These are my fraternal twin sons, Oliver and Jackson. They were born at 32 weeks at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in 2013. My water broke in the middle of the night, and it all happened so fast. Within a few hours I delivered my sons, having barely had a chance to process what it would mean to have babies eight weeks premature.
Both boys were able to breath on their own when they were born, and I felt very fortunate for that. What they needed most in the NICU was time to learn how to eat without a feeding tube, outgrow their infant sleep apnea, and regulate their body temperatures. They needed to grow in physical size and strength, but also to develop neurologically.
Suddenly, the sole purpose of my life was to help my babies adjust to life on the outside and to support their growth. I spent as much time as possible in the NICU caring for my babies and doing skin-to-skin, or “Kangaroo Care.” I found the long nights were the hardest part of being in the NICU. The entire unit would become eerily quiet at night. I would get very emotional without anything to do but wait, but I hated to leave them. To cope with this nervous anxiety, I began to go home in the evenings to get some rest while my husband stayed with the boys. Knowing my husband was there with our babies gave me the peace of mind I truly needed to be able to go home and recharge for the next day.
We were so fortunate for the NICU nurses who lifted our spirits. For every little milestone that the boys accomplished, the nurses would make Oliver and Jackson awards. We hung them on the wall in the NICU to remind us of their progress, and I saved every award for their baby book. This care and attention made our NICU experience easier, and I know the boys will enjoy having a reminder of all the people who were rooting for them in their early days.
I find now that we’ve been home for four years, I’m able to look back on my NICU experience and acknowledge how much I grew as a person, and how my husband and I grew in partnership. Every day is a new challenge, but you will gain strength in the NICU that, in turn, allows you to help your babies grow stronger.
I delivered my third son, Roman, at 35 weeks in 2016. Although he was five weeks premature, he was healthy enough to come home without any time in the NICU. Having had three premature babies who are all now healthy and thriving, I knew I wanted to help other families— especially those with more difficult NICU journeys. I began as a volunteer attending the monthly Volunteer Days, and was recruited to join the Board of Directors in the spring of 2017. I knew it was the right time to commit to giving back to my local NICU community.
I’m truly happy to be part of NICU Families Northwest and to provide support to families in the NICU. It’s been wonderful to see the group grow, and to work on special projects like the holiday gifts for inpatient families. These projects challenge us to find meaningful ways to show our support and build community for parents in crisis.
My advice to others in the NICU would be to embrace your experience for what it is. It’s difficult to get past our own preconceived notions of how things “are supposed to be,” but it is essential. The sooner you can begin to accept each day for what it brings, the more fully you can appreciate the incredible strength your child shows you. Take lots of pictures, capture the memories, and save the little keepsakes. The pictures might not be exactly be how you envisioned them, but they are beautiful— tubes, wires, monitors and all.