I’ve worked in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) for some years now-long enough to witness the struggle a sick or premature baby’s parents face in the roller coaster ride of neonatal intensive care. It can look something like shock, followed by hope, denial , hope, sadness, hope, anger, hope, hope, and more hope. It’s hard to know what to say sometimes. Honestly, this is the hardest part of the job most days.
How do nurses cope when faced with the loss of a tiny patient? I can only speak for myself. I’ve lost babies, sometimes without any indication. It’s tough. We have to keep going and care for the next patient, support the next family. It gets heavy sometimes. I find a combination of time, talking about the loss, and writing helps.
October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. The following is my tribute to a premature baby I cared for in the neonatal intensive care unit. It is my hope that it will give his parents and (and all NICU parents) some comfort in knowing that the loss of their baby is felt by many. It is hard to work in the NICU and not grieve the loss of a baby on some level.
Dearest baby boy,
It’s been 6 months since you left us suddenly, brave little bright-eyed boy. You were close to being discharged home to your family. Things were looking up as you grew stronger with each passing day. It was a shock to all of us in the NICU that cared for you when you lost your courageous fight as a baby born too soon.
You endured every micro premie parents’ worst nightmare with complications from ventilator associated lung disease, patent ductus arteriosus, and bowel obstruction surgery. Through it all you managed to win hearts over with your sweet little face.
Your parents (like all NICU parents) stood watch by your side day in and day out. They gave you and themselves normalcy in the otherwise frightening and unfamiliar environment that is the intensive care unit. They changed you, bathed you, dressed you, talked to you. They loved you so much!!
You endured painful sticks, surgeries, and were dependent on oxygen your entire life. You were stuck, prodded, and probed all in effort to sustain your little life. You fought an amazing fight. You were stronger than most.
I was your nurse sporadically though I wish I had known you a little bit longer. The thing is, while there is always something special about all the sweet babies I care for, I have to maintain a little distance. It’s called self preservation and it’s part of survival for those of us who care for babies like you. You broke me though. You got through and touched my heart. Maybe it was the collage of pictures that hung over your bed. Your mom, dad, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and puppy all watching over you day and night.
There were nights where you were restless and awake most of the night. I would tease your parents in passing that they had to stay all night because you wanted to be held. Karin and I would hold you, reposition you, rub your back gently to help you sleep. Do you remember when one of your doctors, Karin, sang you to sleep? You were loved by so many.
I was on vacation when Mary told me you passed. It was shocking, unexpected. Those of us that have worked long enough in the NICU see things that most people can’t imagine. Babies die. We learn to try to take it in stride. Self preservation.
I’m not sure how you did it, but you stole a little piece of my heart in the time I was privileged to know you and care for you. I will always have a little space for you there, sweet boy. You were a joy to know. I will remember you in the photographs. I will remember you in our brief moments together. I will remember you through all the babies that follow in your footsteps. I will remember you 💗