Alex Giardino: Circle of Hope

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Alex Giardino returns to the site of the hardest days of her life, and discovers that hope, both given and received, is a circle.

My son was born in 2004, prematurely at 27 weeks’ gestation, weighing 2.2 lbs. For three months, he was cared for, held, and healed from a level-3 brain hemorrhage and other effects of his extreme prematurity by a remarkable staff of nurses at San Francisco Kaiser.

Last week, Nicolas turned 18, and we went back to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit to fulfill a promise we made long ago to the nursing staff.

After our son’s traumatic birth, his dad and I were terrified, but the nurses kept our hopes and emotions steady. They were our co-parents, our counselors, our rocks. Many times over they saved our son’s life. And in some ways, also mine.

Sometimes a nurse would show us photos of other children who had not only survived the NICU but were thriving. They made us promise we would return when our son turned 18, because they knew he would thrive, too.

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When we returned to the NICU after all these years, we were greeted by several nurses. One of the them remembered us. She hugged us. “Just in time,” she laughed. “I am retiring in October.” Another nurse invited us into their staff lounge to see walls covered with photos of babies they have cared for. Much to my surprise, I spotted my son’s tiny face. There was a photo collage I had made for the nurses in 2005. It’s the oldest frame still hanging there, surrounded by many other preemies.

As I recounted the story of my son’s frightening hemorrhage, a nurse asked if she could take our photo. Then with our permission, she dashed off to show the photo to a family now sitting beside their own 27-week-old baby who had the same level-3 hemorrhage.

She knew that, full circle, our success would be another’s family’s source of hope.

NICU nurses have always understood how to care for not just our babies, but our hearts, too.

With a Perspective, I'm Alex Giardino.

Alex Giardino is a translator, community college professor, and children’s book author. She’s also the very proud mom of a college freshman.