By Cheryl Chotrani
Having a child in the NICU is one of the most challenging experiences a parent could face. Watching your child fight for his or her life every day is scary and overwhelming, to say the least. When my son was born 16 weeks early, weighing 1 lb 2 oz, my entire world was turned upside down. For weeks, I didn’t know if he was going to survive. During his nearly five month NICU stay he suffered from respiratory distress, a collapsed lung, a bowel perforation, two surgeries and more blood transfusions and medications than I can count. Yet, despite it all, the emotion that helped carry me through that experience was a sense of gratitude.
Throughout my son’s NICU journey I kept a daily gratitude journal. I noted down anything that brought me joy throughout the day and any positive developments in my son’s condition. In spite of the fear, the heartache, and the sense of hopelessness that were recurring feelings during those months in the NICU, it was comforting to end each day recognizing that I still had plenty to be grateful for. Now, nearly four years after my son came home, I’ve looked back through that journal and was reminded of the gratitude that kept me going through one of the darkest periods of my life. Here are the themes that stood out among the things I was most grateful for during that time.
- First and foremost, I was grateful that my son was alive. When my water broke 15 weeks into my pregnancy, I was told that the odds were slim that my baby would survive. When I finally delivered at 24 weeks, the doctors did not expect him to make it out of the delivery room. Then, in the NICU, there were several times when we came very close to losing him, particularly in the early days. As long as my son was alive, there was still hope that he would come home one day. Unfortunately, way too many NICU families don’t ever get to bring their babies home, so I knew that each day I had with my son was a blessing.
- Second, I was fortunate to have a supportive family that helped me get through the emotional rollercoaster of that time in my life. While none of my extended family had personally experienced having a child in the NICU, I appreciated their calls, words of encouragement and home-cooked meals. Having a supportive network of family and friends can make all the difference for powering through the hardest days.
- I was extremely lucky to have a job that gave me the flexibility I needed to visit the hospital every day to see my son. I was also pumping and was fortunate to have a dedicated private room in the office to pump breast milk every three hours. The income provided through my job also gave me the resources I needed to cover transportation costs, medical expenses and pumping supplies. Many preemie mothers are unable to go back to work while their child is in the NICU, or have jobs that don’t provide the flexibility and support they need.
- My son is now four-years-old and thriving. I recognized, even during his time in the NICU, that a large part of his positive outcome was due to the fact that he was born in a well-resourced location at a hospital with a top-notch NICU. It is estimated that over 1 million premature babies do not survive each year and that over 75% of those deaths are preventable. Many times, simply being born in a certain location or at a well-resourced hospital can mean the difference between life and death. I was fortunate that my son had at his disposal the best that modern medicine has to offer.
- Lastly, I was immensely grateful for the NICU doctors and nurses that dedicated their time and attention towards saving my son’s life. I can recall more than one instance in which the quick reaction by a medical professional prevented a potential catastrophe in my son’s health. Without the special care of the amazing NICU staff, my son would not be here today.
As difficult as having a child in the NICU can be, it was helpful for me to recognize that there is almost always something to be grateful for. Just holding on to these positive thoughts provided a small sense of comfort. Being grateful does not mean forgetting about the pain and the challenges that come along with the NICU experience, but rather reminding yourself that there are positive things in your life that can help you persevere through an incredibly hard time. It was also important to me that I take time to acknowledge that many other families are not as fortunate to have the support and resources they need to manage the stress of the NICU. That’s what inspired me to start Pebbles of Hope so that I could give back by providing support to NICU parents less fortunate than me. For a parent with a baby in the NICU, even small acts of kindness can be a tremendous help. By reaching out and providing a helping hand to another family, it’s possible to extend the gift of gratitude to others at a time they need it most.