I never wanted to have one of my children admitted to the NICU immediately after their birth, but in hindsight, it has been a gift and a powerful reminder to me of how blessed I am to have had a team of professionals not only provide me with great medical care but also great love thirty-seven years ago, when I survived the abortion meant to end my life.
Our second daughter, Ava came hurtling into the outside world on August 6th, just seven weeks ago. (And I truly mean ‘hurtling’…she came so quickly at the end of my labor that I had to call my husband to come up to the delivery room from the hospital cafeteria)! Needless to say, her quick delivery led to concerns about fluid in her lungs, and she was almost immediately taken to the NICU. As you can imagine, my pain, my husband’s pain, and our whole family’s pain over this move to the NICU was immense.
After a brief period of observation, Ava returned to my care, and to be honest, I thought little of the NICU nurses, except, “I hope to never see them again. They took my baby.” In my heart, I was grateful that they monitored her and knew that they were simply doing their job, but any new mother is heartbroken by their potential health difficulties and absence from their side.
Although I never wanted to see those nurses again, I did. Go figure, right?! A little over 24 hours after she had been released from NICU observation, Ava was back there again, and admitted as a patient this time (not just for observation) after turning blue during a crying spell. I will never forget my wails that night when the nurses told me what had occurred and where she was. I will never forget my fears as I watched doctor after doctor, nurse after nurse, begin to treat her and run a battery of tests to determine the source of her issue. I will never forget how heartbreaking it was to see my tiny, beautiful girl tangled up in wires and hear the monitors beeping, tracking her every breath.
I was scared. What was wrong with her? How would she ever be okay?
I was angry. Why Ava? Why did she have to be in poor health? Why did she have to go through an experience similar to mine, being a patient in the NICU?
And there it was. The silver lining in all of this painful mess. Through Ava’s stay in the NICU, I had the opportunity to fully reflect on what it must have been like for me as an infant and also on how incredibly important not only my nurses and doctors were back then, but how Ava’s were, as well.
Over the course of the next few days, Ava was found to be healthy overall, with her blue spell likely stemming from central apnea, which hasn’t occurred since then, thankfully. She was also diagnosed with laryngomalacia, which you may know as a floppy larnyx, which she will grow out of. Even though I had never heard of it before, laryngomalacia is quite common, and in the grand scheme of things, Ava’s case is mild compared to many others. I always like to pre-warn people, though, that her breathing can sound bad, even though she is actually not in distress. The proper term for her noisy breathing due to her floppy larnyx (immature, soft tissue there that leads to her sucking in that tissue when she breathes in) is stridor, but we have lovingly termed it ‘honking.’ Sometimes she makes no noise at all, and then other times, Ava breathes (which can sound a bit like a goose honking, hence our loving nickname of it) so loud that out in public, strangers will ask of she’s okay. Don’t worry, she is. And despite a rough case of GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease), which goes hand in hand with her laryngomalacia, she is a strong, bright-eyed, sweet seven-week-old girl.
Now that you know that Ava is a honky breather but is doing well overall,let me get back to the subject at hand: having life come full circle once again and getting the opportunity to see through my eyes as a mother, the crucial role that NICU staff made in my life. As a little girl, I heard the stories from my parents of how the nurses who cared for me did many things that positively affected my healing, and therefore, life: how they knitted me clothing and baby booties (that our oldest daughter uses on her dolls now), how they gave me a name when I was left nameless.
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Throughout my childhood and into adulthood, I was a pen pal with one of the NICU nurses, exchanging communication regularly. As an adult, I met a number of the nurses who cared for me. I have always been thankful for all that they did for me, and have known in my heart that their love for me and how they let their love guide their care for me, helped me to survive and thrive despite the abortion attempt and my initial complications and struggles as a result of it. As much as I believed this, it wasn’t until I saw Ava lying in the incubator, waiting for my touch, for the sound of my voice, that I understood how transformational the NICU nurses were for me.
“Ava has me,” I reminded myself, often through tears, as I held her every chance that I had. I wanted to hold her all day and all night, and I darn near did, but there were times I had to leave her side, and I felt terrible for leaving her. Then came the terrible realization, “I had no one.”
I. Had. No. One.
Until my adoptive parents came to visit me in the hospital and ultimately came into my life, I had no one. No one to stroke my arm through the hole of the incubator. No one to sing songs to me so that I could hear their voice that was familiar to me from my time in the womb. No one to come running to me in the middle of the night to feed me or offer me comfort.
I had no one. No one but the NICU nurses, volunteers and doctors.
I would give anything for Ava to have not been in the NICU after she was born, but I am forever changed and yes, even thankful for the opportunity I had to see the staff caring for and loving on Ava. They didn’t know it, but by caring for her, they were solidifying for me the important role that NICU staff played in my life. And even more so, they showed me the power that simply being there for someone, whether they are an infant in an incubator or a pregnant woman in need; reaching out with a warm touch, a kind voice, a heart of compassion and care, that makes all of the difference–in that one life and truly in the world.
My heartfelt thanks to all of the doctors and nurses who poured out their medical expertise and love on me as an infant, to all of those currently pouring out their love and skill on Ava, and to all of the medical professionals around the world who transform lives by their acts of love and care.