September is NICU awareness month, and if you or a loved one is a NICU veteran, then you know how important it is to bring awareness to the world’s smallest fighters. So what is the NICU? NICU stands for neonatal intensive care unit. It’s the ICU for babies, the newest members of society. Intensive care units are the areas of the hospital reserved for the sickest patients, the ones needing the highest level of care. The NICU however; is unlike any other ICU, or area of the hospital for many reasons…
In the NICU,
The tiniest humans fight battles bigger than Goliath himself to wake up and fight another day. Sometimes they do it alone, not everyone has the privilege to be able to stay with their child.
These tiny little warriors often get their first IV, intubation, or even surgery before they even have a name.
Enough prayers are heard within the walls of a NICU to rival a church revival. Every moment praying for another moment, another chance for that tiny little soul to see another day.
Warrior parents have to leave the hospital without their baby and with an empty car seat. That is heavy to just type.
These parents experience that sudden dread every time the hospital calls their phone. They are already taking the leap of faith of trusting strangers with their child.
Every beep, every alarm, every whisper, makes your heart drop to your stomach. Miracle and tragedy walk hand-in-hand through the hallways of a NICU. Parents never know which one is going to stop first at their child’s isolette.
Milestones look very different in the NICU, the smallest of the small things get celebrated. Everything is a party!
So what should we all learn during NICU Awareness Month?
Here are a few things that I think are important:
- Every baby and every family, no matter the gestation at birth are struggling with being in the NICU.
- Parents need intensive care just like their baby. It is IMPERATIVE to the long term health and well-being not only of the parents but the baby as well.
- Parents of NICU babies have all the desires and wishes of parents who don’t have NICU babies. They long to hold their child, to feed their child, to be the first one to give them a bath, a feeding, a diaper change. This is an innate part of being a parent.
- We should do EVERYTHING to make PARENT moments available in the NICU. In spite of the wires, the extra work and the extra time it takes to do it we MUST make it a priority. They are still PARENTS while in the NICU. Every opportunity to parent their child they would normally have at home should be no different in the NICU. We must validate, equip, encourage and support them as they begin their parenthood adventure. They will be the ones left to care for this child after the NICU so they should be supported in these activities while still in the NICU.
- Baby Vitals = Parent Vitals: Every time we access a baby’s vital signs and cues we should be accessing these in the parent as well. Parent well-being = Baby well-being.