Why I Took My Family Back to the NICU
My kids received an unforgettable lesson in gratitude.
My third child, Emunah, was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. The doctor quickly untangled it, and even though I had subsequent hemorrhaging, the baby was healthy. We went home a few days later.
The first night home, Emmy cried uncontrollably. Despite every effort, I couldn’t console her. The following morning I took her for a check-up. After testing, we were rushed straight to the NICU because her jaundice had spiked and the situation was grave. We spent a week in the hospital.
That was one of the hardest weeks I had ever endured. I was still weak. I was pumping excessively, and my husband was delivering the milk to the hospital at all hours. I sat by the baby’s incubator, unable to hold her, touch her, or feed her. I felt numb. I felt guilty leaving my children when I was at the NICU, and even more guilty when at home with my other children. I wished I could clone myself.
Hours spent sitting in traffic? No problem, my baby is alive!
I was emotionally and physically exhausted, but overjoyed when we were able to bring Emunah home, just hours before the start of Yom Kippur.
For weeks, my happiness level was at an all-time high.
Burnt meatballs? Who cares! My baby is alive!
Hours spent sitting in traffic? No problem, my baby is alive!
I was overwhelmed with joy, but the happiness high didn’t last.
As part of a happiness project for my upcoming book, I’ve been experimenting with the effects of appreciation.
An article in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology concluded that gratitude has the highest connection to mental health and happiness than any other personality trait studied.
That’s why I’ve maintained a gratitude log for the past 18 years. It helps me feel happy.
I logged the simplest of moments every day, even during the greatest trial of my life, I can now, years later, look back at my entries and see that even in the darkest of days there are glimmers of light. The journal acts like pre-packaged happiness, there for you to open up when you need it most.
Janice Kaplan, author of Gratitude Diaries, conducted a survey, asking people the following: “Do you think gratitude makes people feel more fulfilled and lead richer lives?”
Even though we know gratitude is the key to happiness, many don’t practice it.
Although 94% answered unwaveringly, “Yes!”, less than half of those people practiced any form of gratitude on a regular basis.
Kaplan explains, “Imagine there is a magical happiness rock in the middle of a field, and all we have to do is turn it over, yet we keep skipping by it. We know it’s there. We keep thinking about it, but we just don’t turn it over.”
The Thank You Note
My husband recently shared with me that his company received a very expensive bottle of wine from a different corporation. He immediately sent an email thanking the person who sent it. It took him less than 30 seconds to write the message.
A few weeks later, he received a message back: I want you to know, I’ve sent hundreds of bottles to various people in different companies. Unbelievably, you are the only person who has thanked me.
We are missing out on one of the easiest ways to experience happiness in our lives! Gratitude is an obvious solution to personal dissatisfaction, and every time we’re reminded of it, we think, Yes, I should do that. But we don’t.
Take concrete action. Sending thank you notes are a simple way to drastically increase happiness levels.
On Mother’s Day, our family tested this theory out. We went back to the NICU to show appreciation. We special-ordered pastries and delicacies, and we each wrote personalized notes and presented them to the staff.
As we drove up to the hospital, I was flooded with memories not only of my NICU baby, but of all of my babies and the various challenges and joys that came with them. Suddenly, I began to doubt if I was really ready to face the NICU staff.
Because of COVID, we were not allowed upstairs, but one nurse came down to greet us.
Emmy visiting the NICU.
We introduced her to Emmy, who gave her a handwritten card, thanking her for saving her life.
I told the nurse, “When days get hard and you are exhausted, please know that you aren’t just saving babies. You are saving families. I am a happy mother because of your help. Because you helped save our Emmy, I had the strength to have more children. We are a more complete family because of you.”
We all had tears in our eyes during that very powerful moment.
“You can’t imagine what this means to us,” the nurse said to us. ”Just the other day, a baby in the NICU passed. It’s so hard for us when that happens. This moment gives us strength.”
Even if your children were never in the NICU, we can all take a moment to express gratitude to anyone who helped us become the person we are today. Try it out—the results may surprise you.
The Pachter kids with a nurse from NICU
Here’s my letter. May it inspire you to write your own letter to anyone that has affected your life.
To the dedicated Staff of the NICU,
It has been eight years since our baby was in your care. She was rushed to the NICU for jaundice levels that were extremely dangerous. For one week, she was placed under the lights, hoping to bring the Bilirubin down. You worked around the clock feeding her, monitoring her, and making sure she was alive. You worked tirelessly to keep her safe and healthy. It is now eight years later, and I want to thank you with all my heart.
You have helped our family in more ways than you will ever know. Our daughter, Emmy, is now a young girl. She has the sweetest disposition. She loves to help her mommy in the kitchen, she loves to give charity, she loves basketball and reading and mint chocolate chip ice cream. She is a beautiful child with a sunny disposition. Together, we are a happy family because of your help.
Please remember that when you are hustling, working hard, and stretching yourself to help others your efforts are far reaching. When you think you have nothing left to give, know you are saving lives and families. You will never be forgotten. You are heroes.
The Pachter Family
A version of this article originally appeared in Ami Magazine.