Thanks for joining us! We are currently in the middle of a series on Life with Multiples. Today we’ll hear from a couple of ladies who just happen to be two of my favorite nurses while the babies were in the NICU!
While in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, a good nurse is more than just a good nurse. She might be a shoulder you cry on, the person you (unexpectedly) share first milestones with, and most likely will become a good friend. Mandy was the babies’ nurse the day we celebrated them turning one week old. And Laura helped me give each of my 4-lb babies a bath for the very first time.
David and I were at the hospital as much as we could be, so we got to know our nurses really well. We were usually there over a shift change, going to eat dinner while they did all the technical stuff and coming back in for one last feeding and diaper-changing. I usually spent a good 8 hours every single day at the hospital – for 30 days. Exhausted beyond imagination, David and I prayed over each baby and said goodnight…and thanked the men and women who remained to care for them. This was one of the hardest things I have had to do as a mom. Who imagines they’ll have to leave their tiny babies’ sides?! Even now it brings tears to my eyes as I remember all the different nurses who loved on and cared for our babies.
We tried to prepare for what life in the NICU would be like but there were so few resources available to us, even a couple short years ago! And they were often written in very clinical terms; so I want to give a more personal look into life in the NICU.
Laura and Mandy, thank you so much for taking the time to share with us! How long have you been a nurse and what is your favorite aspect of being a NICU nurse?
Laura: I’ve been a nurse for four years. And I love babies – especially newborns. I really enjoy working with families and educating them in terms they can understand during this difficult process. I love giving them a chance to be as involved as possible in their baby’s care – from feeding to bathing etc. I think this is so important, especially in the NICU!
Mandy: I’ve been a nurse for nine years. And I love meeting new people. My job is never boring. It’s nice to help the families understand what is happening and to help the parents emotionally cope with everything they are dealing with. I really enjoy educating the families on what everything means in the NICU and what they can do to best help their baby(ies) to have the best possible outcome.
As sweet as those newborns are, I’m sure there are many challenging days. What’s the most difficult aspect of being a NICU nurse?
Laura: These babies can, in the beginning, be so fragile. It’s hard to see families leave their baby in the care of others – not knowing how their baby will be doing when they return. No matter how skilled the caregivers, I can’t fathom the feeling of leaving the hospital without my new baby. I have such respect for you Mamas who have endured this day-in and day-out for weeks to months on end.
Mandy: It is always hard to lose a baby, but that is usually rare. I have always thought that we are giving preemies a second chance at life. But if that isn’t God’s will, it is comforting knowing they are no longer suffering.
When parents have an idea they may have some time in the NICU, what are some things they can expect?
Laura: Unfortunately, expectations usually go out the window with the delivery of any baby and the NICU experience is no exception. No one expects to have their baby in an urgent medical situation. But you can expect for your baby to be cared for by a skilled team of doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses, therapists (speech and physical therapy as needed) … and much more. NICU staff all have one thing in common. They will love your baby. The NICU is overwhelming and emotional. Please visit often. Hold your baby. And ask tons of questions.
Mandy: A wild rollercoaster ride. Some days will be the worst of your life and some days will be the best. In the beginning, it is going to be very hard to see everything your tiny baby is going through. But they are the strongest people I have ever seen. Love really does go a long way: I have seen many babies with poor prognoses do very well because their parents are present and invested in their care. The babies feel the presence of their parents and do much better.
I know we were often torn between how much we wanted to be there and how often we could be there. How often should parents visit?
Laura: As often as you can! Babies are very aware of your touch and smells. Some very fragile babies will require lots of rest time in their isolettes. Hold your baby still to allow good sleep and digestion while bonding.
Mandy: Yes, as often as possible! There is evidence that babies who are held and bond with their parents have shorter hospital stays. Kangaroo the baby(ies) as often as possible, as this will regulate their temperature, breathing, heart rates, blood sugar, and pain levels for hours after holding has been completed. Babies who are given kangaroo care daily, generally go home about two weeks sooner than babies who are not held.
I remember there were soooo many doctors and nurses – any tips on keeping them all straight?
Laura: Whew. That’s a tough one. There will be constant new faces at your baby’s bedside, and hopefully everyone is working together as a team, so you can feel confident that your baby(ies) are receiving consistent care. Kindly point out discrepancies that you notice so we can better take care of your little one!
Mandy: This is a tough one. Our unit has over 150 nurses for both shifts, and many doctors and practitioners. I suggest writing down some notes to help yourself remember. As far as identifying who is who when they enter your room, we have badges on that say whether we are a nurse, nurse practitioner, doctor, etc.
Sometimes it happens: parents want to request a different nurse. What’s the best way to do this?
Laura: Ask to speak with the charge nurse or assistant nurse manager. If you don’t feel comfortable asking this of your current nurse, you could ask the receptionist to connect you with the charge nurse.
What if parents really love a particular nurse – can they request she be assigned to them again?
Laura: Yes, please ask. Different hospitals have different policies, but I think it is beneficial to the families and babies to see that familiar face in a caregiver. This may not always be possible, but when it is – it is a plus! Ask to speak with a charge nurse or assistant nurse manager as they can help with this!
Mandy: We always love to hear positive feedback! Some nurses do not care to have one assignment every time they are working, so do not take it to heart if they respectfully decline. There was a time after I had lost a patient where I did not want to get attached to another patient and didn’t want to “primary” for a while. Everyone has their reasons, so don’t be offended if the answer is no.
The language in the NICU is so hard to comprehend! How can parents understand what the doctors and nurses mean when using all those abbreviations and medical terminology?
Laura: Abbreviations and medical terms are like a whole new language and, no doubt, stressful to try to understand! As nurses and doctors, we are around them all the time and often forget it sounds like we are speaking another language. I try very hard to educate my families regarding terms and treatments their babies receive – in words and descriptions they would understand. Please know you can always ask your healthcare provider to explain things with which you are unfamiliar. Here’s a link to some common terms and abbreviations you may hear.
Should parents sit in on rounds and review their baby’s chart?
Laura: When possible, and offered by the staff, by all means be involved in rounds. As the parent at the bedside, who spends lots of time with your child and who sees a variety of different caregivers, you can bring valuable feedback and information to the practitioners. This process should hopefully give you a chance to offer feedback, share your thoughts, answer questions you may have, and maintain continuity in the care your baby receives.
Mandy: Yes! Rounds in our unit take a few hours to complete. But you are most definitely welcome and encouraged to attend rounds, and ask any questions you may have. If you would like to review your baby or babies’ charts, you can do so at any time, you just need a nurse present with you to be able to access the chart, and to answer any questions you may have about what you are looking at.
I hope this provides a glimpse into life in the NICU and proves helpful to you and your family. Join us next week as Mandy and Laura share on the very important aspect of practically caring for these (oftentimes) tiny babies. In the meantime, do you have a question for either Mandy or Laura? Or a wonderful experience with your baby’s nurse to share? We’d love to hear!