1. Gardner, Marcia MA, RN, CPNP, CPN

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We named our first child Robbie, after my father, who died when I was in high school. I was 31 years old when Robbie was born. Although my pregnancy was completely normal, I never went into labor. By the time the obstetrician decided to induce labor, I was more than 42 weeks into my pregnancy.


We'd planned on a typical, long, epidural-supported first labor, but a good situation quickly turned bad. Late decelerations, decreased variability, decreased movement, and meconium in the amniotic fluid-they all happened so fast that I barely had time to grasp the need for all the associated interventions. In the end, I underwent an emergency C-section.


When I awoke in the recovery room, with my abdominal incision burning, I learned Robbie weighed slightly more than 5 lbs. Three weeks earlier, his estimated weight had been more than 8 lbs. Meetings with neonatologists began. Conversations were laden with laboratory data. "The baby," as they called him, had a decreased white cell count. A serious infection. Thrombocytopenia. Pneumothorax. "The baby" needed head ultrasonography and could have developmental problems in the future.


I was bombarded with so much information, such a multitude of potential problems, and was spending so little time with my newborn son that after two days he was beginning to sound like nothing more than a complex set of medical conditions.


My loved ones could offer me no reprieve. My husband, focused on the joy of a newborn son, didn't grasp the potential long-term implications of Robbie's problems. My mother searched for reasons for his condition, concluding that it was my fault for working too hard and having pets in the house while pregnant. Conversations with my siblings can be summed up as: "My friend had a baby who was little and that baby turned out great."


It was Robbie's nurses who helped me see beyond his medical challenges. They congratulated me on the birth of a sweet and beautiful baby boy, which no one else had done. They hurried into my room as his physicians hurried out saying "we don't know yet." They stayed with me as I cried. The nurses called him Robbie, not "the baby." They pointed out my son's miniature hands and complimented me on his long fingers. They admired his huge, clear blue eyes, his soft baby hair, and his big gummy smile. They reassured me that there was a lot that was baby-like, not diseaselike, about him.


After five days I was discharged, and Robbie was moved to the transitional nursery. The medical staff continued to test his blood and give him ultrasonography, X-rays, and hip evaluations. I visited every day, hearing results of each and every new test given to "the baby" as I sat by my son's bassinet.


Rita, the nurse in the transitional nursery, never left my side when I needed her, always making time to listen to my worries. When I came to visit, she told me Robbie was "such a cute little guy" and had "such a big personality." She picked him up and slung him over her shoulder, showing me that he was strong. She held him upright and spoke straight to his face. "You fresh little guy," she scolded, her voice warm and teasing. "You're giving your mom a lot of grief."


Just out of school, I'd worked in a level III neonatal intensive care unit. At 22 years old, I made a point of finding beautiful features in every tiny newborn face and of showing mothers that their babies, although vulnerable, were also strong and could be handled, held, and hugged. But I'd done so because that's what the literature and my teachers had instructed me to do. It was only when I became a mother that I truly understood the power of our words and deeds.


Nine days after Robbie was born, as I finally headed home with my son, I looked back at Rita. She nodded, smiling, as though she knew that we were ready to take this step and that we would thrive. And we did. Robbie is 15 years old now and he plays the piano beautifully (those nurses were right about his fingers), including a particularly memorable version of Fleetwood Mac's "Big Love."