The Club I Didn’t Want to Join

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When I became a mom for the first time, I wasn’t prepared for the journey ahead. My daughter was born two weeks early and her lungs were under-developed. She couldn’t breathe on her own. While recovering from a Cesarean delivery (C-section), she was taken to the NICU and intubated.  

NICU stands for the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for premature babies. It’s a place no parent wants their child to go, and a club for which membership isn’t desirable.

Hours after returning to my room, I woke up in a fog with body pain, a broken heart, and bloody legs from scratching, which I later learned was a common side effect of morphine. I hadn’t seen my daughter since she was born. My hospital bed was broken; the leg and head sections wouldn’t lift, leaving my already painful torso sticking up in the air with my head and legs down. After multiple unsuccessful efforts to repair the bed, I realized I had to leave the room to clear my head.

I pulled myself up and rolled out of the bed, awkwardly put on maternity pants, buttoned up my hospital gown, and took my first, but not last, trek to the NICU. I stood quietly at the industrial-style hand washing station at the entrance. The abrasive hospital soap felt like sand against my fingers and hands. The sterile hospital smell wafted through the air. 

As I searched for my daughter’s room, I passed many rooms with premature babies. Some were so small they looked like dolls. All of them were hooked to monitors and machines. I saw parents and loved ones who’d fallen asleep slumped in chairs by the incubators. 

I finally found my daughter’s room which was only lit by a dim under-cabinet light. The only sounds were beeps from the machine monitoring her breathing. I sat in a rocking chair watching her sleep. While physically in pain and emotionally traumatized, I felt comforted and safe in her presence. Watching her rest and peaceful gave me peace.

The on-call nurse entered my daughter’s room on her rounds. She asked if I needed help back to my room. I explained the broken hospital bed and inability to rest. Without any other questions, she set up a pull-out sofa bed, found pillows, and a blanket. 

Hours later, I woke up to nurses and doctors entering the room. They quickly began the process of removing my daughter’s breathing tube. I watched in awe. I’ve never seen someone so little fight so big and hard. She screamed and pulled at the tube with her tiny hands and fought her way into the world. She came into this world fighting and hasn’t stopped since. She has the biggest heart and empathy for others, but will fiercely fight and stop at nothing for what she believes is right.

My daughter became known as the “biggest NICU baby” during her stay. She was too long for the incubator and regularly pulled off cords and ripped out tubes. Her extreme dislike for the medical tape holding down the feeding tube meant she repeatedly pulled it off, leaving tiny marks on her face.

Once her breathing regulated and was normal, she was released. Her graduation from NICU to home was a joyous day. We were grateful and aware not every premature baby celebrates that day.

While my daughter left and hasn’t looked back since (you’d never guess she was a preemie looking at her today), NICU never left my heart. We still pray for the babies and their families. We pray for the ones who never leave. The babies hospitalized for months. The nurses and doctors who bravely care for them while comforting distraught and exhausted parents. 

I learned how to use a blood pulse oximeter, a nebulizer, and about many respiratory medications and side effects for premature babies. Through firsthand experience, we discovered how being born early can impact a child’s dental health, including having no enamel at birth, and complications with baby teeth. 

 

Finding coping strategies for leaving my daughter in the hospital each day and night was critical. Reaching out to family and friends to simply “talk,” was lifesaving through this experience. While never one to ask for help, I found myself doing so during this time and was so grateful for the many resources available. 

 

People say everything happens for a reason, and they’re right. The very moments you think will break you end up making you. When it comes to being a mom and being strong for your children, you find a way, no matter how difficult.

During your next nightly prayer or sending good vibrations into the universe, please remember to include the NICU babies and their families. If you’re inclined to donate monetarily, please consider Hand to Hold, March of Dimes, or NICU Holding Hands.

Prisma Health Children’s Hospital has opportunities to volunteer on a local level. Family Connection of South Carolina has also helped many families of premature babies in the Midlands.  

If you’re interested in helping, there is always a way. Families of premature babies are in need of assistance and encouragement to help them continue to fight for their child’s physical survival and their own emotional survival simultaneously.  

Was your baby born prematurely? Share your story with us.

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Elizabeth is a forty something working, in and out of home, mom, of two littles named Vera (8) and Warren (6). She grew up traveling the world with her military family and has been referred to as the most extroverted introvert in the world. She worked in the denim textile industry for years and was called "Norma Rae," and a "Girl Linthead," by her textile family. She relocated to Columbia in 2000 and has been employed by an Electrical Wholesaler in various positions (Accounting, Customer Service, Sales), becoming a "Jill of all Trades," ever since. Eight years ago, she became a mom for the first time and again a year later. She often says becoming a mother is one of her greatest accomplishments and that her children are magic people who bring enthusiasm and joy and the everyday mom struggles into her life each day. While unpublished, Elizabeth is an aspiring author of children's picture books, a bringer of light, sage blessing and smudger, daydreamer, and magic maker of Happy Boxes of Smiles.

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