While staring down into the isolette at our tiny baby girl, the newest addition to our family, I found myself in a new environment, with a fresh perspective — but not a new role.
I was Mom. I am Mom. This tiny two-pound girl would be our third daughter but, as our first child through adoption, she also brought with her our first experience in the NICU.
We had waded through the waters of parenthood for the past six years. But now, our lack of experience would bring deeper waters and a need to learn to swim — fast.
Our daughter was born 12 weeks before her due date. We were surprised at her arrival and immediately started planning our trek to bridge the thousand-mile gap that stood between us and our newest daughter. My former anxiety about being a mom of three little ones paled in comparison to the thoughts racing through my head on the flight to meet our daughter:
- How long would she have to stay in the NICU?
- What does the inside of a NICU look like?
- Will I be able to touch her in the NICU?
- Will the nurses and doctors treat me differently if I’m not her birth mother?
- What are the NICU rules?
- Will I get to name her now or will she be referred to by the name her birth mother gave her?
- How will I bond with her in the NICU?
More and more thoughts spun in the corners of my mind, but I was unsure how to respond. Only my upcoming experience would give me the answers I was looking for.
Stepping Into the NICU
We were welcomed by the friendliest staff, nurses and doctors when we first arrived in the NICU to meet our little one. Between the security desk, the receptionist who gave us our hospital bracelets and the nurses and doctors, I’m convinced that to work in a NICU you must possess an angelic quality.
I looked around the room where our daughter was joined by other tiny babies in isolettes. Some sat alone, while others had their max of two visitors in the small space surrounding the bed. As I observed the relationships these NICU nurses had with other parents, I wondered if they saw me the same: as a mom.
It didn’t take me long to see that my role to the sweet staff was even more than “mom.” In fact, they would admire our story as they saw our love grow each day we were there.
More than Just Intensive Care
My husband was with me for part of the 64 days our daughter spent in the NICU. But the majority of the time I stayed with our new baby while he was a thousand miles away caring for our older two girls.
My time was spent going to and from the NICU each day, in between meals and sleeping. Almost all of the other NICU parents lived in and around the area of the hospital, so many of them split their time between jobs and other family or responsibilities. This was my only responsibility, so I kept the NICU staff company while I formed very special relationships with them.
I used this time as an opportunity to share our family’s story with everyone who cared for our baby. I answered many of their questions about how we got there and the adoption process. Because I had so much “time” on my hands in the NICU, I learned as much as I could about the medical terms they were using, what our daughter needed for her care and why, and how I could advocate for her as her mom.
As soon as she was ready, I was prompted by the nurses to start doing skin-to-skin bonding with our daughter. As I held her, they told me the physical benefits that it would provide for her and the emotional connection it would encourage between the two of us.
I learned that the NICU staff was not just concerned with providing exceptional health care for our tiny girl, but they also wanted to make sure I had what I needed during my stay. They told me places to eat around the hospital and how to get a discount in the cafeteria, gave their phone numbers when I had questions (even after discharge) and became my friends on some of the longest and loneliest days during those two months.
We had no NICU experience before our third daughter was born. But, when walking out of the door on day 64 with our five-pound baby, part of our hearts will always be with those who cared for our daughter, cherished us as her parents, taught us so much on this new journey and sincerely loved her. All of the small details of her legal name, her birth mother’s hospital visit or our shared “custody” with the adoption agency were all easily understood and taken care of without a hitch.
Our greatest joy is knowing that we didn’t have to learn how to swim in these deep waters alone. Everyone around us carried us along the way.
Jill is a 32-year-old wife and mom. She has been married to her husband, Brannon, for eight years and has a 5-year-old, a 1-year-old and a newborn daughter. Jill lives in a small community in Kentucky. She has her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Spanish and obtained her Master’s degree in Christian Ministries. Jill’s passions are her faith, her family, writing, playing sports and eating good food.