by Celia Lisset Alvarez
ICU baby Parent Supporter
Nicole was married at 17 and divorced at 23. At that time, she was ready to be independent and have fun. A young hairstylist and makeup artist, she was not interested in nor ready to have a baby. Then, after just one random night, she found herself pregnant. Surprised and upset, Nicole considered terminating the pregnancy. Somehow, however, she just couldn’t do it. Except for her mom, Tany, no one knew about the pregnancy for some time. Nicole feared others’ disapproval. Yet, when everyone found out, she received nothing but love.
The pregnancy went well at first, but soon Nicole’s high blood pressure started to worry her doctors. They feared preeclampsia. Sure enough, Nicole had to go on bed rest when she was just five months into her pregnancy. She stayed on bed rest for six weeks, but her health took a turn for the worse and doctors had to perform an emergency c-section at 30 weeks. Baby Phoenix, whom her mom would call “Baby P,” was born at 2 lbs. and 4 oz. They rushed her to the NICU, while Nicole was taken to the postpartum unit, where she would be hospitalized for a week.
She would not be able to hold Baby P for three days.
When she finally saw Baby P, Nicole threw up and fainted. Like many mothers who miss that first moment of skin-to-skin contact, Nicole had trouble feeling bonded to Baby P. She feared the fragility of this tiny creature. Then, something magical happened: a nurse allowed her to handle Baby P during “touch time.” Seeing that she was able to handle her baby made Nicole’s fear go away. They would spend 63 days in the NICU.
As Baby P progressed, the doctors started talking about sending her home. Every time they did, however, Baby P would “brady” (bradycardia) and the set-back in Baby P’s health would delay discharge. Three times Tany decorated the house expecting Baby P’s homecoming. “I felt trapped,” Nicole says. A trained opera singer, Nicole spent her time singing softly to her baby to get through the difficult days. She also bonded with Baby P’s primary nurse, Stacy.
Time, as always, went by. Baby P. came home—on a monitor. It was not the carefree homecoming Nicole and her mother had expected. Part of the NICU had come home with them. Soon, however, Baby P prospered, and—before she knew what was happening—Nicole found herself feeding her baby on a highchair, sitting up. She was finally free from the NICU.
Her relationship to those days is now much more positive. She stayed in touch with Nurse Stacy and was happy to be part of ICU baby’s Hope Parade, where 600 community members raised over $50,000 to support NICU families. “I felt tears in my eyes when they released the butterflies for the babies who hadn’t made it,” Nicole says. Nevertheless, she was able to sing the national anthem loud and clear, and in that moment she decided to become an ICU baby volunteer.
Now Baby P is eight months old. Like the phoenix after which she was named, she rose from the ashes of her traumatic birth, to fly.