The neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is an important and special place. It’s where babies who are born too early or too sick get the care they need. While no one wants their baby to end up in the NICU, it happens more often than you think. As someone who was forced to spend time there twice, and only been brought one baby home, I can tell you the NICU cultivates a slew of emotions. There are just so many things moms feel when leaving their baby in the NICU.
Most people expect to spend all the time they possibly can with their babies after giving birth. They want to hold them, feed them, kiss him, smell them, bond with them, stare at them, and inspect every single part of their tiny little bodies. No one wants to have to look at their child through a plastic container. No one wants to be told their baby is too unstable to be held. No one wants to leave the hospital empty handed after 40 (more or less) weeks of pregnancy and an untold number of grueling hours in labor and delivery. No one wants to experience the insurmountable pain of looking at your baby in the eyes while they’re intubated.
Still, as a parent, you manage. Remarkably, almost unbelievably, you absolutely manage, because that is what your baby needs you to do. Moms are incredibly resilient people, and if you’re wondering just how resilient, well, here's what those badass moms feel when their babies are in the NICU:
This is the undeniable common factor for all NICU parents. Everyone is sad, at least a little bit. There are varying degrees of sadness, to be sure, since some NICU babies are simply there for a couple of days and are never in any real danger. But for those whose babies are fighting for their lives (as mine were), it can be brutal and the sadness can be all-encompassing.
It’s totally understandable to be pissed off when you have to leave your baby in a NICU. Sure, you’re grateful they’re receiving care. But why you? Why your baby? Especially when you did everything “right,” it can be incredibly frustrating.
Many moms will feel lots of fear at the idea of their baby being left in a NICU. Personally, I was scared my son’s condition would take a bad turn while I wasn’t there, that someone would steal him somehow, that someone would hurt him or not care for him properly, and that he would simply be scared and alone wondering where his mom was. Even thinking about it now makes me feel queasy and sad, even though my son is now a healthy 3 year old.
I hated feeling like there was no reason for me to be at my son’s side while he was in the NICU. I wanted to help, but I couldn’t. After all, I'm not a doctor.
Still, at the end of the day and regardless of whether or not I have a medical degree, I know my presence, voice, touch, and even the little bit of breast milk I was able to provide, all helped him out. I know I wasn’t so useless after all.
Helpless & At The Mercy Of Others
On a related note, I hated feeling helpless and at the mercy of my son's medical care team. For one, I didn’t always trust everyone. Who is to say they are infallible?
It might seem strange to outsiders, but I felt like I failed my kids (or like my body failed) because they wound up in the NICU. I know it’s not true, and I know there wasn't a damn thing I could have done to prevent their trips to the NICu. However, we will always feel some sense of guilt, especially the more difficult the circumstances.
While I sometimes did not trust my son’s nurses, I did feel eternally grateful that he had so many people caring for him around the clock. I still remember his first nurse when he was in the critical area of the NICU. That man would not leave my son’s side, and was so attentive and caring. I remember some of his doctors who worked hard to ensure my baby was OK. There were a few nurses especially, toward the last month of my son's NICU stay, who were so kind toward my family and would sing to my son. It warmed my heart.
I hate to admit it, but there were times I would just plain get annoyed by the nursing staff. Again, they all did an incredible job, but I hated that I had to ask them for permission to hold my baby. I hated that many of them did not understand why I was so enraged when he was left alone long enough to pull his g-tube out of his nose. I hated that they often saw things more on clinical terms rather than human and empathetic ones.
At the end of the day, what I mostly felt was an outpouring of love for my son. A love that has never been surpassed and will likely never be surpassed again.