Danielle Park didn’t let the early arrival of her daughter, Kaitlynn, at 32 weeks get her down. Instead, she became the honorary “NICU Quad Mom” checking in on fellow preemie moms and lending a hand to NICU staff.
Check out just a few of the ways Danielle became a light in her NICU.
Were you working at the time of Kaitlynn’s premature birth?
Yes. I had taken the day off to go to routine doctor appointments. I was supposed to go back to work the next day. However, several factors led the doctors to require an emergency C-section. I had gestational diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome, a misshapen uterus, dehydration, stress and an infection of some sort. Plus, Kaitlynn was breach.
What was the most difficult part of having a baby born premature?
The hardest part of it was not being able to be a mom 24 hours a day. I knew she was my daughter and I was her mother but let’s be 100 percent real for a moment–the whole interaction is different. You have nurses and case workers watching you and your interactions while you feed, change and play with the baby. It feels like a business agreement to buy a puppy!
The second hardest thing was being far away from my support team. My mom and dad, sister (Jessi) and little brother (Ryan) lived two hours away. And my baby sister ( Brittney) getting ready to go back to college five hours away. There were many 12 to 14 hour days I sat in the NICU alone with my daughter because her daddy had to be back home to go to work. It was hard watching everything keep going as you felt strained. They would all message me and keep me posted to help keep the ‘normal’ feeling of everyday.
When did you get to go see Kaitlynn for the first time?
A few hours after my emergency C-section I was told I needed to eat something and I had to be able to get myself to the wheelchair in order to go see my daughter. So I wolfed down a burger and was ready to go see her. Later, I regretted getting the greasy food because I threw it up twice. The NICU nurses deal with babies and their fluids but do not handle adult puke well. HA! They kicked me out of the NICU for the night.
What kinds of things did you do to feel more like a “regular” mom to Kaitlynn?
I read to her, did kangaroo care, played music as I could at her bedside. I talked to her about things going on with everyone back home and made promises of all the things we would do as she grows up.
What got you through the tough times?
Hope! The hope that my daughter would come home. Determination that I was bound to be a mother. Love! The love of my husband and family. The love everyone including myself had for Kaitlynn.
I also tried to help other moms. After the doctors would do their rounds and the nurses would step away to finish charting I would ask the other parents, especially new ones, how they were doing. Did they need anything? Did they understand what the doctors told them? It became my side focus while Kaitlynn napped to make sure the new parents knew their rights in the NICU.
One mom hadn’t even given their daughter a bath because a nurse had misinformed her. The look on the other mom’s face when she asked the day nurse if she could bathe her preemie and the nurse saying yes was priceless! There was a social worker and the nurses did a great job but sometimes NICU staff can forget that it isn’t normal to a new parent or even a seasoned parent to see their child under machines with breathing tubes, feeding tubes, and monitors. Many parents feel more comfortable with someone they end up seeing daily, like another parent. They started calling me a NICU quad mom.
Was there anything anyone did for you that helped make the NICU stay easier?
There is a place called David’s House that allows parents and families to stay close to the hospital for free. The manager, Jae, was amazing. She was there to talk and asked about our daughter every time we saw her. She made us truly feel like she cared. The David’s House security guards drove a shuttle around the hospital which helped us not have to fight for parking and made us feel safe when we left the hospital late at night. They would also come pick us up if we had an emergency at the hospital and brought us back in the middle of the night. Honestly, the whole David’s House team made our 38 day NICU stay easier knowing we had people who actually cared about Kaitlynn and who took us seriously when we voiced a concern.
Also, my family and a few friends would come up and see us. They would check on us each day. Being there wasn’t easy but looking back at everything it could have been a lot worse.
How is Kaitlynn today?
She is almost five months old, three months corrected, and is doing great. She is gaining weight and eating finally. We had to go through some formula to find the right one. She has her own personality and has smiled since birth.
What would you tell a mom who has a preemie baby in NICU right now?
To breathe. That it’s hard now and doesn’t seem like it will end but it will be okay. To talk to someone. Make a NICU mom friend. Someone who is there dealing with their own story. It’s nice to hear about hard days and good days from other people going through it, too.
I always say preemie moms deserve a merit badge. What merit badges do you think you have earned?
Medical jargon and knowing where things in NICU were. The nurses had a lot of babies to cover so I learned to find things on my own. Which was good because there were a few moms and dads who were lost and needed my help.