The neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) can be a place of intense heartache and intense joy – not only for parents, but also for the nurses who form close bonds with infants and their parents. In my 23 years as a NICU nurse, I have been deeply affected by many babies, and witnessed countless stories that reveal the depth and power of parental love.
We see families from all backgrounds in the NICU, and our care extends beyond the babies to include their parents as we help them decipher unfamiliar language, demystify overwhelming equipment, manage the intense loss of control, and hopefully develop the bonds so critical to the well-being of both parents and infants.
As complex technological advances have allowed us to save smaller and often more fragile babies, the critical decisions made in the NICU have become more complex as well. And while stories about the high-tech machines and “miracle babies” can be inspiring, the reality of the NICU involves more day-to-day (or hour-to-hour) progression as any NICU nurse, doctor, or parent will tell you.
We are constantly assessing our little patients, listening and watching for subtle shifts in a baby’s condition. Nurses with years of experience often develop a sixth sense about the babies, and can be important advocates for their care. When working with parents I try to serve as a bridge between parent and infant – to help parents learn the special cues that a premature baby uses to communicate, and to realize the very important role their presence plays in the life of their growing child.