If you’re a NICU mom, you might understand that feeling when you innocently open the mailbox to find an invitational post card on top of your stack of bills that inevitably says, “Join us for our NICU reunion!” with pictures of balloons on the front. That feeling. It’s a feeling of, “I appreciate everything those people did to save my daughter’s life” but also a feeling of, “I never want to relive that chapter again.”
When my daughter was born at 35 weeks, we knew she would need NICU time. I had an amniocentesis done at 34 weeks (after already living in the hospital for four weeks and going into labor twice) that confirmed her lungs were not fully developed. As my body continued to reject my daughter, and as I continued to not respond to high doses of terbutaline and magnesium sulfate, I knew it was time to go ahead and forcefully evict her via c-section before my vasa previa-controlled body did it for us.
She was born at 35 weeks and stayed in NICU until roughly 39 weeks gestation. During that time, she overcame a lot very quickly. She had a feeding tube through her umbilical stump for a few days, she came off oxygen after a few days, and before we knew it she looked like a typical newborn and graduated to the “going home soon” floor of the NICU.
Unfortunately for us, that is where the most difficult part of her journey began and she regressed. Although she appeared to be fine on the outside, without all of the tubes the other babies had, she wasn’t. Her alarm was always going off as she would desat, or “forget to breathe”. Every time that alarm went off, even if it was another baby’s alarm, our hearts would race. You see, NICU babies have goals they have to overcome before they can go home. One of those goals is five days “spell free,” meaning the baby does not desat for five days in a row. Yes, this means that babies make it to day four and then have five spells within an hour, setting the clock back to day one. Yes, this means that babies can go five days “spell free” and then have one IN THE CAR SEAT DURING THE EXIT EXAM, setting the clock back to day one.
I am forever grateful to the nurses who were in NICU with me during that time. The nurses who hugged me, who encouraged me, who told me, “I cannot tell you when she will go home, but I can tell you that she went all night without a spell, so that is awesome, momma.” The nurses who helped me try to breastfeed her and told me to not give up when she would just stop breathing while feeding, causing her to desat and turn blue ON ME. The nurses who told me, “She will be okay” as I held her and cried because I couldn’t successfully breastfeed my own baby without drowning her due to over-supply and her inability to keep up. That one nurse who told me, “I see a lot of unprepared parents come through here and you two are the ones I worry the least about. You are already pros.”
I will never forget their faces. The kind women who rubbed Zoey’s back to pull her out of a desat. The kind women who told me, “Mom, you can do this, pull her out of it” as I learned to pull Zoey out of a desat on my own. Those kind women’s faces and words were in my mind after I got Zoey home, when she would show signs of a desat in my arms during nursing, when I would cry with fear and worry that I wouldn’t be able to pull her out of it. Those women’s faces and words are in my mind and heart today, as my daughter is officially three-and-a-half years old and has defied the “preemie odds”.
So you see, it’s not that I am not grateful for the people who work day and night in NICU. They were a huge part of my life for weeks that I will never forget.
I can’t go back. I can’t bring myself to walk amongst them again. I sometimes wonder how the other babies are doing that Zoey shared a floor with. I wonder how they’ve grown, if they are as big as she is, if they overcame the odds. But I don’t wonder enough to want to go back. Maybe that is selfish of me, maybe some of you relate. I’m just not excited at the thought of reuniting with that chapter of my life. I understand that I am extremely blessed – and I hope that a NICU nurse reads this and perhaps understands why I feel this way and why some moms just won’t ever come to those reunions, no matter how many post cards you send them. It’s not that I’m not thankful for you, it’s just that I don’t feel the need to relive that part of my life again.
The very first time I got that post card in the mail, I cried and immediately threw it in the trash. Each year, it sits on my kitchen counter a little longer. It still ends up in the trash, but the journey from the counter to the can is elongated. Every year at Christmas I think, “I really should send them a card.” I never do. But I think this year I will.
I do not plan on ever attending a NICU reunion. If you’re a NICU nurse, please forgive those of us who cannot bring ourselves to reunite with you. But just know, you are not forgotten. You are remembered and appreciated.