I brought my preemie to visit the NICU and her primary nurse this week. We got to see one of the OTs and another nurse I knew as well, and it was quite an experience for me.
This is not the first time I’ve returned to visit the NICU. I’ve been back twice before with my preemie, and all three times I was surprised at how I felt going back.
The first time I returned to visit the NICU was when my preemie was 11 months old and she had only been out of the NICU for 8 months. I was really nervous before arriving because I thought it might be hard for me to be back in the NICU and that I would have an emotional breakdown. What surprised me was how comforting the smell was when I walked into the NICU, and how at home I felt. It was like coming home when you’ve been gone for months. I recognized almost everyone (staff), and they knew me as well. I felt totally comfortable there and wanted to wash my hands and move in for a few hours. It felt good to be back.
The second time I visited my preemie was barely 2 years old. This time I thought for sure most of the staff would have forgotten me, and I would feel estranged from the NICU world. I did not. I walked in and felt right at home again. The receptionist knew me, and word spread that my preemie was visiting and many staff members came to say hello: doctors, nurses, NNPs, OTs, and even RTs. even more than I could remember their names. It was like catching up at a family reunion – I loved it! I could tell that my girl’s primary nurse was very happy to see her and that all of the staff were excited to have a graduate return.
This time, two days ago, 1 1/2 years had passed since my last visit, and again I was a bit anxious but I was sure it would be a comfortable experience like my first two visits had been. I was surprised when my feelings were very different. I got nervous before the visit again, and even though I knew exactly where to go and what I would find there, I was a little extra frightened. Walking down the hall toward the NICU the sights, sounds, and smells of the NICU took me in. I did not feel comfortable or at home this time. My heart started to race and I was scared – frightened of the tiny babies struggling to survive behind those closed doors. I was frightened of the sorrow, the stress, the fear, and the loneliness of the NICU. It amazed me that I had ever learned how to survive in that atmosphere.
I wonder if I felt that way because I’ve had a full-term baby since my last visit to the NICU, and I’ve watched her grow so easily and healthily. I’ve witnessed how a baby’s first few months of life should be, I’ve felt the peace and joy of a full-term delivery, and I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to take my newborn baby home from the hospital with me.
I am so frightened of having another preemie that I don’t know if I will ever risk having another baby of my own. (I came to this conclusion long before this week’s NICU visit) After having a full-term baby, I don’t know if I could survive the NICU again. It was very hard to be back. However, it was still a pleasure to have a reunion with my girl’s primary nurse, another wonderful nurse, and one of my awesome OTs. I do not regret my visit one bit.
Have those of you with NICU graduates returned to the NICU for a visit? How did it go?