with us and did the backbreaking work that it takes for babies at that stage to survive. They mourned with us in death when our little Samantha didn’t make it. I know they loved both our babies. I know they won’t forget them. We are facebook friends with many of them now and I try to take Hannah to visit and send them cards with pictures when I can. I will never forget the gift these special nurses gave our family. Sometimes it must be heartbreaking for the nurses to accompany parents on the traumatic NICU ride. I’m sure there were many times I was less than polite and they were kind and understanding. The constant care and kindness they offered was invaluable to my family.
Today is Neonatal Nurse Appreciation Day. Although many people don’t know who they are, these are very special people who help some of the most vulnerable in our world. These are the unborn that became born too soon. Miracles happen even for micro-preemies (babies born at less than 1 lb 14 oz) with the hands of these amazing nurses. The healing that happens when nurses are willing to grieve along with you at the loss of a little person is so precious.
I personally would like to thank the NICU nurses at Round Rock Medical Center and at St. David’s in Austin. Expect some cookies today from ^Samantha^ and Hannah and their family.