An open letter to NICU nurses: You mean more than you know

Sarah Scanlan's daughter Mara Kate Scanlan recovering in NICU.

An open letter to NICU nurses: You mean more than you know

Wellness

An open letter to NICU nurses: You mean more than you know

The nurses and volunteers in hospital NICU’s are a different breed of human.

More like a human-angel hybrid whose profession is more a way of life than a job.

They care for the world’s tiniest, most fragile human beings, at a time when those babies’ parents are at their most fragile as well.

I was one of those fragile parents this summer.

Sarah Scanlan at the NICU bedside of her daughter Mara Kate who was born at 4 pounds, 10 ounces. Credit: Sarah Scanlan

Sarah Scanlan at the NICU bedside of her daughter Mara Kate who was born at 4 pounds, 10 ounces. Credit: Sarah Scanlan

In June, my newborn daughter arrived almost two months earlier than expected, weighing 4 pounds, 10 ounces. I thought I was prepared for “two under two” (my son was just over a year-and-a-half), but I wasn’t prepared for two under two with one who had to stay in the hospital’s NICU.

Being released from the hospital before your new baby is released is hard to wrap your head around. I have a new child, but I have to leave her behind? I have to drive home without my baby? Even though I knew she needed the medical attention in the NICU, it hurt my heart to leave.

Sarah Scanlan with 20-month-old Noah and preemie daughter Mara Kate. Credit: Sarah Scanlan

Sarah Scanlan with 20-month-old Noah and preemie daughter Mara Kate. Credit: Sarah Scanlan

I visited every single day, arriving in the morning to sit all day at my daughter’s bedside and hold her every opportunity I was allowed.

Then I went home in the evenings, making sure I spent a couple of hours with my son and attempted sleep, each moment ridden with guilt for leaving my daughter ‘alone.’

But as the days went by, I quickly realized I was wrong about the ‘alone’ part.

Our tiny warriors are never alone. They have people like Susan, a NICU nurse at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital who texted me reassuring notes while I was at home in the evenings. And Dana, who made name cards like these in her free time for each new baby.

One of the name cards lovingly made by Piedmont Atlanta NICU nurse Dana for each new patient.

One of the name cards lovingly made by Piedmont Atlanta NICU nurse Dana for each new patient. Credit: Sarah Scanlan

And then there’s David Deutchman, a 12-year volunteer who’s earned the nickname ‘ICU grandpa’.

Watch the video of the ICU grandpa

“I drive in here, I don’t know which kids and parents I’m going to meet and what the issues will be and how can I help,” said Deutchman.

He sings “You are my sunshine” to each baby as he caresses their little furry heads, giving them the snuggles and love they need in the moments mom and dad can’t be there.

He volunteers twice a week at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s NICU and PICU to hold new babies, driven by selfless motivation. To see his full story, click here.

“A lot of parents have other children at home or they live far away and it’s tough for them to get in here. So, they particularly appreciate if someone can hold their baby.”

I am forever grateful for people like the ‘ICU grandpa’.

Piedmont Atlanta NICU nurse Gloria on graduation day with her patient Mara Kate and her parents.

Piedmont Atlanta NICU nurse Gloria on graduation day with her patient Mara Kate and her parents. Credit: Sarah Scanlan

I want to say thank you to him and everyone like him, who make one of the hardest experiences a parent can go through a little less painful.

Know that for every precious child you hold, there is a mommy out there whose heart you have in your hands as well.

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