One of the hardest things about life in the NICU is being around the other sick babies. Because of patient confidentiality, we rarely know why most of the babies are in the NICU. Sometimes I have occasion to talk to other moms to get their stories, and sometimes you can tell what’s wrong with a baby just by looking. Most of the babies in the NICU don’t have life or death problems per say; rather, they have other problems that need to be fixed, like digestion or a cleft palate. In Maddie’s corner of the NICU, there are three other beds. We’ve seen lots of babies come and go, either moving to the step-down unit (where things are less intense) or because they are going home. We are always thrilled for the babies that leave. We see them every day and get attached to them, and we know that someday we will get to leave the NICU, too.
Last night when I was there, a baby in Maddie’s corner left the NICU not to go to the step-down unit or to go home, but to pass away surrounded by his family that loves him with all their heart. It was a terrible thing to witness as I know what it feels like to be told your baby isn’t going to survive. Thankfully, Maddie defied expectations and pulled through. This little baby fought very hard for very long, but his body couldn’t take it anymore. I sat with Maddie as his family and the chaplin said prayers, and then we watched his family wheel him away to a quiet room. As soon as they were out of sight, Maddie and the other baby in our corner started crying. Maddie rarely cries without a reason (being poked and prodded is always the cause), so I don’t think it was a coincidence. The babies were saying goodbye to their friend. The nurses and I cried along with them. I felt so sad and so lucky and so guilty. I know how close we came to that being us. I know how lucky we are that it wasn’t. And I felt guilty for being relieved that it wasn’t my baby being wheeled away. Babies aren’t supposed to die. I held Maddie close to my heart last night and thanked God for her and her turn-around, and said a prayer for the little boy that passed on last night at 8:38 pm.