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How I Went From Being a NICU Mom to a NICU Nurse


Nursing was a second career for me. When I began working in the corporate world, I had this feeling in the back of my mind that I should instead be working in the healthcare arena. So 12 years after completing my bachelor's degree in advertising, I returned to my alma mater, UNC Chapel Hill, and began an accelerated nursing program. [caption id="attachment_106253" align="alignleft" width="241"] Cheri DiStefano, RN[/caption] It was 16 months of very hard, very intense work. But I loved it. I knew that I had made the right decision, but I had no idea that my journey was only beginning.

From new nurse to terrified patient

During my last months of nursing school, my husband and I were expecting our first child. I had a pretty "normal" and uneventful pregnancy up to that point. But at 26 weeks' gestation during one of my clinical rotation shifts at the hospital, I began having intense and regular contractions. I knew something wasn't right. I walked over to the labor and delivery unit where I was examined and told that I would need to be transferred to another hospital -- and that I wouldn't be going home until my baby arrived. The amazing doctors and NICU nurses were able to stop my contractions and get me the steroid shots that my baby's lungs desperately needed. I was able to remain pregnant for another week. Then, at 27 weeks and two days' gestation, my son was born. My husband and I were terrified. We expected the worst. The thought of our baby staying in the neonatal ICU (NICU) after I was discharged was almost more than I could handle.

This place -- the NICU -- sounded terrifying. It was a place I had never wanted to set foot inside. But I soon saw for myself that amazing things happen there. Miraculous things.

Little by little, I started to see that the NICU wasn't a scary place after all. It was a place where NICU nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, physical therapists, all members of a healthcare team come together to pour their hearts into caring for the tiniest patients in the world.

They cared for us all

Because of the steroids and antenatal care I received and the phenomenal care our son received, he never needed to be intubated. No oxygen. No surgeries. No illnesses. He was just a tiny baby (on a little bubble CPAP) who needed to get bigger. We still can't say enough good things about the truly spectacular nurses and doctors who worked in that unit. They cared for our son, and they cared for us too. They were our support. They were the smiles that greeted us when we walked through the doors, and they were the ones going above and beyond for our little boy and giving us the peace of mind we needed, so we could go home and sleep for a few hours and know that he would be in good hands. Finally, after 51 long days, our son came home with us -- six weeks before his due date. That experience changed my life in so many ways, one of which was the trajectory of my career. When I received my nursing degree, I sent exactly one job application to one unit at one hospital. The only place I wanted to work was the NICU where my son had received his care, so I became a NICU nurse.

I had the unique opportunity to repay all of those nurses and doctors (who became my colleagues) by paying it forward to all of the families going through the same thing my husband and I experienced. Working in that unit was the hardest, yet most rewarding experience of my career. I got to become a part of a team that collaborates, debates, and does their very best every day to advocate for patients who are too little to advocate for themselves.

Working there shined an even brighter light on how lucky my family is that my son's journey turned out so well. Not all NICU stories have a happy ending, but I learned that a lot of them do. There were some very hard days, but most of the babies we treated were eventually sent home with their families. And I cried happy tears for them every time. There are so many wonderful reasons to become a nurse. But I think the common denominator that rings true is this: Being a nurse is more than just a degree. More than a career. It is a calling that changes not only your life, but the lives of every patient you treat -- and their families too. Would you like to share your nurse story with your colleagues? We'd loved to read it!