Today marks my 70th day as a NICU mom. My 70th day of coming home to a nursery my daughter has never been in and a crib she’s never slept in. My 70th day of being a mom but not truly feeling like one. When I started working at Nationwide Children's Hospital three years ago, I never expected to have to use the services we offered. But when my daughter Cami was born 15 weeks early weighing only 1lb. 7 oz., a long hospital stay became a reality.
At 24 days old, my little girl developed necrotizing enterocolitisand was transferred in the middle of the night to Nationwide Children’s. It was at that moment that I became eternally grateful to have a top neonatology departmentso close to home.
It’s hard to feel like a mom when your baby is in an isolette. When her primary caregivers are not mom and dad, but rather doctors and nurses. It's hard to feel like a mom when simply holding your child requires the assistance of at least two people to get her out of her isolette, making sure not to tangle her leads, PICC line and CPAP.
I’m grateful my daughter was born in a time when modern medicine makes the chances of her survival high and when being a preemie doesn’t necessarily mean long term physical and developmental difficulties. I’m grateful for the many milestones we’ve already jumped over. But mostly I am grateful for all of the little things I can do with her that make me feel like a mom.
When Cami was less than a week old, one of my nurses asked if I wanted to change her diaper. She looked so tiny and fragile, in a diaper that looked like it could fit a doll but had to be folded over to fit her tiny frame. I couldn’t believe it was something they would let me do, but I have to say I was never so excited to change a poopy diaper. I suddenly felt like there was something I could do for my child, a way that I could take care of her.
Over the next few weeks, I started asking more and more questions and finding out what I could do during her care. We’ve settled into a nice little routine. I wipe her eyes and I clean out her mouth. I give her baths and change her diapers. I lift her up so she can be weighed each night and hold her little hands while her nurse suctions out her nose and mouth (she hates the suctioning, so I leave that one to the nurses!) I give her a binky if she's crying and if we’re kangarooing and she pulls her CPAP out of her nose, I know exactly what to do to fix it.
Earlier this month, while I was in the process of changing her diaper, Cami peed all over me and all over her bed. It was such a normal parent/baby interaction and it didn’t upset me that I’d have to change her bedding and wipe her off again; it made me happy. Happy that even though she was in an isolette, even though she’ll be almost four months old before I can take her home with me, I still get to experience a lot of the things a new mom should. Right now her nurses are the ones that get to be with her 24/7, but I’m certain Cami knows I’m her mom and I’m happy for everything we can do together.
Over the past two weeks, we've jumped so many milestones. Cami moved from an isolette to a crib. She started taking bottle feeds. She went from CPAP to a nasal cannula. All of these things make taking care of her so much easier. I am able to do so much for my little girl despite our circumstances.
Bonding with your baby is so critical at this point in their life; I want to encourage every mom and dad with a preemie to ask questions and get involved. I know their size can seem scary at first, but if I can successfully change a diaper on a feisty, squirming 1 lb. 7 oz little girl – I know that you can! I’m happy both my husband and I are still able to care for Cami like any other baby – we just need a little extra help getting her home!
Callista Dammann is the social community manager at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. She has the unique opportunity of navigating the hospital as both a staff member and a parent after delivering her twin girls, Cami and Madi, at just 25 weeks gestation. Her daughter Madi is a guardian angel for sister Cami, and baby brothers Maddox and Cayson.
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