Dear NICU mom,
I see you, I’ve been you.
In fact, I’m still you, navigating the next phase of the journey.
I know you did everything you could to bring your child safely and healthy into this world. And yet at some point, your birth journey shifted. Whether you are the mama of a preemie or a full term baby in need of extra care, it is not how you envisioned his or her [and your] birth story.
My own son, Jasper, was born at 30 weeks after a close call with severe pre-eclampsia. The guilt was immeasurable after a healthy pregnancy. I thought I had done everything right — eaten healthy, exercised, educated myself, stayed positive, etc. etc. My mind was like a broken record replaying the events, looking for a sliver of how I could have prevented this from happening and the blame oh the blame. One moment I was at a prenatal visit and the next I was in the hospital being told I had to deliver in less than eight hours. Fear and anxiety riddled me in those hours before he was lifted into this world. But when I heard him wail, in that moment, my heart exploded with relief and happiness. My little boy, born at barely 2 pounds, had survived.
Being by your little one’s side every moment you can isn’t the same as having them with you from the point of birth. Even in a pro-mama/baby hospital like mine, I was given the chance to glimpse his tiny face for only seconds before he was whisked away by his neonatology team and my own doctors tended to me. Deep down you know the health teams are there to help your baby, but you ask the universe why you couldn’t protect the very life that you grew inside of you.
Guilt, it is like a four letter word with something a little extra for added weight. You carry this guilt because you would do anything you could to take away the suffering of your child, to inflict it upon yourself rather than having them have to endure it for one millisecond. My guilt set my insides on fire and that fire ravaged me the entire time he was in the neonatology intensive care unit.
Living on pure adrenaline for what seemed like months, my physical scars were healing, but the emotional wounds were fresh and open. I felt self doubt, constantly contemplating my own value in supporting my son amongst all the machines and experts.
Mama, I don’t want you to fall prey to those kinds of thoughts, so here is what I wish for you to understand…
You are the most important person to your baby.
It is magical, your mere presence makes your child stronger and gives them the wherewithal to fight for their life. Kangaroo care, the act of putting your baby skin-to-skin with you, is evidence-based in improving their vital signs and quality of life. By touching your baby, talking to your baby, sending invisible strings of love to your baby, you are giving them the best chance they have at healing.
You are your child’s biggest advocate. Be their voice.
The reality is that hospitals need to develop protocols since they are treating a broad demographic of medical cases. And true to form, some babies don’t fit into that box. For weeks, we battled Jasper gaining weight, but it took his father and I advocating for an alternative nutrition plan for our little one to finally make the progress that he needed. Educate yourself, ask questions, request transparency, participate in daily “rounds” for your child, get to know their caretakers.
You are in the presence of daily miracles. Take notice.
I have something important to share with you: while the NICU can bring pain, it can also deliver a plethora of miracles. I have a newfound respect for the incredible abilities of modern medicine after our experience. I had planned to have an unmedicated birth attended by a midwife, steering away from any possible hospital intervention. I had no physical signs of pre-eclampsia but through a fluke in scheduling ended up getting my blood pressure checked early, this was the universe saving both of our lives. After seeing my son born so little and survive, this was truly a miracle of science and spirituality working in unison.
Watching your child meet the smallest milestone in the NICU, one that directly correlates to their healing, is purely magical. I remember the first time I saw him open his eyes was one of the purest moments of happiness I have ever felt. And I have never stopped looking deep into those eyes.
Take note that there are miracles working for your child as well as many around other ones around you in the NICU. After seeing so many different cases, I knew we were one of the lucky ones. Stand in witness of all the little lives around you.
I know a family’s time in the NICU is an isolated one, so far away from the “normal” world. Many will try to sympathize with the pain and longing you feel each day your child is separated from you. Empathy is what you will really need through this journey and don’t ever be afraid to let people know the difference and what kind of support your family needs.
There is light. Though those scars never completely go away — that slight misfit feeling among other new parents and holding on just a bit extra tight to your little — they do heal and transform. I remember all of these feelings as if it were yesterday and some still stick with me. I leave you with this, this will only be small part of your child’s journey, so look forward —they will be home soon.