Volunteer April Ratajczak blogs for us
Ever since becoming a mum, I take a lot of pictures. I cannot put emphasis on "a lot" enough. One reason is I am an expat, so all of my family and friends back home don't have the luxury of stopping by for a visit to see Emily themselves. The other part? Pure obsession with my daughter. I find myself, especially at the end of really hard or trying days (hey, this toddler stage is hard work!), laying in bed flipping through and looking at photos and videos of Emily from a few months ago, asking myself "how has time passed SO quickly?". I also am in total awe and amazement of how far our little 29 weeker has come.
I was recently emailing a photo of Emily to someone from the NICU. I opened up the file on the computer with all the NICU pictures.... a file that I haven't opened in ages... months easily. When suddenly I found heaps of pictures I had forgotten, until that moment, that I had taken. While in each nursery, I took photos of our surroundings. I wanted to be able to show Emily one day different steps of her journey in the NICU. The equipment, the monitors, and even small things like the furniture. At the time, all I saw was exactly what they were. Now, looking back, I see so much more in those pictures.
The chair's that were used during Kangaroo Care at the time were simply a chair. A piece of furniture. Now when I see this picture, I suddenly remember countless moments between Emily and me. Once she was able to be held, nearly every day (except when she was in isolation or I was sick) we hand bonding moments in these chairs. I told countless stories, and when nobody was around would quietly sing or hum a tune. This was where I sat and held her for hours the day she needed a blood transfusion, because the only thing that settled her was a cuddle and her dummy. Most weekdays, this chair is where we were when my husband came for his visit after work (and his cuddle as well). These are the chairs I was sitting in the day the doctors told me about Emily's heart condition. When I look at these chairs, I can't help but think of the countless memories each one of them holds. It's now to me, so much more than a piece of furniture, and I bet anyone reading this who spent time at King Edward instantly had a memory of their own from this picture.
This was the first nursery and bay Emily was in. (This was after she was out of the incubator... I didn't take surrounding pictures until a few weeks into our journey). At the time, this seemed a little like our prison cell, and we were prisoners not only to the hospital and our bay, but also the monitors. Now I look at it, and I see so much. This is where I got to see my daughter for the first time after delivery. This was where we learned to do cares and change our first nappy. This is where we met nurses who became our second family. Do you notice the cute name tag hung up that says "Emily"? One of those beloved nurses' daughter made that for us, her other daughter made one that was also on her cot during our stay, and a third that was brought home and put on her bedroom door. It still hangs there to this day. This is where we watched Emily progress and fight, and one at a time, pieces of equipment disappeared as Emily improved. This wasn't our prison. This was our home and the beginning of our family. No, it was not what we envisioned or had hoped for. Who hopes for a premature birth and NICU stay afterall? But this was OUR family's start.
For 11 weeks and 5 days, this was simply Emily's chart. After washing our hands and saying good morning to Emily, this was our next stop... to read how she had done over night. I look now and the first thing I see, especially as a NICU parent, is the red, but not in the same way that I viewed it before. At the time, red marks meant we weren't going home anytime soon. That was especially true towards the end. For those who don't know, you can have NO RED on your chart for 48 hours to be able to go home. Many NICU parents become anxious about that red pen. Now, when I see pictures of Emily's chart, all the red just makes me even more proud of everything that she had to overcome during her journey in the NICU. Every bit of red pen is a battle our Emily fought and won.
(As a side note, I loved how some nurses would draw flowers or hearts next to her name.. as a parent, such a personal touch to see in the morning when we arrived!)
I encourage parents who are currently on their NICU Journey to take pictures. One day you will look back and you will see so much more than what your eyes saw the moment you took that picture. I encourage NICU graduate parents to have a look at a couple of pictures (if you are able) and see if you too can see so much more than you realised.