“As a single mother navigating the NICU I thought that I needed to be super mom.”
During a professional development day at work, Danielle Walker, didn’t feel like participating in the training activities. at 32-week pregnant, she felt tired and had little energy. She’d been diagnosed with high blood pressure but so far it had been manageable with medications during her pregnancy.
Preeclampsia landed her in the hospital for an emergency C-section where she met the love of her life, her son, Levi, eight weeks earlier than expected.
This super woman has raised her son by herself while finishing her degrees in Arts and Human Development and Family Science. NICU was not her first or last battleground. Later on, she would again spend many weeks by her son’s side at Shriners Hospital where he was treated for second and third degree burns.
A natural caregiver, she spent several year’s teaching at my 32-weeker’s early childhood development center where I had the pleasure of meeting her. Despite being a little younger, Levi was in my daughter’s pre-school classes where they met many fun milestones together.
Get to know Danielle’s incredible story.
What was the most difficult part of having a baby born premature?
I felt like I had done something wrong and had caused this to happen to me and my baby.
I had been eating healthy for the majority of my pregnancy but that was not the case the day I was rushed to the hospital. I had overslept that day and was late to my training and did not pack my lunch. I ate fast food and had a soda for lunch for the first time in forever. The doctors and nurses had to make me realized that it was not my fault and that one meal could not have made my blood pressure be that high.
Once I moved passed that I had to come to grips with the fact that I was going to be discharged from the hospital without a baby coming home with me. I had Levi on a Tuesday and was discharged from the hospital on a Friday. I had an emotional breakdown that morning when the doctor told me I was being discharged. The nursing staff was excellent. They allowed me all the time I needed to get myself together before leaving the hospital that evening.
When did you get to go seem Levi for the first time?
I was on bed rest because of my blood pressure for three days before I could ride in a wheelchair to see him.
When did you get to hold him for the first time?
We did skin-to-skin when he was three days old and I was allowed out of the bed to see him.
What got you through the tough times?
My friends and family. If it wasn’t for them I don’t know what I would have done. They helped me get around until I was allowed to drive. They brought me food to eat when I was in the NICU all day with him. They threw me an awesome baby shower after having Levi since he came a month before my original baby shower. The biggest thing was they prayed for us and kept me positive when sometimes I would get a little down about everything.
What kinds of things did you do to feel more like a “regular” mom to your preemie?
I was not a working at the time so I would spend all day in his room. I brought clothes to the NICU for him when they said he could begin wearing clothes. I changed diapers when they told me I could change him. I bottle fed and eventually breastfed him when they took his feeding tube out.
How was it relating to friends and family during your NICU stay?
It was hard at times because I could see how uncomfortable they were sometimes in the NICU. All the cords and beeping was too much for them. I did have family and friends that were fine with the situation.
Was there anything anyone did for you that helped make the NICU stay easier?
The nurses in the NICU helped encourage me and taught me to be an advocate for my child. As a single mother navigating the NICU, I thought that I needed to be super mom. They made me realize it was OK to have a little bit of life outside the NICU.
I had a nurse encourage me to go out and celebrate a good friend’s birthday. She told me, “You need to go have fun because when he comes home that will be your full-time responsibility.” A different nurse on the NICU floor helped me with advice the weekend before Levi was discharged from the hospital.
My friends and family threw my baby shower one Saturday towards the end of his NICU stay. By the time I got the four car loads of gifts in my apartment and somewhat organized I was exhausted. I had not been to see Levi all day but I was too tired for a visit to see him. I called the nurse to check in on him and she could hear in my voice how tired I was and that I had been crying. She told me, “Ms. Walker you need to rest. Your baby boy will most likely be discharged Monday and your home life will not be the same. I have watched how you put him to bed. I will read him the book and I will chart in his room. I will make sure he is not alone I promise, Danielle.” Those ladies went above and beyond to help this new mother.
What would you tell a mom who has a preemie baby in NICU right now?
I would tell them your baby being in the NICU is just a beginning stop in the journey of their life. I know it is hard to give birth to baby and leave the hospital without them but they are receiving the best care possible in the NICU. Stay prayed up and keep positive thoughts going even in the darkest time of their NICU stay.
How is your preemie today?
Levi recently had his seventh birthday and is entering the first grade. He is a green belt in taekwondo. He loves making friends and is generally a sweet boy.
I would love to say Levi’s only hospital stay was when he in the NICU but that isn’t true in this story. He had to do an almost week stay around 18 months old for RSV, pneumonia, and being severely dehydrated. Our next venture to the hospital was when he suffered second and third degree burns from an incident at his dad’s house. My experience from NICU and learning to be an advocate for my son helped so much when we were in Shriners Hospital.
I always say preemie moms deserve a merit badge. What merit badges do you think you have earned?
Groundhog Day merit badge: when you all you do is feed a baby, pump, clean up from pumping, play with baby, change a diaper, and put him to sleep. It’s like your life is on repeat like the movie…LOL