Last Sunday was the annual appreciation day for NICU nurses. There were lots of posts on my Facebook newsfeed thanking the nurses who time and time again saved and loved my friends’ babies. There was this poignant letter from a preemie mom to a NICU nurse that was shared time and time again. I thought a lot that day about what NICU nurses meant to us, and how we could possibly even begin to thank them for the role they played in our lives.
It’s difficult to write down what a NICU nurse means to a family like ours. We had a relatively unique experience in our NICU. Being at a community hospital meant that the NICU was very small– 15 beds was over capacity when we were there. But it was integrated into a much larger hospital network– The Childrens’ Hospital of Philadelphia– giving us access to arguably the best staff in the country. This combination meant that we became very close to some absolutely incredible nurses.
Many of the posts on Sunday focused on what NICU nurses do for neonates. To be certain, Charlotte is alive because of the care and attention her nurses brought to the table each and every day. There were days when the nurses knew before anyone else that CA needed something– a blood transfusion, a hold on her feeds, a day of very little touching. This intuition undoubtedly saved her life, and I see the product of their labors every time she smiles and dances across the room. Her laughter fills our home because they did more than their job–they loved her.
But more this year I couldn’t help but think of what else NICU nurses (and other unit staff!) did for our family.
I think about the way you taught me to care for Charlotte. Teaching me to change a diaper on a baby weighing barely a pound did more than just address the hygiene needs of our daughter– it reminded me of my place in her life. I was there to take care of her, and you always made sure I knew that.
I think of the times you led my father-in-law over to her crib, and gave him an update, making sure he understood the latest changes. He went out of his way to be there with our daughter, and you went out of your way to be there for him. You understood that her survival was dependent on all of us loving her, and you recognized the important role he played in all of that. I think of the times you prepared Charlotte to be moved from her bed to the arms of a loving grandparent, aunt, uncle, cousin or friend. You never complained that we were creating all this extra work for you (which, I know, we totally were!) but you saw that Charlotte had a community of people who loved her, and you made sure she felt connected to that community.
I think of the way you had to help Peter through those first terrifying days. His wife, in recovery, barely conscious, and his daughter, clinging to life with the thin rope of medical technology. I’ll never know what those hours were like, but I imagine him standing there, looking at her. I imagine you seeing him, knowing the road he was about to start down. I can only imagine the patience you must have had, as you watched him meet our baby girl. I think of the first time Caleb entered the NICU, and how accommodating you all were. He was a disaster, as always, but you re-directed him and answered his many questions. You gave him hope when I wasn’t sure I could. I think about that all the time.
I think about the way you shared your lives with me. We talked about sending a child with special needs away to camp– and how scary and wonderful it was. We talked about MRIs to check for cancer, about husbands being deployed, about daughters finding out they were pregnant. We talked about maternity leave, and the Steelers. We talked about how much it really, really sucks to see so many innocent babies in such torture, and we talked about what a blessing it was to have their presence in our lives. We talked about Charlotte’s future, her poop, and her daily progress. You cried with me when we got bad news and you stood stoic when I wasn’t sure I could. You helped me keep pumping when I wanted to give up, and you helped me give up when I wanted to keep going, but knew I shouldn’t.
I think about the way the unit felt like a family– the way I missed you all so much when we were transferred to CHOP or even more so when we finally went home. I think about the way you still offer support and encouragement three years later, and how knowing you has changed the person I am today. I think about how you made us feel so special, and I think about all the other families who probably feel exactly the same way.
I think about you all, so very, very often.
Because I don’t just see you in Charlotte.
I see you in me.