People

‘Portrait of Courage’: Becoming a NICU Mom Changed Me


By Leslie Schafer, RNC-NIC, BSN, Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital | May 11, 2017

As a nurse assigned to care for our community’s most critically ill and fragile babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), I thought I had developed a good understanding of the struggle and the emotional rollercoaster that defines the lives of families whose babies I am entrusted with each day.

With more than a decade of experience, I thought I knew what they were going through, and I did my best to offer support and guidance based on what I thought they needed. But all of that changed when my son was born.

It’s true for any parent that having kids will change your perspective on the world, but giving birth to a baby who would ultimately wind up in my unit–the same exact place where I had cared for countless other very sick babies like him–profoundly changed me as a mother, as a nurse, and as a person.

In the fall of 2014, I arrived at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital for a scheduled caesarean section, which was recommended since I delivered my first child via C-section. My son, William, was my second baby. My pregnancy had gone well–no complications at all–and yet, I was nervous. As a NICU nurse, I’ve seen the worst of the worst, and it can skew your opinion about the risks and complications associated with labor, delivery and newborns. You worry, irrationally even, that the worst can happen to you. Even though I had no reason to fret, I requested that a neonatal transport team be present for my delivery. The charge nurse also agreed to be there.

During a C-section, the medical team places a blue drape over your midsection so you’re unable to see anything below your chest. Your sense of hearing becomes heightened as you await your baby’s first cry. I vividly remember holding my breath so I could hear that sweet sound. I heard William’s wail just before my OB-GYN announced that he had arrived. Finally, I could relax. I felt like I could take a deep breath for the first time during the delivery. My baby was here and he was healthy!

Unfortunately, that moment of relief was short-lived. As I listened to the charge nurse, Karolyn, and neonatal transport nurse, Noel, assessing William under the warmer, I noticed him growing quieter. I became keenly aware of a grunting sound, which is the awful noise babies make when they are struggling to keep their airways open. It’s a sound I immediately recognized from my years of delivering care, the telltale indication that a baby needs lifesaving oxygen; I knew this meant William was headed to the NICU.

I remember the wave of fear that washed over me. I remember the desperation of wanting to see what was happening to him. I remember thinking, “This wasn’t supposed to happen to my baby.”

Noel and Karolyn lovingly carried William to me, giving me a few precious moments to say hello and kiss my newborn before they had to whisk him away. To this day, I’ll never forget the gratitude I felt to have my colleagues by my side during one of the hardest moments of my life, doing everything they could to help my boy.

Words cannot express the emptiness you feel as a mother unable to be with her newborn baby, but I knew William was in the best hands of people who would love and care for him as if he was their own. In total, William would spend five days in the NICU, requiring breathing treatments to open his airways. I’ll never forget the first time I came to see him. As I happily settled next to his warmer to cradle him in my arms for the first time, the whole thing felt surreal. This was the place I had worked for years–day in and day out–providing care to other babies just like him, cuddling newborns just like him, assuring the mothers of little ones just like him. Except now I was the one with the visitor badge.

In that moment of uncertainty, it was reassuring to look around and see a room full of familiar faces. In my heart, I still believe that William was able to come home as early as he did because of their diligence, their expertise and their compassionate care.

Today, my little baby is a happy and healthy toddler who loves swimming and playing with his older brother. It’s been nearly three years since I got the chance to hold Will for the first time, and I still keep a snapshot above my desk of that moment: my first visit to the NICU as a NICU mom. It serves as a constant reminder of my unique perspective as both a calm caregiver and a worried mother, guiding me when I work with parents during some of the most difficult and frightening times of their lives.

I remember the heart-wrenching feeling you get as a mother, knowing that somebody else is taking care of your baby just a few floors away. But I also remember the sense of appreciation you feel for those who show your baby love and compassion. My hope is that every family who comes through our doors takes home a happy, healthy baby just like I did, and this desire drives everything I do as a NICU nurse. Unfortunately not every family gets that blessing, so I strive to provide the kind of care that ensures that their time with their child is as meaningful and loving as mine was–every time, no matter what.

I look at that photo above my desk every day when I start my shift. When others see it, they often remark how I don’t look like myself in it. They are right. It is not a photo of me as a NICU nurse. It is a photo of me as a NICU mother. It’s a reflection of who I am and why I do what I do. It’s a portrait of courage in the face of fear, hope in times of darkness. It’s a face that I find mirrored across my unit every day, as families struggle against incomprehensible hardship. It’s a face that I can now relate to.

Leslie Schafer, RNC-NIC, BSN, is clinical manager of the Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and Neonatal Special Care Unit (NSCU).

