the NICU

This place.

There is so much I want to say, yet there are no good words.

I want our little Z to come home, of course. Yet I am so grateful for the care she is getting here.

How to describe this place?

It’s the unbelievably dedicated nurses and doctors who see and treat unfathomable conditions, who somehow manage day after long day to bring compassion to their care — i.e., the nurses who are so dedicated to the care of these babies, they work twelve hours a day with competing demands and stressed out parents and patients that won’t all make it home; the doctors who manage the care of over 50 newborns and infants with a wide range of diseases and disorders, staying on top of both cutting edge research and technology and day-to-day treatment.

It’s the mamas who come every single day, doing what little we can for our babies to feel like their mamas, sitting bedside, taking their temperature, changing diapers, folding tiny clothes, feeding them however we can. Holding hope. Counting days.

It’s the daddies who come as often as they can, before and after work and on their lunch hours, or taking care of the rest of the family with constant attention and devotion. Keeping it together. Wishing and waiting for their families to come home.

It’s the babies born too soon or too sick, too small and too frail, wrapped in wires and stuffed with tubes, hooked to monitors and electronic devices tracking every bodily function. Sleeping in rooms with four or five other babies, under dim fluorescent lights, with constant probing and testing by different people every few hours. Some have never been home or felt the sunshine.

It’s the sound of babies often crying in symphony, from one bay to another.  It’s the sound of beeping equipment and the constant din of machinery.

It’s a staffer’s small gesture of kindness that brightens an otherwise dark day — e.g., the security clerk who remembers the names of family members who come day after day, the administrator who offers stickers to an exhausted toddler and makes her smile, the social worker who tries to diminish the strain on a family’s disruption; the volunteer in the playroom who plays with sick kids from the pediatrics floor.

It’s the parent kitchen where visitors and weary eyed parents head to replenish or retreat — e.g., the mom whose baby was born on the 4th of July at 24 weeks and hasn’t yet been home after five surgeries, and her dad who sleeps on lounge chairs in the hospital lobby to be near his daughter and first grandson; it’s the grandma getting a rest from sitting by her grandchild’s crib for hours because her parents have to work; it’s the woman who gave birth last week to a sick baby after nine miscarriages; it’s the dads refilling water bottles for exhausted moms.

It’s knowing that some babies don’t get any visitors, because their families are too far away or have other children or can’t get enough time off work or can’t afford to stay in SF. It’s that the nurses are the only ones to hold these babes.

It’s hearing the stories of others, confidentiality be damned, and knowing you are not alone — e.g., the seemingly healthy girl born at full term who turned blue soon after coming home from the hospital and no one knows why she has trouble breathing; or a boy born with congenital heart defects who is facing his fifth procedure in five months.

It’s my cousin — born nearly 42 years ago at 29 weeks — one of the first “bubble” babies and success stories; and his parents, my aunt and uncle, who re-lived those emotions when they came to visit Baby Z and experienced the sights, sounds and memories of their time in this very same NICU.

There are so many things that make the NICU what it is. But more than anything, to me, it’s about the fragility of life. Precious life.

The other day there was word that a 28 weeker was going to be born and headed to the nursery. 28 weeks. They had to make room, prepare, send a team out for the delivery. It so happened that as Mac and I were leaving with Jaye that day, we saw them headed our way. There was an entire team of doctors, nurses and specialists, wheeling a cart with full respiratory support, IVs, everything. Eight people in all, plus a tiny little baby, just born. As they headed towards us, we stopped talking. I held my breath as they passed. I looked at the tiny little face, covered with a respirator, clinging to life with the support of miraculous modern medicine. I literally could not breathe. I squeezed Mac’s hand and then slowly exhaled as they passed by, headed towards the NICU where that baby would begin its long struggle.

I knew how lucky we were to have made it to 33 weeks, and now 35 weeks (aka 11 days old), after our own scare at 28 weeks. I knew how lucky we were that our daughter’s little lungs were working just fine. Yet in that moment, when I saw that tiny little baby, brand new to the world, born a trimester too soon, I realized yet again how truly fragile life is.

That is the essence of this place.

And I can’t wait for Z to come home.

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~ by luna on September 13, 2011.

30 Responses to “the NICU”

  1. Oh, Luna. Tears here. Lots of tears. You described the undescribable perfectly.

    Much love to you. Hoping Z comes home soon.

  2. Very well described. And insanely it makes me want to go back there at some point. As a nurse. Many hugs and I hope that Z is home soon.

  3. The NICU is a very special place in a hospital. In nursing school I spent some time there and you described it just as I remember it … unforgettable. I can only imagine what it’s like to visit your daughter there and all the emotions you must be feeling. I’m thinking of you and wishing the best for your family, especially a swift homecoming for Z. Hugs coming your way!

  4. Beautiful. It brought tears to my eyes.

  5. Yes. This is perfect. And so beautiful. I suspect it is impossible to read this post without tears. This is exactly the NICU. While I was in the hospital on bedrest the nurses continually suggested that I go to visit the NICU so that I knew what was coming. I continually resisted. I realize now that at the time I just didn’t need such a powerful reminder of “how fragile life is”.

    I am hoping that Z can be home very soon.

  6. Shedding tears as I read this. I pray for all of them. And of course for you and little Z.

  7. it just all makes me cry……………….

  8. This post brought a flood of emotions to me, I know the NICU all too well, my daughter was born at 24 weeks 1lb 6oz. There are no words to truly describe the experience…. Although Luna this post comes pretty darn close. Thank you for sharing.

