The Widsten Family: Our NICU Story
"When we were expecting our first child, we were fortunate to share in the expectant parent joy with several of our friends and family, our child being the last of the arrivals. By the time my due date rolled around, we had already celebrated the arrival of almost half a dozen babies. I heard so many stories of water breaking, labouring, the wait for the epidural, and then the magic of when the baby finally made its appearance.
For us when it was finally baby time, things didn’t progress as expected, and after a nearly two-day labour, and some potential complications, I had to have an emergency c-section. At this point, this was the big derailment we thought we would have to wrap our heads around; little did we know what was up ahead for us. We had no idea what to expect and assumed the packed room of pediatricians and nurses was standard; it was not. This was the first glimpse we got into the incredible neonatal care that Grand River Hospital provides daily for our community.
Our child had meconium aspiration, and as a result was struggling to breathe and needed intensive care. For the next 11 days, we would be on a never ending roller coaster of making progress, facing hurdles, daring to hope, and anxiously awaiting the moment we could hold our child. We were the 20th baby in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU); at that time, this was capacity. We saw our fears and anxieties mirrored in the faces of the other parents and family members. All of us hovering around our babies’ isolettes, intensely reading all the monitors, trying to make sense of the changing numbers and blinking waves. Willing oxygen stats to go up, and heart rates to regulate.
For us it immediately became clear that given how sick our child was, the only thing worse than being in the NICU would have been not making it there at all.
This was our introduction to parenting, the uneven footing of not knowing when we would get to go home, and on particularly difficult days, not knowing if we would get to take our baby home. The incredible care, support and guidance from the NICU nurses and doctors carried us through this time and have filled us with an eternal gratitude that has, over the years, only grown. New parents often feel overwhelmed; for us that was compounded by a deep sense of helplessness, the constant feeling that we weren’t doing enough, while watching the NICU staff tend to our child’s every need.
We didn’t get to change his first diaper, we weren’t there for his first feed, we didn’t hold him for days, we weren’t there when his umbilical cord fell out, we even missed his first haircut when they had to shave some of head to put in an IV line. Simple moments that we would later have with our younger children and feel doubly grateful for being a part of.
It was hard to leave our child for even a moment; what was agonizing was being sent home, without my baby, after 3 days. It had not occurred to me that we would be separated, that there was no place for me to stay and support him. Our home in North Waterloo was a half hour away, but the trip was made longer by one of the worst winters in a long time.
After 11 days, we were able to take our baby home, and while we mourned the loss of what we thought our first moments with our baby would be, we were grateful for the care our family had received.
As our first born got older, and we welcomed two more children into our family, our call to be of service and give back to the NICU grew as well. I wish I could go back and let myself know things would be fine, to fully enjoy and appreciate the moments that I was able to witness, even though they were happening in the NICU. We could have incorporated normal rituals into our time there, including weekly pictures and even reading to our child, but the idea of bringing something from home that would imply we were “settling in” was so contrary to our perpetual hope that “today is the day we get to go home,” a silent hope echoed by all the parents in the NICU.
Studies show that early literacy is key to raising confident readers. It is also a great way to build a connection with your child, and the learning can begin right at birth! When they are finally able to go home, they will have a souvenir of a time when their child was brave, resilient and strong. Our hope is that BiblioTake gives families a sense of normalcy, an opportunity to do something for their child and a bit of joy. All while also raising funds to provide exceptional neonatal care.
For some families, the heartbreaking reality is their babies never go home with them. In that case, the books will have been something that belonged to their much loved child and will hopefully be a small comfort in such a devastating time.
The money raised from the donation of books will go towards funding initiatives in the NICU. For instance, they are hoping to create more Mother's Rooms, so parents can stay on site with their infants. Through a partnership with a Canadian book distributor, we are able to donate a large percentage of the proceeds from each book donated to the Grand River Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. The hope is also to update existing infrastructure and update technology and equipment as it becomes available. A percentage of the funds raised will also go towards showing our appreciation to the incredible healthcare staff who work tirelessly to help these brand new humans back to wellness, while supporting their parents too.
This will also provide families a simple way of giving back to show their gratitude when they graduate from the NICU. Whether they choose to donate a book each year on their child’s birthday or do an annual donation of a dozen books, they can help ensure that future NICU families have access to the same great care and are able to start making meaningful memories with their child from day one."
- The Widsten Family
Support BiblioTake, a program to give each family books to read to their child while they're admitted to the NICU at Grand River Hospital. The books will be provided for free to parents so they have something new to share with their baby while in the hospital, and when they are finally able to go home, they will be able to take the books with them. Donate books to BiblioTake, and make a difference for local NICU families.