For the past 175 days, I have been a NICU mom. I have watched my daughter grow and thrive inside the walls of Nationwide Children’s Hospital. I have ridden the NICU rollercoaster, with all of its ups and downs, and it has been a tumultuous, bumpy ride. But this is my final stop. After 175 days, I am finally bringing my baby girl home.
In 5 ½ months, my daughter has never been outside. She’s never felt the sun on her face or had fresh air blow through her hair. She’s never met her puppy. She’s never seen the nursery my husband and I spent months putting together. She’s never sat in the car seat that was so incredibly complicated to put into the backseat of my SUV. But that’s all about to change, because after 175 days, we finally get to start our lives at home as a family of three.
There were honestly moments when I thought this day would never come. When the light at the end of the tunnel was such a tiny glimmer, I thought I might lose sight of it. There were bumps in the road; three surgeries that moved the finish line that much further away. But my daughter is a fighter, and she has proven that to me over and over again. As I walk through the halls of the NICU, my final few times, I’ll admit I feel a sense of nervousness and anticipation. For so long, we’ve had the help and support of nurses, doctors, therapists and other staff members to help us care for our preemie. These men and women not only saved our daughter’s life, but they have become an integral part of our family. I will never be able to think of my daughter’s infancy without recalling their faces, their words, their actions. They gave us hope.
We’ve been armed with every tool imaginable to take care of our daughter at home. We’ve taken infant CPR and a discharge class. We’ve done a car seat test. We have learned all the ins and outs of using and taking care of my daughter’s g-tube. We’ll have follow-up appointments with Neonatology, GI and Surgery. They will make sure our daughter stays on track and is meeting all her milestones.
Our journey with Nationwide Children’s is far from over. In just a few short hours, I will no longer be juggling the roles of employee and parent each time I walk through the hospital doors. But I will always be a NICU mom. This experience has absolutely changed my life. I can truly understand the part every person on our care team plays in taking care of a patient because I’ve seen it in action – I’ve been there. I take nothing for granted when it comes to my daughter. She came into this world as a 25 week preemie weighing 1 lb. 7 oz. and measuring 12 ½ in. long and is leaving the hospital at almost 9 ½ lbs., 22 ½ in. She is exceeding expectations. She’s meeting the milestones all parents hope to see – holding up her head, smiling when we play with her, cooing, picking up her head during tummy time. But in the hospital, she’s also reached the milestones that only NICU parents understand – opening her eyes for the first time, coming off oxygen, moving from an isolette to a crib, getting her PICC line removed. I waited 5 days to hold my daughter for the first time. 11 days to see her open her eyes. 7 weeks to dress her in her first outfit. 8 weeks to feed her her first bottle. 25 weeks to bring her home. I waited. And it was worth every second.
To all the other NICU parents out there who are struggling: Appreciate this experience. These little ones come into the world fighting. They are so strong, and make us stronger for knowing them. I know my daughter is going to be successful in life because she came into this world feisty, animated and ready to take on everything that has been thrown at her. Being a NICU parent is a truly amazing gift that only the strongest of people are given. It gives you a perspective that others who have not been in your shoes cannot understand. It teaches you to appreciate the littlest things. You will watch in awe and amazement as your child, the tiniest of babies, grows, succeeds and thrives. And that child- and all they have overcome- will give you hope, strength and courage and the ability to be the best possible parent you can be.
I am a NICU mom. More importantly, I am Cami’s mom. And she has changed my life.
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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