Hi, Cathy! Welcome to the forums!
I can completely relate to what you said: I thought for sure, when I started nursing school, that I was either going into L&D (to eventually become a CNM) or Oncology (to eventually work in hospice)! It wasn't until I was actually offered a job in the NICU that I thought, hey, maybe...and then I just fell in love with the whole shebang.
I was scared also- I had no children, had had virtually no contact with babies (none of my friends really had children, aside from one, none of my family lived close enough for me to be near children, never really worked with kids, etc.). I had no idea what I was getting into, really, and felt like I was taking a big chance. I knew I wanted to work in Maternal/Child, but I kept hearing that Peds was better/more interesting/more suited to me/etc. I mean, people I talked to said things like, "But the babies don't DO anything...how boring!" and "What are you going to be doing all night? Changing diapers? Ick!". LOL!
In fact, if you search back, one of the first posts I made after starting in the NICU was because I couldn't burp the babies successfully!
I was terrified of touching the babies, especially the extreme preemies; I'd never in my life seen a baby so small or fragile. The only exposure I got in nursing school was in the well baby nursery- big, healthy 9 pounders.
During my first few months on the unit, it definitely took some patience with myself and some perspective reminders to get me feeling comfortable. I would walk into the Level III nursery and feel like crying when I saw what I'd been assigned: A 23 weeker on a ventilator (had no experience with those!) with central umbilical lines and a PICC line and an IV tree with what seemed like four hundred drips hanging from it. All I saw (which actually will lend you some perspective when you're dealing with parents!) was equipment. TONS of it. NO baby, really, just a tiny figure dwarfed by tubes and machines. I literally had to stand at the bedside and break it all down, piece by piece. Okay, this is the umbilical line. Here it is, trailing off the bed, hooked up to this tube, hooked up to this pump. Okay, here's the ventilator tubing. Here it is, there it goes, there's the ventilator. One at a time until I was familiar with everything and the tubes and machines stopped being so intimidating. Really, only then do you get to actually SEE the baby, if you know what I mean. And eventually (and don't worry- I don't think this took THAT much time!) I would walk into the room and see the baby first.
I can't speak for anyone else, but I immediately fell in love with these babies. I mean, HARD. What I was doing felt important! These babies wouldn't stand a CHANCE at life if not for the nurses who literally nurse him/her to optimal health. Mother Nature did not intend for pregnancy to last five and a half months! I remember the first few weeks, being sort of afraid to touch a baby, and noticing that his mouth was completely crusty with built up saliva and he just looked so pathetic! It broke my heart. The linen was wrinkled, his skin was chapped and peeling, and I just thought, wow. If I were a parent I'd flip out if I saw this- I wonder if I can do anything here. I felt so little and inconsequential- I mean, how can I make a difference here when I know so little and there's so much to learn? One by one, I addressed the things that I knew how. I changed the linen so that it was fresh and soft for the baby. I changed the diaper and slathered A+D ointment on his chapped little cheeks. I gently rubbed Aquaphor all over his scaly skin, and couldn't help notice his tiny hands, the slender little fingers wrapped around mine. I did one arm, then it almost seemed as if he *offered* me the other one. I remember thinking how funny it was, and thinking, hey, I should let his mom know that! I took damp gauze and gently cleaned away the crud around the ventilator tubing. You could actually see the lips now! I remember him darting his tongue out and thinking, I wonder if the babies get cotton mouth from their mouths being open so much. So I got another damp gauze and placed it on his lip and let him taste it with his tongue. He sucked on it like he was a thirsty man in the desert. When I stood back, for the first time, I actually saw the baby! A baby, not a patient, not a preemie, not a body hooked up to machines, but a BABY, one who might go home, who might laugh and play someday, or fall asleep on his mother's shoulder as she rocked him. I mean, I know it sounds kind of corny and sentimental to some people, but I get tears in my eyes just thinking about it NOW!
My heart just leaped for these babies, and hopefully you will too. Seeing the look on the face of someone when they come into the unit to see their child and ALL YOU'VE DONE is clean him up, and they start to cry because they see him for the first time, too...Man. It's unbelievable and I cannot really accurately describe what you feel.
No matter what baby I see, big or small, sick or not, no matter what physical condition, I now see a baby first. A tiny personality, someone who means the world to his or her mother. Each one is different, but they're all beautiful to me. Again, I can't speak for anyone else...but when a baby starts to get sicker, or if something happens when I'm at home and not working, or if a baby dies, I grieve for that baby in some way. I have gone home and cried in my husband's arms for an entire weekend because I was so upset that I couldn't do anything more than I had been doing. Working in the NICU has taught me so much about the cycle of life, and the adversity, and the loss process, and I am a changed person because of this, literally. I will never be the same, and that's okay. It's altered my perception of faith and hope and life and death and I'm fine with that because I feel LUCKY to work with these parents and their children.
No one ever said it was easy. But it's worth the emotional price you pay, IMO. Hopefully you'll feel the same way!
Good luck in your last semester. We'll be waiting for you.