With 32 week preemie triplets in the hospital, a 3 year old son at home, and a husband who just started a new job over an hour away, I was having some difficulty balancing it all. All I could manage was a one and a half hour visit each day to hold and feed my three precious baby girls.
On this particular visit, I ran out of time. I just didn’t have enough time to feed one of my baby girls. I handed her to her nurse. The nurse smiled at you the way only NICU nurses can smile at a preemie mom, full of sympathy and without a hint of judgement. Even though she spent her entire day, her entire career dealing with heartbroken preemie mommas walking away from their babies, alone in their little plastic isolettes, her smile made me feel as if I was her main concern. It was a smile that radiated confidence; a smile that let me know my baby was in capable hands.
This wasn’t the first time I handed this baby girl over to one of our amazing NICU nurses. Baby Girl C was consistently getting the short end of the stick. In the NICU, the nurses stagger feedings so the babies don’t all get hungry at the same time-that way they have ample time to spend with each child. This schedule meant that Baby C always ate last. I’d start the feedings with my babies in their isolettes from left to right, in alphabetical order, in birth order, but no matter what order you put it in it was always unfair. Because these babies were just learning to eat, figuring their way around a nipple, coordinating their tongues, mouths, sucking, and swallowing, it often took a half an hour for a baby to get a hard fought ounce. Add in diaper changes, taking temps, working around wires, and navigating machines, my sacred time quickly slipped away. Baby C was often passed on to a nurse as I had to head out, to brave snowy roads back home to relieve family members who were taking care of my son.
It didn’t happen every time, but every time it did happen I was heartbroken.
On the days it did happen, I handed baby girl to her nurse, with a quick kiss goodbye and made a quick exit. I usually put my head down to hide the hot tears streaming down my face. I didn’t want to be dramatic. There were mamas in there with really sick babies. I knew mine would come home to me. But this time I stopped short of the door, and turned around, hoping to get one last glance at my tiniest babiest baby, my little neglected NICU princess. I’m so glad I did. What I saw was worth the tears and vulnerability I let show on my face. What I saw made all the difference, made it easier to leave every time, alleviated my guilt, gave me solace and relief.
The nurse was singing to my baby.
She wasn’t really singing a song-more like sing-songy talking to my baby-kind of exactly how you would sing to your own baby. This nurse was being motherly to my child, they all were.
NICU nurses have a level of knowledge and skill that I could never possess. They are dedicated, driving in all kinds of awful weather, missing important holidays with their own families, never getting to go to the bathroom during their shift, scrubbing their hands raw. They are able to communicate with both doctors and with parents, acting as interpreter, softening harsh language for us parents. They are calm, working on the tiniest and most fragile patients all while handling parents with equal care. Their job is a calling, you simply could not do this job without being meant to, without being given gifts from God to thrive in an such an environment. All this I knew. Even being in the NICU a very short time, it was clear to see how adept these women were, easy to see that my babies were in good hands.
Put simply, they are so much more than the name on their medical id badge. They are both our family and our friends. All selflessly putting the needs of others before their own. Nurses deserve so much more recognition and I can only hope to shine a light on their heroic efforts. So, yes next time you see a nurse do not be afraid to ask about the journey behind their identity card. Every nurse has a unique story to tell.
But the singing. That, my friends, blew me away. I thought I knew everything about NICU nurses. I thought I could tell how incredible they were. But the singing. It about brought me to my knees.
On top of everything else, the skill, the knowledge, the temperament, the dedication, these women were being mothers to my babies. The rest of it would have been enough. I knew these women were fiercely dedicated to keeping my babies healthy and safe in a way that I couldn’t. What I didn’t realize it that these women were loving on my babies.
The piece that I thought they weren’t getting-the one thing I could do, but only for a fraction of the day, was love on them, be their mama. I hated to even mourn that for them because they were getting everything else, they were getting everything they needed. And I knew that they wouldn’t remember this piece of their lives. But I was sad, so sad that they weren’t getting love from their mama. Other mommies practically lived in the NICU, were there for almost every feeding. Not me. But it was okay. Because these women were being little mothers to my babies. They traded in their few spare minutes of their day when they could have been taking a breath, going to the bathroom, just walking outside of the intensity of the NICU for a minute, traded those moments to love on my babies.
So thank you to our nurse for your love song to my daughter. Thank you to each and every NICU nurse that took care of my babies. I hope you know I think of our time there frequently. I hope you know I see all you do. I hope you know that I get it.
A Preemie Mom