Friday, February 23, 2018

An Infertile Visits the NICU

I wanted a baby my whole life.

(Well technically, after watching my sisters get married young and have their children young I knew I wanted some time being an adult without a husband and kids for a little bit, so I always wanted a baby in my early 30s my whole life.)

I wanted a baby to fall asleep on my chest. I wanted a baby to reach their arms out to me. I wanted to feed my baby and change my baby and soothe my baby and take care of my baby when they were sick.

But I didn't just want a baby. I wanted a toddler and a little kid and a big kid and even a pre-teen (my least favorite age). I wanted a teenager and a young adult and an independent adult. I wanted to watch my baby grow up and create their own life that brought them happiness, complete with a job and healthy relationships and hobbies and volunteer activities.

I didn't get that baby. I didn't get that baby the old fashioned way, with assisted reproductive technology, or through adoption. And now, after planning my whole life around my baby (making life choices about my career, where to live, etc.), I am creating a new life for myself. I am creating a new life that will bring me happiness, complete with a job and healthy relationships and hobbies and volunteer activities.

But yesterday I visited the NICU on a school field trip and it reminded me of what I will never have.

I knew the trip was coming and I was actually looking forward to it but the night before I started dreading it. Then I woke up in the worst mood. My husband said, "Good morning!" and all I said was, "No." He laughed at my grumpiness, not realizing what was on my agenda for the day.

Like I usually do on days/events that I anticipate will be tough, I texted my best friend. I told her I had to go visit the NICU. She wrote back with the most encouraging and inspiring words. She said this visit was about me as a professional learning more so I could help kids in need. (She knows that I love working with kids.) She said, "This is why you've worked so hard and put up with so much shit... This isn't about your heartache. This is about your gift of healing. You got this." It was just what I needed to hear; it really helped me shift my perspective and I told her so. She said, "Much love coming your way. You got this. And I got you."

Seriously, can we please just clone her??
Every infertile woman deserves a friend like her. She always knows what to say!

I got dressed in my scrubs and a trustworthy classmate met me at my house and I drove us to the hospital together. I was thankful I had someone with me that knew at least a little bit of what I've been through. I really didn't feel like being around anyone else. Especially the asshole professor who refuses to answer my questions in class but answers other people's. (Yeah, that's a whole other story... Not even worth telling. There's no reason for her to have ill feelings toward me. I've never said or done anything rude or unprofessional in her classes. She just has favorites and seems to hate the rest of us. Add it to the millions of reasons I can't wait to get out of there.)

We parked, we walked in, we found the NICU, and we waited for our visit to begin. I looked at my classmates. Other than one woman in her early 30s, I was ten to fifteen years older than everyone else. I knew this was going to be a much different experience for me than it would be for them and I took a deep breath.

The visit to the NICU began.

We first met in a room to hear about how our morning was going to go. It was the same woman from our lecture the previous week, the woman who was very mommy-centric. She began by asking if anyone was pregnant and everyone shook their head. She repeated that visiting the NICU can be very upsetting for pregnant women so she always gave them the choice of opting out. For a second or two I debated saying something. Here was my chance that I missed in class. I wanted to say something about how the NICU could be upsetting to women who have lost babies too, but before I said anything she said, "But really, that option is open to everyone. You can opt out at any time, no questions asked." Okay, I'll give her a point for recognition there...

The first baby we saw weighed about five pounds and was, of course, adorable. We were learning about the equipment she needed while in the hospital and what all services she received. We also watched her feed from a bottle, which took f  o   r    e     v      e       r. I knew then that working in the NICU was not my calling. I did not want to spend so much time holding and feeding babies. When it wasn't causing me heartache, I think doing that every day would be incredibly boring for me.

