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How the NICU is like Poison Ivy

By: Laura Sassi

NICU, hospital corridor

Our former micro-preemie, now college senior, turned 22 this summer and as part of the celebration we took a family hike. That’s where we spotted this sign:

Just as hiking trails have poison ivy, some parenting journeys include NICU stays.

The sign was really no surprise. Our family has learned over the years that somewhere along the way -on even the nicest walk- we will invariably encounter this dreaded three-leaved vine. More than likely, someone (usually me!) will end up with a rash that makes us miserable for almost two weeks!

But the sign got me thinking. As first-time parents-to-be, I thought were embarking on the most beautiful trail ever, all daisies and butterflies! Instead, we found our trail riddled with poison ivy.

The NICU - A Poison Ivy Laden Trail

The first hints of the pesky vine began before our son was born when I was whisked to the hospital at 22 weeks with a failing cervix. As nurses buzzed around, I was wheeled down long hospital corridors and placed in a hospital bed with my feet at the highest setting and my head at the lowest so that gravity would keep our son in. That position is called Trendelenberg.

Maybe some of you are familiar with it.

In that position, my doctor hoped I would make it to 28 weeks. Instead, two weeks later, my water broke. Hours later our son was born. Sixteen weeks early, weighing only 1 lb 9 oz, and with an infection, he had to be transported that very night to another, higher level NICU. I couldn’t go with him because I was recovering from my c-section. He spent the next 105 days— first in that higher level NICU and then in the one that was closer to us.

I remember this entire time as a twisty, poison ivy infested trail laden with emotion and fear as we went from one medical crisis to another, living hour to hour, calling in the middle of the night, every night, just to see how he was and spending as much time with him during the day as possible. The nurses and doctors at both hospitals were phenomenal, but nothing about our new trail into parenthood was daisies or butterflies.

Even after he came home, we continued to encounter poison ivy. Our son had developmental delays, difficulties with attention, lung issues. Eventually, many of those resolved, but the trail in the midst of it all was not clear. I often prayed God would just remove those poison ivy challenges.

But, today, as I reflect on that sign, I feel God’s presence and a deep sense of encouragement which I want to share with you.

God doesn’t promise that parenthood, or life, will be all daisies and butterflies.

Jesus, in fact, is quite blunt about this. “In the world you will have tribulation.” (John 16:33a) Praise God, though, because the verse doesn’t end there! In one of the most heartening moments of Scripture, Jesus concludes, “But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33b)

Jesus knows what you and your precious little ones are going through right now. And not only is He present in the midst of this poison ivy, He is the cure, the healing salve. His promise is clear: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) I pray that today, you will let Him be your salve and your rest in the midst of these heavy burdens.

A Purpose for the Poison Ivy

Just as poison ivy has a purpose, God can work a NICU stay for our good!

On our hike, I learned something else amazing. As awful as it is to us, poison ivy actually serves a vital role in nature! Its berries provide nourishment for the birds.

Looking back, I can see that God, too, has used those “berries” to nourish me— and I hope you too— in special ways. For example, God used that NICU time to grow my reliance on Him. He also used it show me just how deep and wonderful the support of family and friends can be during difficult times. Even more amazing, God used that time to take my faith beyond just the hope that things will turn out okay (because sometimes they do, but sometimes they don’t) to a bigger hope in Jesus — the Savior of the world and Provider of strength, rest, and eternal life.

If you let Him, God can also use the poison ivy along this challenging NICU/PICU trail to bless others down the road. That’s what God has done in my life. God has used our struggles in the NICU to equip us to come alongside others who have later found themselves on a similar trail. I’ve prayed with, talked to, visited and encouraged many, many women over the years.

As you step onto the trail today, I pray that you feel God’s presence in a deep and real way. Take heart.

In Him,

Laura Sassi

Author Laura Sassi, NICU mom

Laura Sassi is mom to a former NICU preemie who is now all grown up! She is also a well-known author of multiple picture books for children with messages of hope, joy and love. Learn more about Laura on her blog or follow her on Facebook or Instagram.

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Gordana Harris
Gordana Harris
Nov 08, 2023

You are an inspiration and a help to remind me that God is with me all the time.


Mirka Breen
Mirka Breen
Nov 07, 2023

In California we have poison oak, not ivy. But we have just as many "rashes" along the path of life. What a challenge you faced and lived to tell about. Best of all, is you saw G-d's love in it.

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