It’s a club no one wants to belong to: being the parent of a premature baby. These tiny fighters are impossibly fragile. Every day, every hour, every minute can be a struggle. Now that my son is a toddler, we wear it like a badge of honor.
But as scary as it was, there were bright spots to his 73-day stay in the neonatal intensive care unit. The day he turned his head to the sound of my voice. The first time I held him against my chest. And the rays of sunshine that were the NICU nurses.
Those women were my lifeline, my home away from home, my strength. They were, simply put, awesome.
Thank you, Rachel —
For catching the most amazing pictures of my son at 2 a.m. when she was taking his vitals and re-loading the feeding tube. I always looked forward to her shifts because I knew I’d wake up to my son’s face in my text messages.
Rachel also introduced me to the sangria swirl: a mixture of sangria and margarita in a glass — a bowl, really — large enough to wear as a hat. Because, when you’ve been up all night crying and she’s been up all night taking care of your preemie, sometimes you both need a drink.
Thank you, Jody —
For being my son’s first crush. He loved the sound of her voice. I’d come in after her shifts and he’d be clutching her long blonde hair in his tiny fists.
When my son celebrated his first Halloween in the NICU, there was no trick or treating, but Jody brought in a craft pumpkin and put him in it, oxygen lines and all. She then smoothed out his hair and crouched behind the pumpkin, holding his head up, so I could celebrate Halloween like all the other first-time parents.
Thank you, Angelle —
For changing his diapers after his circumcision. Because … ew.
Thank you, Irene —
For drawing diagrams of hearts and lungs on paper towels, so I could see through my tears exactly what was going on when she had to intubate him and put him on a ventilator.
Thank you, Celeste —
For giving me a very hands-on tutorial of how to un-constipate a preemie like a boss. There was shrieking involved (mine, not my baby’s).
And for inviting me to get Chinese food on her day off. It was the first time since my son had been born that I felt like a semi-normal person.
Thank you, Bridget —
For not only delivering my son, but babysitting later and folding piles of laundry while I tried to figure out how on earth something so small could make such a huge mess.
Thank you, Andrea —
For being my rock. The day after my son was discharged from the NICU, neither one of us had slept, and I was an unbrushed-hair, stained-clothed, stale-bread-eating wreck. A mother of preemies herself, she came right over after a shift and slept on my couch in her scrubs, cradling my son on her chest so I could get five glorious hours of sleep. In the wee hours of the morning, she handed him back to me, hugged us both, and headed back to the hospital.
She took time to press his impossibly small finger into a bit of silver and created a fingerprint I wear around my neck every day. Andrea is now my son’s godmother.
And thank you to all the other nurses and nurse practitioners in our NICU and in all the other NICUS. These are not just nurses, they are warriors. They celebrate our joys and mourn our losses. They are women (and men, too!) who leave their own families to keep families, like mine, together. They are my own personal heroes.
There has been at least one NICU nurse at every single one of my son’s milestones from birthday parties to family celebrations. They are family.