November is Prematurity Awareness Month. In honor of this, some parents who have had babies prematurely have offered to tell their stories to create awareness about his important cause.
To put a real spin on things, our next post is going to be with Cora. Cora is a NICU nurse and is also the mom to a preemie Amelia. I doubt that it happens very often where a NICU nurse who works with these tiny sick babies everyday ends up having a preemie of their very own.
Tomorrow I will feature the story of her daughter Amelia.
How long have you been a NICU nurse?
For a little over 7 years now. I went directly to the NICU after nursing school, and have been there ever since. I had worked in the unit for 4 years when I had my “own” preemie.
Do you prefer to be a “primary” nurse or to have different babies?
I love primary nursing! I’ll admit that the little ones (under 26 weeks) are my favorites, and I was this way even before having my own preemie. I just love the progression from tiny and sick, to having them go home. I love knowing all of the details of their history, and getting to know their parents. Primary nursing has become a bit more difficult for me as of late, as about half of my time at work now is now spent as the charge nurse of the unit. I feel guilty having a primary, but not getting to take care of it consistently. I still do take primary’s, but not as often as I used to.
What are your feelings for the families that have to come through the NICU?
To be honest it varies. I mostly try to focus on my empathy and compassion. I really, truly would not wish having a micro-preemie on my worst enemy. It’s a horrible, horrible feeling not knowing if your baby is going to live or die. I try to remember that having a preemie throws people right into crisis mode, and that not everyone’s “crisis” mode is the same as mine. Being in crisis isn’t always pretty, and that’s OK. Some of the families you really bond with, and others you don’t. It never effects the care I take of their baby.
Do you ever have to deal with a family that you don’t want to deal with?
I don’t ever not want to deal with a family, but certain family’s can make communication and relationships difficult at best. The NICU is a place where a lot of control is lost by the parents, and not everyone responds to this loss of control very well. The hospital that I work at is in the inner city. Our clientele varies greatly, but most of them are younger and single. They have had difficult lives without very much family support, so being thrust into a NICU is even more difficult for them.
What is one thing you do to try and make a family more at ease while in the NICU?
I sit down and talk with them. I try to never make them feel that I’m short on time, and I never want to be the nurse that asks if they have any more questions while simultaneously backing out of the room. I try to give them any control back that I can. I ask them how they’d like their baby positioned, and then make sure that they feel their baby is comfortable after care time is completed. I also really try to validate their feelings, and remind them to remember to try to take care of themselves too.
Does your job ever come home with you?
How can it not? These are people’s babies that I am trusted with on a daily basis. I take that trust and my job very seriously. At work, I am very good at responding calmly and cooly to the crisis at hand. I’m not one to freak out, and I handle emergencies well. The car ride home can be a completely different story though. Many tears have been shed to my steering wheel and husband’s arms, especially after a death.
I remember my first patient that died after Amelia was born. The parents were young (17 maybe?), and didn’t stay long after their son had passed. I was so glad that I was able to help the mother feel comfortable enough to hold him when I pulled out his breathing tube, because at first she didn’t want to be present for it. She held him for a bit and then left. I bathed him, took pictures, and then found him a box. I remember sitting with him (in the box) in a rocking chair with the privacy curtains closed around me and just crying my eyes out. I cried for him. I cried for me. I cried for Amelia. I know that statistically speaking it could have been my child that didn’t survive the NICU, and I will never forget it.
Can you see yourself working in the NICU until you retire?
Yes, I love my job. It’s an addictive field, and it also quickly makes you forget the adult knowledge that you once possessed. I think in micrograms and grams. I like to be able to clean up a dirty diaper with a 2×2 piece of gauze. And there is no heavy lifting. The nurse to patient ratio is also ideal. I usually have 2 ICU babies, or 3-4 healthier babies. I’d never have that few of patients if I worked on an adult floor. Add to it that I get to hold and rock babies on a good day….Nope, I’m not going anywhere.
If you weren’t an NICU nurse, what do you think you would be doing?
Hmmmm…maybe working in some type of surgical field. Hard to say, but I really enjoy technical challenges and details.
Why do you think you make a good nurse for the NICU?
Besides the fact that I’ve had my own preemie? Mostly that I’m very detail oriented. If you’re my family and teasing me, perhaps you would call it anal. I like everything in it’s place, and I’m good at noticing minute changes in my patient’s status. In the NICU this can make a difference between life and death, because these little ones go down hill very, very quickly.
What is the best thing about working in the NICU?
Our successes…both the obvious and not so obvious ones. The obvious ones are the babies that get to go home with their families and have good outcomes. The kids that get brought back in to see us on birthdays and anniversaries and are smiling and happy. The not so obvious ones can even be the babies that die. But, if I can help a family to be able to come to peace with their babies death, and give them back some of the control surrounding it, it can still be a success.
What is the worst thing about working in the NICU?
Families that don’t visit their babies. It just breaks my heart. I try to remind myself and not everyone copes with having a baby in the NICU the same way that I did. And that some people actually cope by not coming, but it is still very hard. My last primary was born to a very drug addicted mother, and in the 4 months this little one was with me, someone from her family came in 3 times. It was heartbreaking. So I held her….a lot. And cried tears of joy when her foster family sent me pictures of her big, and fat, and smiling.
Did you ever think it would happen to you?
Never in a million years did I dream that having a preemie would happen to me. Preemies were just my job. Micro-preemies happened to others…people with multiples, moms that didn’t take good care of themselves, moms that did drugs, etc. Not someone like me that did everything right. But it did, and because of that, I know that it can happen to anyone.
The other thing that having Amelia has made me realize is that no one deserves to have a micropreemie. Even if you were the mom that did do drugs, or didn’t go to the doctor, you still don’t deserve to have a baby that sick. And certainly the child deserves none of it. Having Amelia has made me much more compassionate to these women and their families.
Has having a preemie of your own changed you and how you feel at work? If so, how?
I have been changed forever by having a preemie of my own, and that effects everything in my life, including work. There are days when I’m in charge (and thus responsible for attending all high-risk deliveries) that I am literally in the OR that I delivered in, with the neonatologist that resuscitated Amelia, waiting for an OB to hand me a 23 weeker. That kind of situation just gives me goosebumps, but it’s the kind of thing that I don’t let myself think about while in the moment. Situations like those require 100% concentration, and I’ve found that I’ve gotten quite good at pushing my personal feelings and memories to the back burner when I need to.
I don’t always volunteer my personal story with all of my patients, although sometimes my co-workers do it for me. I hesitate simply because Amelia has had such a fantastic outcome. I think that there is such a fine line of offering real instead of false hope. Sometimes when I find a sobbing parent, wondering if a baby as small as theirs could ever survive, then I speak up. Because they should have the knowledge that I had when I choose to resuscitate. The knowledge that miracles CAN happen, and babies born & 26 weeks CAN have amazingly fantastic outcomes. Is this the statistical majority? No. But some babies inexplicably do it. I’m honored to be a part of their journey.