Never alone: Lessons from a NICU Nurse


When I pushed my first daughter from my body after 24 hours of hard, induced labor, (because I needed to hurry up and get back to college classes and winter semester was starting in a few days), something changed in me.

Not only had she made me a mother. Not only had the world gained one of its greatest new people, but as I basked in the glory and confusion of the newness and rawness of motherhood, the crying baby on my chest, trying to catch my breath, seeing her for the first time, holding her, feeding her, I was just blown away.

I was in awe that there were people who got to be there every day for it all; on the best or the worst day of people’s lives. They were present for it all.


They were the ones moving flawlessly around my room, fixing me, the baby, the room, the IV, my medications, the table full of medical equipment, all of it. They were there for all of it, every day.

Soon I had two little daughters, and this still wasn’t far from my mind.

So I did it. With a baby in my arms and another at my heels, I went to nursing school, completed clinicals, worked after class, studied after that, and rarely slept. I soon found myself in a whole group of friends who did the same: mothers, full-time workers, night-shift/weekend warriors.

Graduating from nursing school was an amazing accomplishment. Then came the time when I had to be who I set out to be.

In the beginning, I prayed desperately that I could do things right, that I could learn things, that my hands could perform the new things I had learned, that patients couldn’t see that I was new, that procedures would go right, that I would pass, that people would live, that families wouldn’t ask me the question I didn’t know.

Sometimes it worked. Sometimes I knew the answers, slid through looking like a pro, nailed all the procedures just like I had learned. People lived, people got better, and all was good.

That went on for a while. Even though nursing was hard, my career felt rock solid, set on firm ground, steady, and I was unwavering.

A couple of years ago, I made a career change to work in the NICU.

In an ICU, things are wavering, unsteady, not rock solid, fragile. There is no firm ground with the world’s tiniest humans.

And I, was not a pro.

Sure, I had been a nurse for a while now, but this was not like the kind of nursing I had done before. The NICU has its own set of rules, ones that sometimes made no sense. Ones that sometimes break your heart. Ones that you can’t explain quite right to people. Ones that shake your faith. Ones that sometimes lift you up. Ones that can tear you to pieces. But I will tell you, I wouldn’t trade this job for any other job in the world.

lessons from nicu nurseI thought about this recently.

In motherhood, isn’t it the same?

We slide into the scene, and we want to look like a pro. We hope no one notices we aren’t. We pray we don’t screw it up, that our hands can perform all the things we need to do just right, and we have answers to all the questions we’re asked. Please let us and our babies slide by…

And sometimes we do.

But then there’s the terrible twos…more like threes…or the blow out up the back in Target, and you don’t have a onesie or wipes…or your kid is a darter, like my third, and you find out what Code Yellow means and how they shut down alllll the doors to find a missing toddler.

Or maybe your baby is sick, really sick.

Or maybe your teenager didn’t come home….she is late….she has a failing grade….rolling eyes…attitudes….divorce….money…bills…she needs a car.

The thing is, we won’t always slide by unscathed.

One of the best parts about my job in the NICU is the other nurses I work with.

Sure, I adore what I do. I love the babies more than anything, saving lives, and all of that.

But, I know I can call the other nurses I work with when I’m in the middle of any situation in a baby’s room and say “HEY GIRL, CAN YOU COME TO…AND BRING”….. and they will come.

They swoop in, and we all fix the situation and, most of the time, we laugh non-stop while doing it. Whatever it is, is fixed quickly and neatly and kindly and with the help of many caring hands and many eyes and many hearts.

motherhood never alone lessons from nicu nurse

Can you imagine if I kept trying to pretend everything was fine? That I didn’t need help…I was a pro….I’d go it alone….I had it all under control by myself?

Can you imagine what I’d miss out on, what the babies would miss out on? There would be so much wasted time spent trying to finish the job, be faster, get it done, and fix those problems on my own.

Many hands make light work

motherhood it takes a village des moines moms blog

My point is this: motherhood is the same.

In the beginning, we really have no idea what we are doing.

And, in each new stage we encounter, we have no idea what we’re doing either. Even if you have five kids, every kid is different.

We need each other. Many hands, many eyes, many hearts, to come when we call, to swoop in to help clean up the mess. To laugh with us while we do it, to cry with us sometimes too (although I’m not a fan of that part), to be silent sometimes, to hand us a glass of wine, to pick up our kids from the bus if we can’t make it, to remind us there’s a field trip tomorrow, to tell our kid at the football game that we’re going to tell their mom next time we see them do something like that. It takes a village, girls.

Never alone.

The older I get, the less the world makes sense.

Find your village. Don’t hesitate to call them when you need help. They will come. You can’t do it alone.


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