First Visit to the NICU
By: Heather Somaini
March 9th – 10:00a
“They took Free to the NICU at midnight.”
I stood there staring at Tere. My “second day parent” high crashed to the ground. I must have misunderstood her, right? Why would they take Free to the NICU? That was for super small and sick babies. Free was just under 6 lbs. and had been fine when I left the night before.
“What? Why?” I asked. My heart was racing. My head was spinning. I was running through every scenario, every possibility in my head desperately trying to figure out what needed to happen next. Tere told me that Free’s breathing had gotten steadily worse in the night and they admitted him into the NICU so they could give him oxygen.
It made sense but I was in shock. How could I have slept so soundly while all this was going on? Why wasn’t I there when my family needed me? Why didn’t Tere call me??? In the five seconds all of that ran through my mind, Tere said I should go to the NICU and check in on Free. Of course!
“Where is it?” I was sort of overwhelmed and completely freaked out that they had taken our son some place and neither of us even knew where it was! I took the elevator upstairs and saw the woman at the desk. I signed in, got a badge, and she escorted me into the NICU. “Escorted me into the NICU” – it sounds so orderly and normal but to be truthful, it was the longest, hardest, most heart-wrenching walk I’ve ever taken. The walls are lined with photos and stories of babies that came to the NICU in devastatingly bad condition – some as small as one pound. They are ultimately success stories which are incredibly powerful and uplifting.
But the other side of it is what fills your head during that long walk. No parent wants to think that their brand new baby is now in this category of sick. No parent wants to think that their brand new baby needs this much help just to survive. No parent wants to think that their brand new baby isn’t like everyone else and able to go home.
I had to wash my hands for what felt like an extraordinary amount of time, an eternity. The whole place felt foreign to me. Scary in fact. I knew when we went through the doors I would see things that I wasn’t sure I wanted to see. We entered Bay 1 – almost every baby admitted to the NICU is placed in Bay 1. It’s where the babies most in need go. As they get progressively stronger and healthier, they advance to Bay 2, then Bay 3, all the way to Bay 6 and then they’re out – sent home to be like everyone else.
But Bay 1 is sort of intense. It’s deathly quiet with monitors beeping and nurses and doctors going about their work with an efficiency that is hard to explain. I was a stranger in this new world, not sure of my surroundings and wobbly on my feet. I walked past baby after baby on my way to Free. Some of them were very ill but all sick and fighting for their lives. I tried not to look but I couldn’t help myself. It all seemed so sad.
I finally got to Free, sleeping soundly with a few tubes sticking out of him. He was on oxygen alright. He was bundled up tight. My precious little boy asleep in this new place. Everything was taking a little getting used to in my new world and I had only been a parent for a day and a half. I was terrified of what tomorrow would bring.