Tags | People



Social Posts

profile_image

Houston Methodist

@MethodistHosp

4.26, noon-3 p.m.: @MethodistHosp San Jacinto Hospital Hiring Event for experienced RNs. Learn more: https://t.co/4v7r2jpdTP https://t.co/pVFG8AmsG4

54 mins ago
profile_image

MD Anderson Cancer Center

@MDAndersonNews

RT @CancerFrontline: An @MDAndersonNews team developed a personalized vaccine that exposes evasive colorectal cancer to an immune attack ht…

2 hours ago
profile_image

Houston Methodist

houstonmethodist

Discover world-class career opportunities for experienced RNs at the Houston Methodist San Jacinto Hospital hiring event on 4.26 from noon-3 p.m. Bring several copies of your resume & park free in the visitor parking lot. Learn more: http://pxlme.me/1JA7A6zf

3 hours ago
profile_image

University of Houston

@UHouston

RT @UHCougarMGolf: .@UHouston alum & @CBSSports broadcasting great Jim Nantz reacts to being named 2018 Ambassador of Golf CONGRATS, Jim,…

4 hours ago
profile_image

BCMHouston

@bcmhouston

Sneezing, headaches and a stuffy nose always means you have allergies right? Wrong! https://t.co/wf8ti3TKVw

4 hours ago
profile_image

Baylor College of Medicine

BaylorCollegeOfMedicine

Congratulations to Dr. Yingbin Fu on earning the Helen Juanita Reed Award for Macular Degeneration from the BrightFocus Foundation.

4 hours ago
profile_image

Veterans Affairs

@DeptVetAffairs

New Mexico Veterans set sights on Golden Age Games competition - Volunteers needed for 32nd annual event in Albuquerque https://t.co/gS2J3VC4HZ via @Sports4Vets on #VAntagePoint

4 hours ago
profile_image

Veterans Affairs

@DeptVetAffairs

Telehealth education is on the move in Colorado https://t.co/KgB6D7Xt37 via @KREX5_Fox4

5 hours ago
profile_image

Veterans Affairs

@DeptVetAffairs

It's a new day at your Manchester VA https://t.co/lDrYdgumuw via @seacoastonline

6 hours ago
profile_image

Rice University

RiceUniversity

How can you make the last day of class even better? Bring some cute animals to campus! 🐰

6 hours ago
profile_image

UTHealth

@UTHealth

Did you know #stroke is the fifth leading cause of death and leading cause of disability in the U.S.? Come to our Stomp Out Stroke Festival from 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. on Sat., April 28 @DiscoveryGreen to find out how to decrease your stroke risk. Register at https://t.co/PBNoFVY455. https://t.co/sYm9Ny734p

6 hours ago
profile_image

UTHealth

@UTHealth

RT @UTHealthSPA: FYI >>> NIH Funding Opportunities and Notices for April 20, 2018 https://t.co/VXvK9WVKy4 #grant #grants #research

7 hours ago
profile_image

UTHealth

@UTHealth

RT @uthpsychiatry: The UTHealth Center of Excellence on Mood Disorders is conducting a new clinical research study for adults with schizoph…

7 hours ago
profile_image

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

VeteransAffairs

Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Navy Veteran Tammie Jo Shults. Tammie Jo served for 10 years as a pilot and earned the rank of lieutenant commander. Tammie Jo grew up on a New Mexico ranch near Holloman Air Force Base where she developed her interest in flying. She attended MidAmerica Nazarene University, graduating in 1983. A year after taking the Navy aviation exam, Tammie Jo found a recruiter who processed her application. She attended officer candidate school in Pensacola, Florida, and was assigned to a training squadron at Naval Air Station Chase Field in Beeville, Texas. Tammie Jo was an instructor pilot, teaching students how to fly the Navy T-2 trainer. She later flew the A-7 Corsair in Lemoore, California. Tammie Jo was among the first female fighter pilots for the Navy and was the first woman to fly an F/A-18 Hornet. In 1993, after 10 years of service, she left the Navy. Earlier this week, Tammie Jo completed the successful emergency landing of Southwest flight 1380 at the Philadelphia International Airport. The Boeing 737-700 lost an engine, causing shrapnel to strike a window. With 148 people on board, one woman died and seven were injured. Thank you for your service, Tammie Jo.

7 hours ago
profile_image

TAMU Health Sciences

@TAMHSC

We are proud to "Teal Out" in support of #StepInStandUp! Even one such incident is too many. https://t.co/NQdJ5UyHkA

7 hours ago