Almost 16 years ago, I was a scared 25 year old first time mum of a premature baby born at 34 weeks. Besides it being an incredibly frightening time, I look back and realise how I really had no idea of what was going on or what I was doing. My time with him in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) was like being in a completely foreign world. It felt like everything was happening really fast and really slow at the same time. What I didn’t know then is that it was an experience I was to go through another two times with my next two babies including a nine week stay with my second son who was born 13 weeks before he was due.

Wednesday, 15 August, is International Neonatal Nurses Day and I often reflect on the profound effect and role the neonatal nurses had not only on the physical health of my babies but also on my own emotional health during that time.

The day your children are born are amongst the most significant days of your life. And whether that experience is joyous or one tangled in fear, worry and trauma, like mine were, the memories don’t leave and the people who are with you at the time become part of your story – and that includes the nursing staff who live the day to day world of NICU with you.

Although their primary focus is the baby in their care. What comes attached to that baby are anxious parents and the nursing staff were there for me in ways I will forever be grateful.

I remember them comforting me every time I cried – which was a lot.

Melinda Cruz Dillon Neonatal Care
Being encouraged to touch my son by one of his neonatal nurses. He was born at 27 weeks and was 3 days old in this photo. 

I remember the gentle encouragement they gave me when I felt scared to put my hands inside the humidicrib and touch my baby.

I remember the confidence they gave us to finally hold them even though they were hooked up to machines.

I remember the photos they took and the memories they helped us create when we couldn’t be by our baby’s side.

I remember it was the nurse’s hands in the water with me the first time I bathed my baby.

I remember how they educated me and helped me work out how to express breastmilk knowing it was going to be for a long time, especially with my earliest baby, as it was almost 7 weeks before he was ready to even try and feed on the breast.

I remember them reassuring me that I could do it and would be able to look after them when the monitors were finally turned off and they were coming home. That was scary.

This is a list that could go on forever and on a day that acknowledges their work, what I would like to say to my neonatal nurses is simply thank you.

Thank you:

  • For knowing that as a new mum caring for a sick baby was scary
  • For being patient and repeating things to me often. I was in shock, sometimes it took a long time for new information to sink in
  • For doing what you could to make us feel part of our baby’s team and not feel like visitors
  • For understanding that small things were a big deal. Their first bath, their bellybutton falling off, their first outfit. If it was something I would be part of at home, it was a big deal here too
  • For encouraging us to take lots of photos and videos even though it was hard to see how baby like that
  • For realising that I found it difficult to act and feel like a mum when there was so much I could not do for them
  • For telling us it was okay to hope

Being a NICU parent is something I didn’t know existed before having my boys and it was an experience I needed support through. This is where my neonatal nurses came in. Their role is so much more than the babies they are caring for and includes caring for the families those babies will go home with.

To these incredible nurses everywhere, my hope is you are aware of the imprint you make to our memories at one of the most important and emotional times of our lives. Thank you for being so passionate and dedicated to your work because I know for myself personally, we wouldn’t have our babies and the experience we did without you.

You are changing lives and helping create families.

Originally published at