Lauren Towler Fennel, NICU Nurse
Prentice Women’s Hospital
Nominated by Christina Brigida
When Nurse Lauren told me she was Kai’s primary, I don’t think I even knew what that meant. I was just glad to have someone there to help me get my son out of the isolette because I was too afraid to touch him. I was suffering trauma on multiple levels and definitely In shock. My water had broken at 20 weeks leading to nearly two months of bedrest and an emergency c-section at 27 weeks, when my two-pound twins Ethan James and Kai Benjamin were born. I said goodbye to Ethan 19 hours and 1 minute later, and began arrangements for his cremation while simultaneously trying to embrace being a new mother. I pumped religiously so I could contribute to Kai’s recovery in some meaningful way. I saw Lauren nearly every day.
At first our interactions were quick and clinical: she did her job (everything involving Kai) and I did mine (sitting bedside crocheting). Eventually this progressed to longer and more personal conversations. I told her about a fight with my husband and she told me about appearing on TLC’s Four Weddings. Lauren was Kai’s advocate during the doctors’ daily rounds, ensuring his progress kept on pace so we could get him home ASAP. She was also my teacher, showing me how to hold him so the machines wouldn’t beep and how to breastfeed him when I was finally allowed. While she was my son’s nurse, she took care of me, too. Her sense of humor saved me from drowning in my own loss.
I needed laughter and that just wasn’t something everyone could offer. People don’t know how to treat a grieving parent, so they distance themselves or say nothing. It’s incredibly lonely. Lauren was sometimes the only person who made me feel good about being a new mom and treated my son like a real new baby. She and the other nurses might have even been the only people to actually congratulate me or tell me my son was handsome. Lauren gave Kai his first gift. My husband and I were paralyzed by fear after the birth of our sons, so it never occurred to us to do “normal” first-time parent things like buying a proper pacifier. Giving Kai a lion WubbaNub seemed like Lauren’s gentle way of encouraging us to move forward.
Even though she wasn’t working the day Kai was discharged, Lauren came in to say goodbye, playing the traditional graduation march on her iPhone as we carried our son outside the hospital walls for the first time in 76 days. I cried. As happy as I was to be bringing Kai home, I didn’t want to leave the NICU or Lauren. She was my co-parent, my teacher, my therapist, and my friend. How was I going to do this without her? I learned how to be a mom in that tiny, curtained-off corner of Prentice Women’s Hospital, and Lauren held my hand – and laughed with me – through it all.