Life, Loss, and Why I Love NICU Nursing

By Williette Walker, BSN RN CBC

NANN Footprints: Stories from the NICU September 2020 

Willies selfie

Nursing has always felt like more than a career to me. It is something that I am extremely passionate about. I use every situation to learn and grow into reaching my full potential as a NICU nurse.

When I was 15 years old, my mother passed away from breast cancer. I had spent months praying for God to save her, to heal her. The morning my Dad came to tell me that she died, I was crushed beyond belief in realizing that she had not been "saved". The very night that she died; I had a dream of her coming to tell me the reason that she was taken from us so soon. She told me it was because God needed her to take care of the children in heaven. I woke up feeling a sense of calmness that I did not have the day before. That dream would later drive me down a career path of choosing to take care of the children here on earth while feeling connected to my mother. She wasn't a nurse by trade, but she was a nurse at heart. She was caring, loving, compassionate, empathetic, non-judgmental, funny, and loving. She and my father had given me all the tools I needed to be successful as a nurse. I strive every day to demonstrate those same qualities to my coworkers, my patients, and their families.

I started my career as a pediatric nurse in a neurosurgery/neurological unit at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. I would oftentimes go and visit the NICU because that was where my heart longed to be. I was terrified of leaving my comfort zone, so while in Atlanta, I would just get glimpses of the dim lights and star-filled ceilings that housed the smallest and most fragile little babies.

Fast forward to my move back to the East Coast, I landed a job in one of the top Neonatal Intensive Care Units in the country, The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. That is where I was shaped into the NICU nurse that I am today. I currently work in a Level III NICU at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. My job allows me to provide care to the smallest, most fragile, and vulnerable babies. I am able to provide education and support to a diverse group of moms as they begin or continue on their journey of being a parent.

People ask me all the time; how and why can you do this? My answer is always the same....I cannot stop babies from being born early, or ill, I cannot stop babies from dying, but what I can do is offer my heart and soul to parents going through the most challenging times. I can provide care, compassion, and watch the smallest human beings remind me what strength looks like. For the babies that do not make it, I can remind myself that while I am here on earth taking care of children, I know in my heart that there are mothers like mine that will take care of them and embrace them.