  9. I spent hardly any time there, which I suppose in my case is both a blessing and a curse. And you brought it all back. It’s hell, it’s a fucking ring of hell, a short hiccup from the inferno, and yet it’s so beautiful, and cooperative, and supportive, and strangely peaceful. I still hold all of our docs and nurses at both hospitals in the highest esteem, and my case didn’t end well. They are my superheroes. Their patience seems limitless.

    And oh my god, that small baby. When they wheeled maddy out in her tin foil microwaves surrounded by young fresh faced, matching-fleece-wearing team from Childrens, a hush went over the room and I realized this is what no parent in there wanted. They were already at the low point, and I just reminded them it could get lower.

    Thanks so much for taking your precious time to write this, Luna. My heart is with you all. And I’m now anxiously awaiting little Z’s release . . .

    • you are right. it is a fucking ring of hell. and yet it is so strangely peaceful. and they are absolutely superstars and superheroes, those nurses and docs, doing what they can and more.

      and oh tash, your maddy, that hush. it hurts my heart to imagine. remembering her with you, always. xo

  10. Sending you good wishes. Hopefully she will get to come home very soon.

  11. Your observations on dads and grandparents hit really home for me. The director of engineering at our workplace had a baby girl born 1 lb 10 oz or some such thing due to his wife’s preeclampsia. Wow, I never knew what those months must have been for him…he used to go before and after work to the NICU.

  12. Tears. These are beautiful words.

  13. What you wrote, as always, touched me deeply…you captured what I imagine it is like with a piercing accuracy.

    The “why them, why not me?” goes both ways…when we are grieving, and when we are grateful. You have been in both places.

    Please keep updating us as you can, even if it’s a short paragraph. You can’t imagine how closely your faithful blog readers are holding on to your every word. And how much strength we are willing you across the miles.

  14. Really poignant post, Luna. You captured my NICU experience and I’m in tears. I have so many good memories from the time that our son was there. One that stands out involves me shivering and hunched, sitting outside of a procedure room where I was waiting for my baby X to have his bronchoscopy and a janitor who was sweeping the hallway floor nearby, saw me, stopped what he was doing and found me a blanket from the warming drawer. Seriously, the generosity and good nature of many people who work at the hospital with children and their parents often goes unnoticed or unappreciated. It really kept me going during a time when I felt worried, confused and isolated. Thank you for reminding me and letting me be grateful again!

  15. I’m a wreck. can’t stop crying. i can’t imagine. hugs and kisses.

  16. Your gift with words brings healing to others. Your daughters are blessed! Wishing you and yours, health! Laura

  17. Tears and joy. Your words are so piercingly true and beautiful and haunting. I can’t wait to hear that she is home with you.

  18. Oh, your words put my heart in my throat, reminding me of the crush of pain, frustration, gratitude, hope, and hormones that I never felt more acutely than when shuffling–at eleven, at two at five in the morning–past another exhausted, pump-toting mother, in search of NICU’s open lactation room. Thank you for this. I’m thinking of and hoping for you and your family.

    • yes, yes. baby Z is on the 11, 2, 5 and 8 schedule, and in between those times I’m often searching for an open room as well (there are only 2), exhausted and weary. thanks for sharing your experience here, as well.

  19. Oh, so heartbreaking for all those families. And yet, it brings hope and the promise of a long, healthy life. I just hope that baby Z comes home very soon and nursing will go easily and life will be unbelievably smooth and joyful for everyone.

    May your two little ones be hugging (and pushing) each other soon.

  20. […] last post was a late night stream of consciousness, got to get it out and “this is how it is” […]

  21. Luna…I have to tell you that you totally and completely captured the NICU in your words. This post took me back to my long night shifts, that don’t get me wrong, I loved my job more than anything. I am so sorry that you, Mac, Jaye and Baby Z are going through this difficult time. Even though I know and you know that Baby Z is in excellent hands- it is just that, that she is in their hands and not yours. With every passing week I hope and pray that Baby Z continues to grow stronger and hit milestones so that she will be that much closer to being in yours and Mac’s hands at home with Jaye watching over her. I know that the NICU can seem like a completely different planet at times with all the beeping and controlled chaos that comes with a new admission. I continue to think of you and your family and hope that one day soon your post will be about the car ride home.
    Love and Hugs!

  22. As a mom of boy/girl twins who are in the NICU after being born 21 days ago, at 33 weeks, 6 days, you described the NICU perfectly. I am there every day, and like you am hoping, waiting and praying for the day they tell me I can take my babies home. The doctors, nurses and all the NICU staff are wonderful and we’ve had nothing but good experiences with them, but there’s still something so heartbreaking and sobering about the NICU. I hope that your baby (and my twins) have short stays and that they are all home soon!

  23. […] together, have been an adjustment for everyone. It’s been tough, but not in the sense of NICU tough; challenging in a different way, in the way that sleepless nights and constant feeds and […]

  24. […] protected from the world upon entry, connected to life through huge beeping machines, here in this place where life was so precious and […]

  25. […] weeks, we moved back home. And three very long weeks later, we finally brought Baby Z home from the NICU. She weighed just five pounds. Only preemie clothes fit her (which are now worn by Jaye’s […]

  26. […] year ago, our tiny newborn daughter was still in the NICU, where she spent her first 20 days learning how to breathe and feed while being cared for by a team […]

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