I am a high school science teacher at a rural school district that is currently going through a really tough time since the goal of the new school board is to shut the school down. As a staff, we have decided to take such a negative time and make it as positive of an experience for our students as we can so we have adapted the philosophy that we will make each day of the school year the best day yet thus adopting the hash tags #BestDayEver, #BestYearEver, and #CelebrateNewbury. As I reflected on the importance of staying positive and what these hash tags truly mean to the students, staff, and especially myself, I was reminded of my 51 days spent in the NICU.
Being a NICU parent is not for the weak that is for sure. No matter if you are a first time parent or fifth, you aren’t necessarily ready for a baby to come early. A friend of mine went through it last October when her daughter was born at 24 weeks. I remember hitting the 24-week mark and being nervous that it would happen to me, but I just remained positive and my pregnancy continued. My surprise came though the week my third trimester started. I felt great, I loved being pregnant and that Saturday was to be our hospital tour with Lamaze starting two weeks after that. Instead of that hospital tour, Poppy Rae Voelker was born 2/3/2018 at 1:55am at 28wks 4days weighing 3lbs 1oz and measuring 16inches long. I was terrified. This is my first baby and she might not make it was the thought that haunted me after she was born. I knew I could let the negativity set in and become overwhelmed and depressed, but at that moment with my husband, mother, and mother-in-law in the room I said we are going to be positive with this experience and each day will be a blessing and bring some sort of reward or new adventure to our lives.
For me the first good thing was the fact she was crying. That cry was loud and strong which means she is breathing and her lungs were strong. Once I heard that cry I looked at my husband and asked if she looked like a Poppy, are we keeping that name or using the back up and he said Poppy. Ok, our Poppy, our blessing, our strong girl, our first positive thing of day one. It was then followed by her being removed from the ventilator 10 hours later and placed on C-Pap. The victories were pouring in and she was just hours old. This was the best day ever. I knew I didn’t want to forget a single day in my NICU journey, so I started to keep a journal so I could remember her journey to get to the day we were hoping for, the day she would go home.
Now I thought day one was the best because my daughter arrived and she was making strides with breathing, but that day was trumped by the next because I got to hold Poppy for the first time. The emotions I felt when we were touching skin to skin for the first time I would never be able to describe perfectly. I was holding my daughter and in that moment all machines disappeared. Yes she lost weight that day, but it was still the best day ever because I got to hold my baby.
My journal would quickly become filled with minor and major victories because each day I would document Poppy’s weight. Those nightly weigh-ins were like a game show for us. Typically, my in-laws would make sure they were there as well and we would all guess how much Poppy gained from the last day and we would celebrate every ounce. Every Sunday I would document if there was a change in her length or her head circumference. I also documented how much her feeds would increase. Even if it was a milliliter, that was a victory for our daily good thing to us. To non NICU families, an ounce or a milliliter might seem trivial, but to us that was the world and how we were able to stay positive the whole time. Other entries would include who visited us each day, if we gave her a bath, if she pooped or even when she would shoot poop at us during a diaper change because she was notorious for that, changes made to her air flow or oxygen level, labs done and their results, how OT and PT went, and of course rounds. I also recorded how I felt each day because your mental well-being is so important in this process.
My favorite entries were things like the first time Poppy wore clothes, when she was taken off of C-Pap and placed in a nasal cannula, when she got to be in a crib, the amount of milk I was able to produce for her, and when we could just hold her without anyone passing her to me because of so many wires. Other milestones like, first smiles, increasing diaper size and first holidays. Increasing to the next pound and not just an ounce. The feeling the first time I got to nurse her and then feed her a bottle. Bringing in ante partum families back to see Poppy so I can assure them they are in the best place and that things will be ok in the NICU. Watching my husband start to get more hands on was amazing too because he was so nervous. Finally off of caffeine and then being taken off of all breathing support, getting rid of the feeding tube. These are all milestones that made each day of the 51 days the best day ever for us. These daily victories were everything to us. It is how we stayed positive and strong for our daughter. Each day she got stronger so that day was better than the last. We were living our best days in the NICU.
Finally the best day came, we were told on a Friday that she would be going home on Monday. Totally overwhelmed of course, but my family and I worked together to make sure everything would be ready. We made a checklist and kept checking things off throughout the weekend. I went to dinner Saturday, and when I came back Poppy was doing her car seat test. I knew she had to pass it to go home so my friend and I were silently cheering her on every 10 minutes. She passed! The next day was her hearing test and she passed with flying colors.
Then the day came that every NICU parent waits for. The day all of the monitors, wires and beeping go silent. The day you dress your baby in their going home outfit. The day you say goodbye to the doctors, nurses, therapists, staff, and families you met and grew close with that have become your second family. This day is bittersweet in a sense because you can’t imagine daily life without them. Walking through the hospital doors though to go home with your baby is the best day ever.
Find the good in each day and you to will make it through your journey. Don’t stop when you leave the hospital. Weight checks are still a blast for us at the pediatrician because Poppy is now on the growth curve for her birth age and at the top for her corrected. She acts like an almost seven month old instead of a four month old. I also make a collage every month that compares her growth and it is absolutely amazing to me. It is also the best day ever when you find out your friends have gotten to leave the NICU as well. It is also the best to know that some become friends for life. I know other families come in when we leave, and I will always be there for those families that need someone to talk to. Live each day like it is your best even when it is hard and you too will make it through your NICU journey. #BestDayEver