Dear New NICU Mom

CallistaToday marks my 70th day as a NICU mom. My 70th day of coming home to a nursery my daughter has never been in and a crib she’s never slept in. My 70th day of being a mom but not truly feeling like one. When I started working at Nationwide Children’s Hospital three years ago, I never expected to have to use the services we offered. But when my daughter Cami was born 15 weeks early weighing only  1lb. 7 oz., a long hospital stay became a reality. At 24 days old, my little girl developed necrotizing enterocolitis and was transferred in the middle of the night to Nationwide Children’s. It was at that moment that I became eternally grateful to have a top neonatology department so close to home.

It’s hard to feel like a mom when your baby is in an isolette. When her primary caregivers are not mom and dad, but rather doctors and nurses. It’s hard to feel like a mom when simply holding your child requires the assistance of at least two people to get her out of her isolette, making sure not to tangle her leads, PICC line and CPAP. I’m grateful my daughter was born in a time when modern medicine makes the chances of her survival high and when being a preemie doesn’t necessarily mean long term physical and developmental difficulties. I’m grateful for the many milestones we’ve already jumped over. But mostly I am grateful for all of the little things I can do with her that make me feel like a mom.

When Cami was less than a week old, one of my nurses asked if I wanted to change her diaper. She looked so tiny and fragile, in a diaper that looked like it could fit a doll but had to be folded over to fit her tiny frame. I couldn’t believe it was something they would let me do, but I have to say I was never so excited to change a poopy diaper. I suddenly felt like there was something I could do for my child, a way that I could take care of her.

Over the next few weeks, I started asking more and more questions and finding out what I could do during her care. We’ve settled into a nice little routine. I wipe her eyes and I clean out her mouth. I give her baths and change her diapers. I lift her up so she can be weighed each night and hold her little hands while her nurse suctions out her nose and mouth (she hates the suctioning, so I leave that one to the nurses!) I give her a binky if she crying and if we’re kangarooing and she pulls her CPAP out of her nose, I know exactly what to do to fix it.

Earlier this month, while I was in the process of changing her diaper, Cami peed all over me and all over her bed. It was such a normal parent/baby interaction and it didn’t upset me that I’d have to change her bedding and wipe her off again; it made me happy. Happy that even though she was in an isolette, even though she’ll be almost four months old before I can take her home with me, I still get to experience a lot of the things a new mom should. Right now her nurses are the ones that get to be with her 24/7, but I’m certain Cami knows I’m her mom and I’m happy for everything we can do together. Over the past two weeks, we’ve jumped so many milestones. Cami moved from an isolette to a crib. She started taking bottle feeds. She went from CPAP to a nasal cannula. All of these things make taking care of her so much easier. I am able to do so much for my little girl despite our circumstances.

Bonding with your baby is so critical at this point in their life; I want to encourage every mom and dad with a preemie to ask questions and get involved. I know their size can seem scary at first, but if I can successfully change a diaper on a feisty, squirming 1 lb. 7 oz little girl – I know that you can! I’m happy both my husband and I are still able to care for Cami like any other baby – we just need a little extra help getting her home!

Callista Dammann
Callista Dammann is the Social Community Manager at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. She has the unique opportunity of navigating the hospital as both a staff member and a parent after delivering her twin girls, Cami and Madi, at just 25 weeks gestation. Her daughter Madi is a guardian angel for sister Cami, now 4 and baby brother Maddox, 2. They live in Hilliard, Ohio with her husband, Ryan and their puppy, Lexie.

8 thoughts on “Dear New NICU Mom

  1. Jenny Hohn on said:

    This is so touching Callista! Cami is such a sweet and beautiful little girl — and lucky to have parents like you and Ryan! Lots of love to you all!!

  2. Ashlee on said:

    What a beautiful little girl. My heart is with you and your family. My 29 week little girl spent a total of 119 days in the NICU before we got to bring her home on a feeding tube. I have to say that it was the most emotional challenging days of my life. But that day you get to take her home, you’ll forget all about the roller coaster ride you’ve been on. My little girl is a wild one, who is finally taking her bottles, she’s crawling everywhere, sitting up on her own, eating baby food, and doesn’t look like a preemie now at all (except she is petite). Hang in there, things do get better and you’ll be an even more awesome mom when you get her home.

  3. Barbara L. Russell on said:

    Glad things are working out. When I read your story, My heart went out to you. I also had a preemie, he spent two months in the NICU at the same hospital. My thoughts are with you and your husband.Glad to hear Cami, is improving each day. Barb.

  4. Ashley Showen on said:

    Such a great article, Callista! It’s so important for parents to know they can take an active role in their child’s care even when they’re in the hospital. Your daughter is beautiful and so lucky to have such great parents! Best wishes to you guys!

  5. Colleen on said:

    What an amazing story! I am friends with/went to college with your sister. I have been praying for your family ever since she told me she was going to be an aunt! One thing I know for sure is that Cami is definitely a Conzett with all that determination, spirit and spunk! She is one lucky girl to have such a wonderful family!

  6. Ken Conzett on said:

    Callista, watching you and Ryan through this whole ordeal has made us very proud. You have done an excellent job. Your strength and perseverance has been amazing. Cami is following in your footsteps, showing her strength and willpower. She has grown so much, both physically and in everyone’s heart. It is only a short while longer and you will all be home, enjoying the great life of a young family. Love you. Dad

  7. Debi Moyer on said:

    Callista – your words touched my heart. You have shown such strength and courage during this journey. I know it seems like a long road but soon you will be home with Cami and you and Ryan will begin your life in your own home as a family. Cami’s personality already is glowing with her determination and her fighting spirit. I lift her up in prayer every day to grow and be ready to come home and be nurtured by her loving parents, grandparents, aunts, etc.

  8. Our 26 week micro-preemie girl (also 1 lb, 7 oz at birth) is 20 months (17 corrected) today. We spent 95 days in the NCH NICU at Riverside. Your “letter” has my eyes misty–I remember changing that first diaper, juggling tubes and wires, kangarooing, longing for a baby to wake me up instead of an alarm and pump, praying for those dirty diapers because it means everything’s working. One day at a time is one day closer to home. HUGS and PRAYERS from one preemie Mama to another! Thank you for sharing.

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