Bekah and Sam spend time in a hotel at least 5 times a year. Each time they do the exact same thing. They try out every piece of furniture they can, they look out the windows to check out the view, and they see how far they can run in the space available.
So when we visited Akron Children’s Kay Jewlers Pavilion during the Community Open House on Sunday, I was not at all surprised when they tried out all of the chairs, couches, windowsills and more.
The only thing that really surprised me was that Bekah didn’t ask where her suitcase was.
The new NICU floors look a lot less like a hospital, and a lot more like a trip to a nice getaway.
I’m sure that will change some once the rooms are filled with babies and not just sightseers with cameras and phones on “selfie sticks,” but I don’t think that it’ll ever change into the NICU I’m used to thinking of when I remember those first few traumatic days and weeks of Bekah’s life.
In some ways I’ll miss that old, antiseptic-smelling, familiar place we began to call home. In a lot of ways, though, I think some things will stay the same.
Yes, it will be nice to have more privacy—to not be a source of education for a neighboring baby’s 3 older brothers while trying to breastfeed or witness some of the rawness of emotion as other parents try to face insurmountable odds over and over again.
It also would’ve been easier for us to have not been there when other babies didn’t make it, and parents held onto their itty bitty bodies for that one last time.
But no matter how nice the new space is, it will never, ever be easier to be the parent of a NICU resident.
There is no amount of paint, carpeting, or even privacy that will make some of the decisions any easier. When it comes right down to it, I don’t think the new NICU experience will be any better or any worse than the old one.
I think that for most of us who’ve been there, and for those who will have a “reservation” there in the future, each NICU journey takes on a life of its own.
Each person has his or her own experiences and the NICU time becomes something that just is—it simply exists, and often seems like it exists apart from space and time.
It can’t be qualified, or compared, or even adequately explained.
As my children played and tried to figure out if this place had a pool, I imagined faint outlines of a worried mommy sitting beside an isolette, or a daddy weary from working all week while worrying about a baby he’d much rather be beside.
I saw nurses struggling to find the words to help explain something to an already overwhelmed family, and doctors taking deep breaths before entering a room, knowing that there was news that had to be delivered, but not wanting to have to actually say the words.
Standing there, I also remembered the remarkable times, the friendships made with not just other parents, but also nurses, doctors, volunteers, and other staff.
For us, there were more times that our room was filled with laughter than tears, and it was all due to the loving hearts of the people around us.
I know that families will still meet some of the most incredible people—all there with the same purpose: to help the sickest, frailest, and yet strongest babies overcome those mountains life has placed before them in their very first days.
The people who are there to support those of us who are just as afraid to leave as we were to stay, and those of us who remember our days in the NICU as some of the best of our lives because of the hope and tenderness we saw there as humans poured out love day after day for the babies who became part of their own lives.
When it comes right down to it, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience in the old NICU, and it was because of the love and care of the PEOPLE.
And those same people are going to be there, no matter where those babies take up residence…even if my kids were a little sad to find out they weren’t spending the night, and that this place didn’t have a pool.
As part of our year-long anniversary celebration, we’re telling the story of Akron Children’s through the eyes of past and present employees, doctors, donors, volunteers and patient families. We encourage you to share your own memories and stories about us.