While Claire was whisked away to the NICU in her NASA-like baby incubator with my husband trailing behind the swarm of doctors (Claire’s very first VIP escort), I stayed behind in the delivery room to “heal” aka eat my french toast. After my hour was up, Mary (our L&D nurse) wheeled me up to my recovery room. We did some chit-chatting with the nurse who would be taking care of me, but I was getting a little antsy because what I really wanted was to be with my baby. Eventually we were able to switch the sign outside of my room from “Visitors Welcome” to “My Heart is in The NICU” and away we went.
When we got up to Claire’s room, the first thing I noticed was that her room (four walls shielded off by a glass door) was decorated with these cute little sea themed window clings and her name was big and pink “CLAIRE”. It was something very simple, but it made my heart so happy. I actually developed a type of odd emotional attachment to those cute decorations, and on a particularly hard day (several weeks down the road) I bawled my eyes out when the students who put the decor up came in and switched them out with a less than impressive new set of stickers. Oh how the NICU coupled with wacky hormones can bring out the most irrational emotions in a mom!
The next thing that made my mama heart swell with pride was that by the time I got up to the room, Claire had already been given a bit of a bottle– and she drank! Before she was born, we were told the suck-swallow reflex might not be present and she may not be able to eat on her own. But only a mere hour after her birth, she was already proving what fighter she was going to be!
The doctor who was admitting us spent a little bit of time introducing himself and talking about a few things regarding Claire and our stay at the NICU. He told us that her physical exam after birth looked good, and the fact that she was able to drink from the bottle was a good sign. He expected that she would only be in the NICU for about 4-5 days. Oh how wrong he was. Luckily, I had mentally prepared myself that we would be staying at least until her due-date (4 weeks away) and I’m grateful I remained cautious regarding his prediction. As the weeks slowly crept by in the NICU and we rode the emotional roller coaster of extremely high-highs and incredibly low-lows, I found myself becoming resentful towards this doctor and his unintentional false hope that he planted about being discharged. It was my first (harsh) reality check that Claire was going to be a medical enigma for doctors.
While that particular doctor left a bad taste in my mouth, our good experiences far out weighed the bad. I can not say enough about how phenomenal Claire’s nurses were. These women (and one man) will always have a very special place in our hearts. They took care of her and loved her like their own. They came to know the differences in her cries (was she mad, hungry, or poopy), they were able to anticipate if she would need an early feeding or maybe just a few more snuggles, and most importantly, they filled in when my husband and I couldn’t. They pampered her and spent time cuddling her during the times we were at home with our son.
As I reflect back on these beautiful nurses, I’m flooded with memories that bring tears to my eyes. Like the time I came in one morning to a new picture on Claire’s door. Her night nurse had put a little bow on her head and conducted a photo shoot while Claire was wide awake one night. She had put the picture on pink and purple card-stock with the quote “Though She Be But Little, She is Fierce.” and hung it on her door. That picture is in Claire’s “love box” and we will treasure it forever.
Or the time Claire finally finished her first bottle. Her nurse took the bottle, filled it with little cotton balls, and decorated it with a note that said “Claire’s first bottle!” and set it on the counter for me to see first thing the next morning. I cried out of excitement, relief, and joy as soon as I saw it.
That same nurse took Claire out of her crib on the 4th of July and snuggled her near the window so the two of them could enjoy the fireworks together that evening. It brought tears to my eyes to picture the two of them standing by the door, Claire nuzzled in her nurses’s arms as they watch the black night sky explode with colors of red, blue, purple, and green.
Claire won’t remember these moments, but I will never forget them. These were all moments of love. Love for a child who isn’t your own. The love and support that helped bring some normalcy during such a stressful time. The love that breaks the barriers of a “job” and turns it into a “vocation”.
We spent five weeks in the NICU and during that time, I talked more with Claire’s nurses than pretty much anyone else. We had conversations about family, friends, God, shared funny Youtube videos, and they helped me keep my sanity. They were always there to provide an encouraging word and give gentle and loving suggestions to help me, help Claire.
This post comes at a good time (thanks, God!) because this past week was teacher and nurse appreciation week. To all nurses, thank you for what you do. Your job has so many emotional, physical, and mentally challenging moments, yet you’re expected to “keep it all together” in front of your patients even if inside you are breaking down with them. Thank you for the extra hours you put in — when your 12 hr shift turned into 14 without compensation. And thank you for your love, support, kindness, and encouragement. You are making a difference and leaving imprints on the hearts of your patients day in and day out.