If you have a baby in the NICU one of the daily rituals that have been introduced into your life is your daily trip (or trips) to the NICU to visit your little one. For me, it was very difficult to leave my little boy in the NICU, but it was also just as hard for me to go visit him daily. We kept in constant contact with the staff so we knew what was going on with him, but I also knew anything could happen during that time we were not in contact. My visitation ritual was to visit twice a day, once on my lunch hour, and after work my wife and I would visit. On my way to the NICU, I had a ritual I would go through to prepare myself to see my son. I would pray, maybe shed a tear or two, prepare myself to see him in the condition he was in, and then prepare myself for any bad news that could be presented to me. Emotionally, it was just exhausting. When he came home, one of the many joys I had was that I didn’t have to go through that daily ritual anymore, and those emotions of sadness would now be filled with emotions of joy. However, I never truly let those feelings go.
Going to my first NICU Reunion was also emotional, but the good kind! It was wonderful to visit the staff that took care of your little one while they were in the hospital. Since our son was in the NICU for so long, it was inevitable that we would form life long bonds and friendships with people that kept him alive and got him well enough for him to come home. I just love talking with them, and thanking them for all they did for my son. It allows me to share all the joy he has brought to my life with them. Also, I really enjoy seeing the other parents we met during that tumultuous time in our lives. Those people are the only ones who can say that truly understand what you went through. We were fortunate enough to meet some wonderful, strong, and inspiring people who were going through the same thing we were. We have formed relationships with them that will last a lifetime. We all shared laughs, stories, our child’s successes, our child’s hardships, asked for advice, offer advice, and celebrate the little miracles our children are.
The NICU Reunion also provided me with something that turned out to be more valuable to me than I realized. It provided me with a cathartic experience that is hard to explain. It allowed me to let go all of the pent up emotions I associated with going to the hospital. I didn’t have to go through my ritual to work myself up to walk in and visit my son. I didn’t have to ask the staff questions about my son’s health. The conversations didn’t have to be about his conditions or any of the risks he could face. I didn’t have to prepare for the worst. Now, going to the hospital where he stayed for 192 days is a relaxing, joyous experience. One that isn’t stressful and the emotions are all positive. When I realized that I was able to let all of those feelings go I shed a tear (or 100) of joy, and while I will never forget what my son went through, going to the NICU Reunion allowed me to understand that his NICU stay was in the past, and now I (we) can focus on the future!