The NICU is a place of dualities. The noise of the nurses milling about, babies crying and the beeping of monitors is constant; yet, there is also a strange quietness that envelopes the room. The room is warm, even hot, to the point where nursing half naked is the only comfortable option; yet, the cold sterility of the highly medicalized environment is palpable in every pore of your body. While in the NICU, the heart is both filled with deep sadness for those babies that are struggling to survive and ready to burst with joy as it witnesses the resilience of these tiny humans.
I never thought I would see the inside of a neonatal intensive care unit. I had a healthy pregnancy that went past 38 weeks; I knew from my previous child that my labor would likely be quick and relatively easy; I am young and healthy. The NICU was for preemies and babies born with medical conditions. It wasn’t supposed to be where my child would spend the first days of his life. But that’s where I found myself, going back and forth between feedings, hoping that it was enough to establish that precious bond between mother and child.
The nurses were kind and offered to give my child pumped milk so that I could rest. Repeating the process of walking down the hall, riding the elevator one floor down and walking down another hall was admittedly exhausting. There were times, while I was with my baby, when I found myself fighting to stay awake. I had to convince myself that it was okay to leave him. It was okay to get some sleep. Sleep that I rarely got since my first child was born.
Still, I felt guilty. I felt guilty that my rapid labor forced me into an unplanned home delivery that set off a chain of events that left my child fighting to survive. I felt guilty for not being able to nurse my son for much of his first day of life. I felt guilty every time I left the NICU to go back to my room to eat, sleep and attempt to make sense of my emotions.
Feeling sorry for myself was easy. I heard the shrill cries of healthy newborns rooming in with their parents, and I wanted to tell them how lucky they were. I wanted them to know that silence is the worst sound in the maternity ward. But, then I would find myself back in the NICU, surrounded by newborns who weighed no more than a few pounds. I watched as parents visited these babies, savoring what little physical contact they could have, and I thanked G-d that I was able to hold my son. The cumbersome wires, the uncomfortable chair, the constant nurse check-ins; none of that mattered. I was able to hold my son. I was able to feel the warmth of his body against my chest and watch his chest rise and fall as we breathed in sync with one another.
I was overjoyed when I got to leave the hospital with my son. I will forever be grateful to the doctors and nurses who cared for him and ensured that I would be bringing home a healthy baby. I will always appreciate the outpouring of love and support from my family and friends.
My experience in the NICU gave me a new perspective on life, and reminded me to never take anything for granted. I hope that my children will continue to remind me of how lucky I truly am.