As you know, my babies were both preemies requiring stays in the NICU. The NICU is housed on the 7th floor of the hospital where they were born. The 7th floor is the maternity floor. When you get on the elevator and push 7, people give you little smiles, and sometimes even say congratulations if they see the hospital id bracelet on your wrist. Going to 7 means you’re a new mommy or auntie or grandma; that you or someone you love is anxiously awaiting the arrival of a new little life. What those elevator congratulators probably don’t know is that amidst all the joy and excitement of Grant 7, there is a place no parent wants to find themselves; a place where fear and the unknown abound. Of course I’m talking about the NICU. No parent wants to leave the hospital without their baby, only to return, day after day, having to push number 7 and receive those smiles and nods before walking past the anxiously waiting families, the rooms where babies and mothers cuddle and nurse, and the newborn nursery, only to ring a doorbell and gain entrance to the land of no guarantees.
One day when my baby was finally healthy enough to be moved to the Continuing Care Nursery on the 8th floor, I stepped onto the elevator and pushed 8 with what can only be described as a giddy sort of relief. NICU babies who have graduated to the 8th floor mostly just need to grow and learn how to eat; they are generally not in critical condition. In some ways, it means the storm has passed, or at least the worst of it. The CCN has private rooms and families on the 8th floor enjoy a sort of privacy not afforded to the families who are still “downstairs”. I was so excited to get on that elevator and push 8. That day as I pushed 8, a man looked at me with a sympathetic smile and nodded knowingly. “Got a sick kid?” he asked. You see, 8 is the Peds floor. People going to 8 have a sick child. In that moment I was struck by how subjective perspective is. I felt a sense of triumph in being able to push 8, while he saw a mother with a sick child; someone to feel sorry for.
The power of perspective hit me again last Friday. That morning the “Washer Fluid Low” message came on in my car. I immediately began fretting about it: did we have any washer fluid in the garage, what if I ran out, when would I have time to stop and get more? That afternoon my 17 month old woke up from his nap with blue lips and a 105.4 degree fever. We spent 6 hours in the ER while doctors and nurses worked on restoring his oxygen and bringing down his fever; getting chest x-rays and trying unsuccessfully to get an IV into his dehydrated veins; administering lab tests and blood cultures and breathing treatments. After six hours he was doing better and we were free to go. As we pulled out of the parking garage that “Washer Fluid Low” message popped up again, and this time I laughed. How absurd that I’d fretted so about something that, in the grand scheme of things is so trivial. Children have a way of putting things in perspective.
In her book, "Half Baked: The Story of My Nerves, My Newborn, and How We Both Learned to Breathe", Alexa Stevenson says, "Being a mother in the NICU is a painful crash course...like learning to swim by being dropped into the ocean by a helicopter". She's right. That experience is what gives me perspective. It's what allows me to laugh about and share with you the many mishaps of parenting that I experience. As my family gears up for our 5th March for Babies event to benefit the March of Dimes, I reflect on that experience and am reminded of how lucky we are, and of the many others who are not.
Austin, born at 29 weeks and weighing 2lbs 10oz, 56 days in the NICU. Benjamin, born at 30 weeks, weighing 3lbs 5oz, 36 days in NICU. They are our miracles. We walk for them.
We would greatly appreciate it if you would consider making a donation to our March for Babies team. You can learn more or make a donation at www.marchforbabies.org/apate. Thank you for your support.