My family attended a NICU reunion at the hospital last week. Although our latest NICU graduate is two years old, walking into the hospital brought back a lot of memories and emotions. I remembered the smell of the hospital’s parking garage, the maze through the halls and elevators to get to the NICU, and the anxiety that was a constant companion.
I felt a knot in my stomach as I walked down the corridor to the elevator that I used to take every morning to visit my preemie. I used to power-walk down that hall, worried that I would just miss a feeding or diaper change. Now I walked at the unhurried pace of a toddler.
The reunion was held in an event room and it was cheerfully decorated with a fall theme. There were craft tables, info tables, a photo booth, and ice cream sundaes. There was an isolette on display with a little baby doll inside; she was outfitted with the typical wires and breathing apparatuses of most NICU babies, but no one seemed concerned that her oxygen mask had fallen off and kids were reaching their hands through the holes and stroking her.
There were nurses and doctors – some still in scrubs and others disguised in plain clothes. And there were families everywhere – parents who were happy and proud of how far their preemies have come, and babies and kids just as happy about ice cream sundaes and the beaded necklaces they were making.
It felt good to be in a room full of families who understood the same pain we experienced. It was wonderful to chat with and thank the nurses and doctors who had cared for our preemie – this time without the heavy cloud of prematurity over us. It felt liberating to walk out afterward with our whole family, not leaving anyone behind.