On Tuesday I had the opportunity to sit on a panel of former NICU parents talking to NICU nurses. The panel was part of a training session put on by the March of Dimes Parent Support team. The nurses listened to the panel a lot like they do their jobs; with all their heart. When we parents cried, they cried. When we parents reported on our children’s latest achievements, the nurses beamed with pride. They remembered our children, not just as names, but intimate details about each.
Saying neonatal nurses are special, seems like a huge understatement. I can’t pretend to understand what is going on inside their heads, but watching them through both of my boys’ NICU stays, I think the best way to describe them is a band warrioresses (and warriors) of love who protect and pray for their babies.
I’ll never forget the cardio-thoracic surgeon, who had the intimidating peacock of only a surgeon walking into the room. He addressed me appropriately, but didn’t consult the nurse before examining Owen. This particular surgeon was built like a power forward and this particular nurse was maybe 5 feet tall. Upon his opening Owen’s isolette doors, she clipped across the room faster than you could believe, asked him to remove his watch before putting his hand in the isolette and demanded his credentials. He mocked her with that surgeon’s arrogance. She smiled back with her mouth, but her eyes were serious as she put her hand kindly, and with warning, on his arm said, “we are very protective of our babies”.
Not only are they tough, but after spending time getting to know the nurses, I’ve found most are also quietly spiritual. I imagine, seeing miracles and loss every day at work puts life into a special kind of perspective. They use their breaks to go to the chapel to pray for their charge and in times of loss, they openly cry with their families. It seems, with each passing baby, their heart breaks a little with the family. They understand that they are one of the few people who truly got to know each baby – that forever, the nurse is connected to the family as someone who also cared for their child.
NICU nurses have special ways of showing their love. Some go into the linens room and horde the best blankets for their baby. They take great pride in offering the family a small sense of normalcy with something as simple as a nicely put together bed. They make notes for the family from the baby and have pet names, like “buddy” or “sweetheart” or “superman”.
They also have a sixth sense, many times they don’t even need to look at a parent or hear a word out of their mouth – they often seem to know what a parent is thinking of and exactly what they need to hear in each moment. A NICU nurse knows that she is in charge of the physical care of the child and also the mental health of the family.
With a calm soothing voice and gentle hands, a NICU nurse guides a timid parent’s hands showing how to hug a baby who isn’t strong enough to be held. A firm hand on the baby’s head and one on the feet…it’s the silent NICU prayer that the nurses often lead.
The NICU nurse knows she is just behind the parents in knowing the baby best. She will stand up to doctors and push to make sure the baby gets the very best care – with special attention to the comfort of the child…and parents.
The expertise of a NICU nurse cannot be forgotten. The attention to detail that is needed to care for babies who weigh so little. A millimeter can be a life or death mistake. Imagine, trying to place an IV in a vein that isn’t much bigger than standard sewing thread or helping place a vent in the airway of such a small size. Their job requires precision and exactness that many of us could never imagine.
A NICU nurse also has a life of her own. I am sure they each have their own struggles and joys. Maybe they have a sick parent or child. Maybe their relationship is in trouble. Maybe they are planning a wedding or desperately trying to get pregnant. Each day when these women (and men) enter the unit, they leave whatever is going on in their lives behind and wholly give their hearts and expertise to be warrioresses (and warriors) of love fighting along with our children…leading the battle to keep babies alive.Ain't No Roller Coaster