Last night I was visiting my cousin’s son (my nephew, for simplicity’s sake) in the NICU at St. Peter’s University Hospital in New Brunswick. He was born full-term but needed surgery, and is recuperating nicely.
I’ve never been to a NICU before. There wasn’t one at the hospital where my children were born. It was surprisingly calm, and there were so many tiny babies.
My cousin warned us not to look around too much or we would be asked to leave. So, tucked into a corner, we focused on the new addition to our family, and the various blips and beeps coming from his machines, and the waves of the readings on the screen. He was sleeping away after a satisfying 35-mL bottle. We marveled at every twitch, half-smile, and sucking motion.
Next to my nephew, nurses were working on a new baby, I suppose to apply the multitude of sensors needed to monitor his status, plus a feeding line and IVs, just like my nephew had.
I couldn’t help but glance over periodically. My cousin had told me the new baby was 1 lb 14 oz.
I could see his shiny red toes, the rapid beating of his chest, his arms the size of the nurse’s finger. I had never been able to fully process what it meant when someone said “He was the size of my hand,” or how, as in the photo in the hallway, a newborn baby could be wearing his dad’s wedding band on his foot.
When the nurses were done, he was barely visible, covered in a little tent with oxygen swirling around him. But you could still see his beating chest and an occasional leg lifting, those tiny toes exposed.
This baby’s mom came to visit him. She leaned over and spoke gently. I was trying not to stare. I had never seen a woman in this situation before. It felt a little awkward to be standing so close to someone and not say something. So I did, something to the effect of “How old is he,” then wondering how does one refer to the age of babies who are born so early. I think I stammered, “I mean, how far along were you…”
He was born at 25 weeks. “He wasn’t supposed to be here until May,” she said. This was her second son. The awkwardness gone, we talked for a bit, mom to mom. She was doing the only thing she could for her son at this point—she had brought some breast milk. He was receiving 2 mL from a syringe through his feeding line.
I had a quick flash of trying to imagine the feeling of standing over my daughter Lily, had she been born in April instead of July, or Celine, in November instead of February. And seeing them at less than 25% of their actual birth weight. And not being able to mother them.
While I was thankful to have been spared the pain of such an experience, I was more thankful that modern medicine had a way to save these babies. It was truly amazing to see the nurses do their work so confidently, tending to these tiny fragile beings.
On the way out, we stopped to look at the posters made by the families of NICU babies, showing them as boisterous toddlers, smiling children, and even a few as adults. Having seen the preterm babies in real life, I had to hold back tears as I read their incredible journeys toward becoming happy, healthy, thriving children.
This is an original post for Jersey Moms Blog by Darla, a New Jersey mom.
Photo credit given to Babble.