For parents of micro-preemies who are able to take time off work after an unexpected birth or weren’t working prior to the birth and have the resources necessary to make working optional, the NICU can become a second home. Many hospitals equipped to handle extreme early prematurity, knowing that not all of their tiny patients’ parents will live close by, even have family rooms where moms and dads can camp out overnight.
For other parents of micro-preemies, forced by circumstance to return to jobs or who already have children at home, the round trip, post-work or evening NICU journey can become an important part of the daily routine.
There are, of course, those moms and dads of micro-preemies who live too far to make it to the hospital where their babies lay sleeping and growing once a day and those whose schedules simply do not permit daily visits. But we know that those who can’t be there often call for updates, ask helpful nurses for photos and status reports, and do all they can to be in the NICU for their micro-preemie babies even when they can’t be physically present.
“Why?” is a question we’ve heard posed. “Why wear yourself out when the NICU nurses are doing a great job taking care of the baby? What do you actually DO there every day?”
There’s no one right or wrong answer, of course. But the biggie answer for almost all parents in the NICU, whether they are there coping with extreme prematurity, later term premature birth, or an ill newborn is bond. Simply by being there and talking to their babies, especially when those babies are too delicate or sick to hold or even touch, parents in the NICU can begin to form a relationship with their sons and daughters.
Just sitting beside an isolette or having one’s finger cupped in a tiny hand can be enough to melt a heart, and it’s wonderful to think that the first thing a micro-preemie sees when he or she opens her eyes is the fuzzy outline of mom or dad.
But that’s not all that parents in the NICU do! Parents in the NICU lend their children, whether they are fighting for survival or just struggling to grow, some of their own strength by being there with them when it comes time for yet another medical procedure or frustrating feeding. They read book after book so that babies who may not yet be ready for their parents’ touch will at least learn to love and look forward to their voices. They struggle and suffer and thrive alongside their babies, cheering them on and sharing their tears.
And parents in the NICU – particularly parents of micro-preemies – learn. They learn how to care for babies who need extra special care. They learn about the fragility of life and the specialness of it. They learn more than they would have ever thought possible about hope and resilience. Some learn loss.
But all parents in the NICU slowly learn that the joys and sorrows encountered inside hospital walls are only the beginning of another journey, whether that journey is one of moving forward with a heavy heart, of hopes realized in their entirety, or the realization of some new reality that encompasses both and everything in between.