I walk into the NICU like any other normal day at work. Except it isn’t normal.
I’d spent the predawn hours forcing myself into a new post-maternity leave routine that involved getting a whole other human being up, changed, dressed, fed, nurtured and to the sitter’s house before heading into the hospital. This new motherhood thing was busy, stressful, and amazing all at once.
I couldn’t stop thinking of my son during the commute. He was so vulnerable, and I was leaving him in someone else’s care while I went to care for other people’s babies. I felt guilty for leaving him. I felt guilty for being excited to see my co-workers and friends and for looking forward to the clear patterns and expectations of work compared to the chaotic schedules and self-imposed expectations of caring for an infant.
The morning work routine came back to me fairly quickly – recorded my caseload, read up on each baby’s history and plan, and headed downstairs into the unit.
Baby Jaxon is my first patient. B pod. New eval. Former 25 2/7 weeker, DOL 5. The sight of him stops me in my tracks and I can’t understand why. This is not an unusual situation or patient. This is normal. Except it isn’t.
It’s like a film was removed from my eyes. After 3 months of newborn immersion at home, I’m struck by Jaxon’s alone-ness. The feeling almost drops me to my knees. Jaxon is someone’s son, a word that has a whole new meaning to me. His parents had no choice but to leave him here with us, strangers, at just 25 weeks of gestation. They had to go home without him. They still have to ask ‘permission’ and assistance to hold him because he is fragile and intubated. They pretend to sleep while away from him. They are lost in a new land.
What kind of trust is that? What kind of privilege is it for those of us caring for him? What kind of responsibility?
I blink back the tears that come to my eyes and take a deep breath. His nurse puts her hand on my shoulder and says, “It’s a whole different view now isn’t it?”
Together, we go about Jaxon’s 8am care. We speak softly to him, I tuck my hand firmly around his small head, my eyes watching his every move – neonatal therapist and neonatal nurse, quietly and expertly supporting him both medically and developmentally.
His mom arrives moments later. I notice the curiosity and caution in her eyes. I take another breath and introduce myself. But I wasn’t the same person I’d been just 3 months before. I never would be.
I do not know what it’s like to leave my sick and/or fragile baby in someone else’s care, but I catch a lightning bolt of a glimpse and I am in awe. Gratitude washes over me when I hold my son later that day – for his health and for Jaxon’s current stability.
NICU parents, you joined a club you never wanted to join, to fight a battle you never conceived of, alongside professionals you never knew existed. Please know that sometimes we are hit right between the eyes with moments of clarity about your journey and our compassion is re-ignited.
You and your children are why we go to work. You are why NICU professionals retire over and over again because it’s hard to ever really leave. Your tiny warriors inspire and teach us every day. Your confidence in us is both humbling and motivating.
My son is now 22 years old. Jaxon, that means you are 22 as well. You and your sweet parents made it all the way through. I remember your face as if it was yesterday. We never forget.
Learn more about NICU Awareness Month here.