Vanessa is a NICU nurse and mother to four, and she is currently pregnant with her second set of twins! Here she shares her thoughts about being a NICU nurse and her own experience as a NICU mother.
I have been a NICU nurse for ten years. I knew right from the start when entering nursing school, I wanted to do something with kids, specifically babies. My first clinicals were with moms and babies and I was given the chance to take an infant to the NICU. This is where my decision was made and set in stone. The nurses working with the smallest of humans had me in awe and just knew that's where I was meant to be.
I think the most challenging but yet also the most rewarding part is the true intensity of the job you are doing is. You are caring for somebody's future. All the dreams they have for that baby and the plans they have made. Every assessment and every moment you are responsible for that child can be a life or death moment. That's a very heavy emotional piece for sure but it also helps us connect with these families and celebrate every victory with them because we are there with them too. Their fight becomes our fight.
My twins fortunately only spent just under two weeks in the NICU. I'm not sure if my being a seasoned NICU nurse had an impact on that, but it surely didn't help. The experience itself was not an enjoyable one by any means. Being someone with vast knowledge in a specific area can both be a burden and a blessing I think. Everything that was done I questioned and wanted to know not the basic answer the medically involved answer. When I was in disagreement with a choice that was made, I was vocal about it. The NICU we were in had different standards of care and protocols, which added to the difficulty because to me they weren't doing it right. At times I felt helpless to do what I thought was in my babies best interest because at that time I wasn't the one making the decisions.
I always felt like I tried hard to advocate for the families before I experienced the NICU as a mom, but returning to work, it definitely gave me a deeper understanding of what these parents are going through. First and foremost, there is a sense of loss of what you imagined for when your baby entered the world. The heartbreak of the simple task of having to walk out of a hospital while leaving your baby behind. With that in mind, I try very hard to validate all my parents' feelings and let them know I get it. I also try and encourage as much involvement as possible. The first thing I always say to parents is, "This is your baby and you have the right to question and understand everything that is going on," which I feel gives them a sense of empowerment in some decision-making in a very scary situation. As the medical team, I think it's easy to forget that this isn't routine for most the world and we need to make sure we try to comfort and involve families as much as possible.
If you have friends or family with a baby in the NICU, ask how you can support them. Ask what would be most helpful to them. Answers will change depending on their own lives. Some have children at home already and need coverage that way while they spend time with their baby in the hospital. Others are first-time parents and maybe just need a kind word or a dinner brought to them because they are tired of eating hospital food.
The best advice I can give to any parent from both a parent's perspective and a nurse's perspective is...
1. Take it one day at a time. There are going to be ups and downs. It's great to celebrate every small milestone and it's okay to feel sadness when things don't go as you wanted.
2. Be kind to yourself. You and your baby are going through this together… no question is stupid … ask any and everything you want and need to feel okay. This is your baby--the medical team are just the current caretakers.