I am NOT a public crier. There’s nothing wrong with being one; frankly it would be easier if I could cry in front of others. From an earlier age, I was taught to cry in private & that hasn’t left me. I cry in bathrooms or my car mostly. 😂 One time I did cry in public… Finding Dory. Yes, I know! An animated film. If you’ve lived under a rock the past 3 years (or aren’t around kids), Dory is a blue fish who suffers from short-term memory loss. In Finding Nemo, Dory helped her new friend Marlin find his son Nemo. While Finding Nemo is a good movie, obviously Finding Dory sucker punched me on the emotional scale when Dory tries to remember her parents & find her way home. As I’m sitting in the dark theater watching the movie with my nephews, I see these parents on screen championing for their daughter, cheering her on & preparing her for the challenges she’ll face with special needs. I thought the parallels between a daughter spending most of the story trying to find her way home, overcoming both personal & environmental challenges would be a great blog post for September, during Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Awareness Month. As a NICU nurse, face after face flashed before my eyes during the flashback scenes & even during some of the powerful words throughout the movie.
I mean come on! I couldn’t help but see so many similarities between our NICU families & the emotional roller coaster ride & Dory’s “just keep swimming” story. Are you a NICU parent or have you been one? Do you see the similarities too?
At the beginning of her journey, Dory asks her friend Marlin for help finding her way home. In fact, she says she can’t do it without him.
Our NICU babies are the ones who ultimately decide when they go home. For example, a premature baby has to do everything a newborn can do (breath on their own, stay warm by themselves & eat 8 bottles or take the breast 8x/day & gain weight). But it takes a village of family & staff members to help a NICU baby get to that point. That includes a multidisciplinary hospital team of doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, dieticians etc. Plus, NICU parents need love too! If you’re a NICU parent surround yourself with loving friends & family to love & support you in your time of need.
“I can’t be somewhere where I have nobody to help me”—Dory
Don’t be surprised if just like Dory, you find yourself making a new friend. Whether it’s another mom or a staff member don’t be surprised if you might build a connection that lasts for years to come.
It’s easy to focus on the finish line. “When will my baby go home?” Depending on many factors, like how early your baby was born or if an infection is present, it might be a couple weeks or months before your baby comes home. Take it one day at a time. Your baby might not have a big change every day but “no news is good news”. It’s a marathon not a sprint. Pace yourself or you too, might need help. And even though the NICU stay is a journey, (let’s see how many cliche’s I’m can fit in this paragraph) this is NOT the whole story! This is just the beginning of your child’s life & she’ll have many more journeys to come.
NICU Nurse Tip: If your friend or loved one has a baby in the NICU do not ask them, “when is the baby coming home?” I promise you this is the first thing on their mind when they wake up & the last thing when they go to bed. Mom + dad will be all kinds of excited to share the news with loved ones when it’s time. But can you guess how many times a day they get that question from well-meaning souls? Each time it reinforces that 1.) their baby isn’t with them & 2.) the reality is they don’t know. There are no guarantees so if at any point the baby starts to back track the baby might stay longer.
Instead, let mom + dad announce the discharge date with joy, “Ava might come home in 3 days” or “Connor might sleep in his own crib tomorrow night”. Now, in a time in their life when they often feel powerless you can help empower them & bring joy! #winwin
Sometimes you might doubt you can do this like Dory.
Sometimes you might find that you’re scared like Dory, Marlin & Hank were at different parts of the movie.
Sometimes you might find that you feel “it’s all my fault” like Marlin. I hear this from so many NICU moms that they feel they did something or if they would have done something more, they could have avoided a NICU stay. But I’m here to tell you, excluding drug use, you’re not responsible mama! Give yourself grace.
Sometimes you’ll experience highs like you’ve never had before. “Because ever since I’ve met you, you’ve shown me how to do stuff I’ve never dreamed of doing. Crazy things.” Being a NICU parents isn’t all downs, all the time. Your child is special! And I don’t mean like “every child is special in his mama’s eyes” I mean your child’s accomplishments are that much more impressive because the mountains she had to climb. Nobody gets as excited about poo as a NICU parent! 😂 You never thought you’d talk this much about it, did you?
When NICU life gets hard, ask yourself what would Dory do? Then just keep swimming. No joke, since the movie came out, I have been sharing this motto with NICU families to encourage them. These three little words provide a message of perseverance & powered by the Finding Dory story line, their message is also one of hope. But there’s even a more powerful connection with Finding Dory to the NICU…
Andrew Stanton, directed Finding Dory (also one of the screenplay writers), is a former premie who stayed in the NICU for months after his parents were told, “he’s not going to live.” He “strives to be worthy of the 2nd chance I was given”. (Warning the video starts with a crude joke but there’s just 1.)
And because Dory’s monologue neat the end is perfect, “You listen to me. What is so great about plans? Did I plan to lose my parents? No. Did I plan to find Marlin? No. Did you & I plan to meet? Wait? Did we? Well I don’t think we did. And that’s because the best things happen by chance, because that’s life. And that’s you being with me… all it takes is three simple steps rescue, rehabilitation & release.”
Oh my gosh, are the writers not talking directly to the NICU families? What do you think: should we start playing this in the waiting room? 😂
Until Next Time Just Keep Swimming,
NICU Awareness Month