Dear Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse,
To be honest, I never knew you existed. Back when our birth plan included a fat baby, balloons and a two-day celebratory hospital stay, I had never seen you. I had never seen a NICU. Most of the world hasn't. There may have been a brief, "This is the Neonatal floor" whilst drudging by on a hospital tour. But no one really knows what happens behind those alarm-secured, no-window-gazing doors of the NICU. Except me. And you.
I didn't know that you would be the one to hold and rock my baby when I wasn't there. I didn't know that you would be the one to take care of him the first five months of his life as I sat bedside, watching and wishing that I was you. I didn't know that you would be the one to hand him to me for the first time, three weeks after he was born. That you would know his signals, his faces, and his cries. Sometimes better than me. I didn't know you. I didn't know how intertwined our lives would become.
I know you now. I'll never be able to think of my child's life without thinking of you.
I know that in the NICU, you really run things. That your opinions about my baby's care often dictates the course and direction or treatment as you consult with the neonatologist every day. I know that you don't hesitate to wake a sometimes-sleeping doctor in the nearby call room because my baby's blood gas number is bad. Or because his colour is off. Or because he has had four bradys in the last 45 minutes. Or because there's residual brown gunk in his OG tube.
I know now that you are different from other nurses.
I know that, at times, you are assigned to just one baby for 12 hours straight. You are assigned to him because he is the most critically-sick and medically fragile baby in the unit. I've seen you sit by that baby's bedside for your entire shift. Working tirelessly to get him comfortable and stable. Forgoing breaks while you mentally will his numbers to improve. I've seen you cry with his family when he doesn't make it. I've seen you cry alone.