It’s one of those clubs you never want to be a part of. Having a baby in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is one of the most trying and emotional things a new parent could go through.
After the physical and mental exhaustion of labor and delivery, to have your baby “taken” from you almost immediately and admitted to the NICU is just heart-wrenching.
I should know. This happened with both my babies.
There are many different reasons a baby might need to be admitted to the NICU, ranging from prematurity to congenital medical issues to trouble feeding or maintaining body temperature. Regardless of the reason, all NICU parents share a common experience and bond.
Here are 14 things that NICU parents know all too well:
We feel like we’ve earned an honorary MD
We get a crash course in anatomy so we can understand the (usually multiple) issues our newborns are experiencing. And we spend our days checking “sats” measured by our baby’s PulseOx.
We learn how to change NG tubes and understand the importance of every cc of milk they receive through them. After countless hours of speaking with doctors and nurses, we often feel we have earned our honorary MD.
We get pretty comfortable with the Metric System
NICU mamas, amiright??? We watch our baby’s body temperature in the isolette monitored in Celsius degrees. We hold our breath each day when the nurse weighs our little one; praying for any extra grams from the day before, hoping to hit the milestone of the next kilogram. Pounds and ounces? What are they?
We love our kangaroo care time
To some this term may sound funny, but NICU parents know this is a beautiful bonding experience between us and our fragile infant. Also known as “skin-to-skin,” this is often the only way our doctors will allow us to snuggle with our babies in the beginning because of its numerous benefits.
We all have favorite nurses
And, as NICU parents, we know the nurse you are assigned can make or break your day. I know I will be forever grateful for those that treated us and our babies with compassion and empathy.
We are hospital cafeteria connoisseurs
We know the cafe hours by heart and when each meal is served. We’ve discovered which shifts have the best food (breakfast, baby!) and what times to get there before things will be picked over. And, we all have our fave go-to snack.
We have immense guilt over leaving our baby at the hospital
This one is so hard. It is one of the things that still haunts me to this day. But oftentimes parents need to leave the NICU and their baby in the capable hands of the medical professionals caring for them.
Sometimes we need to leave to care for other children or pets, and sometimes it’s for our own sanity. The comfort of home for a few hours is often needed to re-energize for the next day.
Beeping monitors make us cringe
Those damn monitors. I still hate them to this day. The memory of their slow, steady beeping 24/7 — or, God forbid, the alarms — can give us chills for many years after the experience.
We are often startled at the size of an average newborn
You had an 8 pound (or should I say 3.63kg) baby??? I’ll tell you, my 4- and 5-pound newborns were not exactly easy to push out. The average newborn may pretty much look like a toddler to NICU moms and dads.
Return trips to the hospital for appointments often trigger emotional responses
Often babies who have been in the NICU have medical issues that need continuing follow-up even after their discharge. Visits back to the hospital can bring back lots of memories and the strong feelings associated with them. Some of those feelings never really go away.
We sometimes get jealous when we see family and friends having healthy babies
Although I feel guilty admitting this, it is so true. Please understand we are always genuinely happy for the positive birth stories we hear from our loved ones, but as NICU parents we really do mourn the loss of what could have been for us.
This can be incredibly hard when we see you bringing home your strong, brand new baby. It can trigger many what-ifs for us.
What if I was able to nurse MY baby? What if I could have taken them home at 3 days old, instead of 3 months? How would things have been different for us?
We are surprised at how easy it is to hold a baby without wires
While in the NICU our babies are attached to so many tubes and wires. We learn how to untangle knots, reattach loose leads, and navigate around IV poles. Once our babies are disconnected from them, holding a squirmy infant seems like a piece of cake.
Hospitals have seriously uncomfortable furniture
Have you ever tried to sleep upright in one of those plastic cushioned rockers? Enough said.
You have good and bad days and minutes
In the NICU world things can change on a dime. One moment things are looking up and you are discussing discharge. In the next instant a setback can change your plans completely. It is an emotional roller coaster that you can’t truly understand unless you’ve been there.
Our NICU kiddos are fighters
I can’t say enough about this. Never underestimate the strength of a determined little person, even if they are only days/weeks/months old. Our NICU babies are our heroes and examples of the strength we wish we had. Their resiliency is awe-inspiring, and we are so very proud to be their parents.
So, to all of you who may be in the NICU trenches right now. . .
I hope from reading this you realize you are not alone. Wherever you are in your journey, your fellow club members get it. And to all fellow NICU parents, past and present — this may not be a fun club to be in, but we have each other.