The NICU Battle I’m Grateful For

We went on a NICU ride we never wanted but wouldn’t take back for anything. It’s GRATITUDE week here on ParentalGrit, where we took a look the ‘Tude on Monday and yesterday dove into my family’s NICU battle with our second daughter. We continue that story today…

As a refresher, Everly checked into the NICU within an hour of her birth. My wife, bless her heart, tested positive for a common virus and was banned from entering the NICU. She wound up in a recovery room several floors above the NICU and I was devastatingly caught between our newborn daughter battling a Pneumothorax and my wife recovering from birth and struggling with the immediate separation of her second child. It was a chaotic night, as I spent as much time at the bedside of Everly, who had tubes and monitors all over her body. I would go upstairs to console my wife and then quickly return to the newborn.

It was an emotionally exhausting struggle for me, but I can’t imagine the experience my wife endured after such a quick separation from her new baby. We persevered through the night and eventually received more and more optimistic evaluations on Everly. I’m no doctor (and have had little interest in researching the exact details) but basically my little girl had a collapsed lung as she was being born. It heals itself naturally but there’s definite potential for complications, especially immediately following birth. I won’t go hour by hour on the full timeline of the week, but Everly was in the NICU for 2-3 days before being released into basic intensive care (I think that’s what it was called).

My wife had to survive without her newborn while she was tucked away in post-op recovery room. Solace came quickly at each report; Everly was recovering nicely, even though her stay seemed to be prolonged a bit more each time. After a few days, Everly was released into the same intensive care room as my wife. That was an absolutely joyous and tearful reunion, although somewhat comedic when looking back. Because my wife had tested positive for the virus a few days prior, they required her to nurse while wearing both latex gloves and a facemask. I didn’t dare laugh at the time, but looking back it is somewhat hilarious to envision the several days my wife spent wrapped up like a chemist while tending to her newborn.

Again, trying to condense the story, we stayed another few days in the intensive care room with constant monitoring of Everly. After six grueling days, we were finally released and the adventure no parent would ever desire was finally complete. Everly is nearing six months soon and is as healthy as a baby can be. As intensely challenging as those six days were, we can be nothing but grateful that our conclusion was a happy ending. There are so, so, so many NICU stories that don’t end happily and even more that go well beyond a single week of stressful anticipation.

It was a surreal experience for me as the father. My wife was basically quarantined and I was left as the only one able to stay by Everly’s side. If you have ever visited a NICU, the cribs are spaced just a few feet apart with room for nothing more than a single uncomfortable stool in between. I sat in that stool for hour after hour over a couple days, able to do nothing more than stick my finger in her tiny fist or rub the flash of tummy skin free from the chest monitors. While each prognosis from the doctors was steadily more upbeat, it still wasn’t comforting as she lay in intensive care.

In those hours, left alone with my struggling newborn, my mind wandered to all the worst outcomes. The longer I stayed, however, the less consumed I was with Everly’s ailments and more grateful I became. In a room with dozens of babies, Everly was the 8 pound chunk surrounded by premature babies weighing 2, 3, and 4 pounds. As concerning as her initial rush to the NICU was, by day two it was apparent that we were in a whole different arena of danger compared to the other children there. I was devastated for both my wife’s and my daughter’s predicaments, but they often faded to the back of my mind when considering what the other families were enduring. There was a baby the size of a fist battling her second month in the NICU. A slightly larger baby running on month three in an incubator. Each walk to Everly’s bedside was met with sobering case studies of how fortunate we were with her condition. Spending several days in the NICU and a few more in slightly less intensive care was a brutally depressing and exhausting grind; how people manage to cope with more severe infant maladies I have no idea.

It’s Gratitude week though, right? And I chose to share this story during this topic for two distinct reasons. First, we have a healthy baby after an initial scare and NICU run-in. If that doesn’t inspire gratitude, what will? Second, my experience in the NICU revealed that no matter the depth of your trial or despair, there are always others in even more precarious circumstances. There’s always a silver lining, however hidden, that we must be grateful for. To very loosely paraphrase, there is always pain. And with that pain comes suffering. With suffering, perseverance. And with perseverance, there comes hope. I’m grateful for the NICU week my family endured, because experiencing the lows sure helped us to appreciate the highs.

 

And, as I’ve done all week, here are my three thoughts of gratitude for the day:

  1. I’m grateful that I have this platform to write on and eventually share with my daughters.
  2. I’m grateful for the energy my toddler wakes up with each morning, even though I never appreciate it at the time.
  3. Since it’s a NICU day, I naturally have to be grateful for the dedicated hearts and minds that willingly work in such a difficult environment. The nurses, doctors, and staff…I have no idea how they do it.

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