How NICU Nurses Helped Me Learn to Parent

September 3, 2014

At just over half-way through my pregnancy, it was finally starting to sink in that we were about to become parents. I had started feeling the baby kick. My husband felt the baby move with his hand on my belly for the first time. We needed to begin preparing ourselves and our home for a new addition!

We were going to sign up for birthing classes. We were going to tour the hospital. We were going to convert our music room into a nursery. We were going to have baby showers and I was going to hold baby clothes over my hugely pregnant belly and exclaim – wow, how tiny! We were going to pick out a name.

So, when I started feeling cramps, it did not even occur to me that I might be in labor.

I had not done any of the things I was supposed to do before I had a baby.

When our baby arrived at 23 weeks 3 days gestation we were stunned.

How in the world were we going to parent our micropreemie baby, one we had barely prepared for, while he was in the NICU?

Thankfully, there were NICU nurses.

Our first family picture in the NICU, taken by NICU nurses

Our first family picture in the NICU

The first time I saw Jaxson, his nurse said to me, “I know this wasn’t what you were expecting, but congratulations!” She acknowledged the fact that we were scared out of our minds and at the same time helped us remember that we had just had a baby and that deserved to be celebrated.

Then, she offered to take our family picture. A photo was the last thing on my mind at that time, but that picture is one of my most precious mementos from Jaxson’s 93 day NICU stay.

We were terrified to touch Jaxson at first – he was so small and sick! The nurses in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) saw how nervous we were and compassionately taught us how to safely touch our baby. One nurse demonstrated the light touch we should use on my skin first, then she guided my hand inside the isolette and gently laid it on our newborn son’s hand.

She looked me in the eye and said, “He knows you’re here. This is how to love your baby right now.” And in the midst of all the alarms, transfusions, medicine, and fear, NICU nurses taught me that my son needed me.

NICU nurses patiently taught my husband, who had never changed a diaper before, how to change one that was barely the size of a deck of cards. They allowed him to try again and again until he got it right. NICU nurses taught him confidence.

Our son’s nurses showed us how to dab our son’s lips with a Q-tip soaked in breast milk so he would get to know the taste and smell. They taught us how to take his temperature and how to interpret the numbers on the monitors. We learned how to read his body signals to see if he was in distress or if he was ready for interaction. NICU nurses taught us how to advocate for our baby’s needs.

NICU nurses taught us how important meaningful touch is for preemies. They encouraged us to do Kangaroo Care, even when Jax was on the ventilator. They taught us how to find comfort and peace when we were holding our son by teaching us to pay attention to him, rather than the constant alarms and monitors.

We learned, at our son’s hospital bedside, a different way of parenting. But NICU nurses did much more than just teach us how to do our son’s basic cares, they taught us how to love and comfort our tiny son through the portals of his isolette.

And by the time Jaxson came home, we had almost forgotten that we hadn’t had a chance to prepare for his arrival. Jaxson’s NICU nurses had taught us everything we needed to know.