All the books in the world can't prepare a mother for the complications that come with a premature birth.
Staci Williamson, an OB nurse at Southeast Missouri Hospital, takes care of families who deliver into the neonatal intensive care unit at the hospital. It's her job to talk to them and help them through the steps to bringing home a healthy baby and to follow up with them once they leave. But each time her two sons were put in the NICU, she said her experience didn't help at all.
"I don't know that anything really prepares you to have a sick baby," she said. Her first son, Justin, spent two days in the NICU at Southeast because of a lung condition that causes irregular breathing. Her second son, Brett, spent his first 13 days in intensive when his lung partially collapsed.
Williamson, her husband James and their children Justin, now 14; Carlee, 12; and 3-month-old Brett gathered with other NICU graduate families Sunday to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Southeast's NICU and to celebrate their individual triumphs.
Every parent raising a NICU graduate thinks they're lucky. They always think it could have been worse.
Jeri and Danny Callaway's first son Anderson was born at 29 weeks. He weighed 2 pounds, 8 ounces.
"We had it easy," Jeri said. "He didn't have any major problems. He just had to grow."
The Callaways brought Anderson home a few days before his actual due date, but the trip didn't last long.
"We were home for one night and then we were back," Jeri said. Anderson stopped breathing because he was having trouble swallowing.
Jeri and Danny live in Cape Girardeau and were able to stay at home, but visited Anderson at least every three hours for feedings. While they were at the hospital, they met other couples and made friends.
As Jeri was leaving the hospital after a late night feeding, she said hello to another mother and the two ended up talking for an hour about their sons and their stories.
The mother, Jessi Jones, was spending time with her son Kaleb, who was born at 24 weeks. He spent a month in a hospital in St. Louis and two months at Southeast after that. Jessi's husband Joe took care of their daughters Mallory, 9, and Taylor, 4. Jessi and Jeri shared milestones and care techniques and still talk during the NICU Clinic checkups at the hospital.
Since starting the NICU in 1979, the hospital has renovated three times for expansions and upgrades. It can hold 10 babies and employs a total of six physicians and staff specially trained in caring for sick and premature babies, along with private community physicians who also send neonates there.