Since it took so long, we were also hearing our "tour guide" tell us so much more information while the baby was feeding. I looked around the room at my classmates and I think that was the hardest part of the whole trip. Imagine being in a very small room with 12 other women, most in their early 20s, with a very small adorable infant. They were ga-ga over that baby. Their eyes were glistening, their smiles were huge, and they kept uttering things like "awww" and "so cute!!" I immediately looked away and kept my eyes focused on the baby for the rest of our time in the room. I had no idea that the easiest part of the trip was going to be staring down a baby.

We also saw a baby in an isolette. This baby was born at 23 weeks and was now 25 weeks old. I was worried that this would upset me, but I wanted to get the full experience of the NICU visit and learn all I could so I gave her observation a try. And I am so glad I did. She was fascinating! This tiny little baby with so many lines and tubes attached, bundled up in her little incubator was waving her arms so strongly. You could totally tell she was a fighter! I never thought that I could find inspiration in a preemie, but I was in awe.

Throughout the visit, I avoided my professor as much as possible. She is just not a nice person. I also hung to the back as we were walking through the halls. I didn't want to hear my classmates talking about when they were going to have kids or hear stories about their little siblings or nieces and nephews. I tried to learn as much medical information as possible while tuning out all of the chatter.

Then when it was over I was supposed to go back to campus for a meeting, but I went straight home and fell asleep for three hours. Anticipating that trip, being in the NICU, managing my emotions, and protecting myself wore me out completely. When I woke up, I felt pretty numb for the rest of the day.

It was only late last night, at the very end of the day, that I cried. I asked my husband, "Why didn't I get to have a baby?" He didn't have an answer. But he did share how happy he currently was and how excited he was about our plans together. Honestly, his words didn't really help me in the moment but at least they didn't make me feel worse.

Overall, it was good experience, very interesting, but it wasn't easy at all. I'm glad it's over.


  1. I'm so impressed at how you're able to get through all these situations which are full of minefields!

    1. I am just trying my best: showing up and attempting to maintain a boundary between my professional education and my personal life while trying to give myself the compassion and understanding that I do not receive from my environment. I also vent a lot to my husband and to my best friend. And writing on this blog and receiving support from you all is extremely helpful. Believe me, I can barely wait until this semester is over!!!

  2. Agreed, you are doing so well with these incredibly difficult, triggery situations! That is so, so hard. I'm glad you survived it, and it sounds like that nap was just what you needed to help recover from emotional trauma and looking okay on the outside. The body knows what you need, I really believe that. Those moments when you feel that grief bubble up are so tough. I'm glad you have a wonderful best friend, I'm glad you have a wonderful husband, and I am glad that you survived your NICU visit!

    1. Thank you! Sometimes I start to doubt myself. Like, is this really all that hard or is it just me? And then the community here reminds me: yes, it really is that hard. I survived the NICU visit, and I will survive this pediatrics semester in my hostile school environment. I'm so glad I don't have to go through all of this feeling all alone. <3

  3. That definitely would have been a tough visit, and I think you were probably better prepared for it than some people might have been. Thank goodness for good friends & long naps. I often tell people, you know, I can do things, like baby showers... but it takes a LOT out of me. I think next time I'll have a nap afterwards too. ;)

    1. Exactly! People do not realize the amount of energy that certain things require of us. Yes, thank goodness for good friends and long naps!!! It is so important that we take care of ourselves.

  4. Phoenix, you are so courageous and brave! I do admire you for pushing through this experience. Also, I love that you have a friend who says "You got this. And I got you". I do think it is worth going through it if this makes you what you want to be :-).

    1. Thank you, Elaine. I've worked with older children before, kids that had different kinds of problems (learning, behavioral, developmental, etc.) and a lot of their lives started out in the NICU. So I really wanted to see what the first experiences of life were possibly like for the kids I used to work with and for any kids I may work with in the future. I don't imagine I will ever visit a NICU again, and I am glad I put on my "game face" and went in wanting to get everything I could out of the experience.

      And yes! Isn't my friend so awesome?? She knows what it's like to not have kids, not by choice. Not only that, she is simply just an incredible person--a smart, kind, funny, and creative woman who is constantly serving her community.