I see you, and I know how you feel… I have been there myself, I was you 11 months ago. You don’t know me, and I don’t know you – but this letter is for you.
I don’t know why your baby came into this world prematurely – whether it was due to pre-term labor, preeclampsia, multiple births, placental abruption, etc.- but I’ve been where you are. I know this is the last place you expected to be, sitting in the NICU watching your tiny little baby fighting for his/her life.
First of all, I want you to know that this is not your fault – these things happen. It took me a little less than a year to shake the guilt, to not try go over my every single move leading up to the birth of my son, trying to figure out where I went wrong. I was so angry with myself, because I felt like my body had failed me. Failed him.
It was not you, realize that now because you will not be doing anyone any favours rehashing the past when you could be spending those precious moments with your newborn – do not let your mind take you to that dark place. Forgive your body and yourself.
My baby boy was born at exactly 35 weeks, and I know that being 5 weeks premature does not sound like much – but it was still the scariest experience of my life. It is okay to be scared, but you need to be brave. I know this is all confusing, all the machines and tubes – trying to take notes as the doctor explains what they are all for and what all those numbers mean.
It is so hard to take it all in when all you can think about is holding that sweet little baby. It’s the most helpless feeling in the world – sitting beside your child’s incubator or open-air crib, staring at their tiny body as they sleep, your eyes flickering to the overhead monitor as it startles you with an alarm. You can’t touch them, you cant hold them when they cry, you can’t feed them when you think they are hungry. It is tormenting, and I do not wish it upon my worst enemy.
It helps to ask questions – a LOT of them – even if you feel like a broken record or still don’t understand something after the first (or second or third or fourth) explanation. You’d be surprised at how much more in control a little bit of knowledge makes you feel.
I know that the worst thing was to leave your child behind at the hospital and go home… I know that it breaks your heart, every single day. I know that every drive to the hospital feels like it is taking forever, and that you pretty much hold your breath the entire time – not sure what you will find today. I know how your shoulders slump as you prepare yourself for another long day of visiting your baby and then leaving him behind once again.
I know that it feels like this will never be over. It feels like every day for the rest of your life will be spent in this room. I just want to tell you that, sooner than you think, the moment will come when you find yourself putting that baby in the car, in total disbelief that this is it, it is over and you can just go home and be a family. One day there will be no more alarms and monitors, no more bright lights and beeping, no more incessant hand washing and nurses.
One day it will just be you and your baby, alone, in a silent room, at home, filled with sunlight – right where you belong and this will all feel like it happened a thousand years ago to someone else.
I know that you are feeling lonely… unless someone has been there, unless they have walked this, they won’t know or understand why your heart is broken. They don’t understand that you will do anything to have carried your baby to term and save them this rocky start in life.
They don’t get that you do not need someone to remind you to be thankful – you are… damn, you really are. It will take some getting used to, but often times you will juggle being thankful for your child’s life while being scared to death for their future… and that is okay, welcome to motherhood.
The NICU is a traumatic experience, it will probably never leave you – a beeping monitor or the smell of disinfectant will take you straight back… for years to come, probably forever. There are so many uncertainties, so many obstacles that your tiny baby has to overcome… it all takes it’s toll.
You will find a hidden strength you never knew you had, and you will see the strength of your child – you will grow amazed and proud of them with every single battle they win.
You are allowed to grieve. A lot has been lost along the way – a normal pregnancy, a normal birth, a normal departure from the hospital, the first few days not being able to hold your child… the list goes on and on. Grieve for it all, and don’t let anyone make you feel bad about it. You suffered a loss.
The first time you get to hold your baby, love will feel so heavy… it will be the most amazing feeling, and it will be so much to take in. Don’t be scared the first time the nurse allows you to change your baby’s nappy. Ask for help if you are not sure how to navigate around all the tubes. Talking about nappies, Huggies is playing a further role in providing care to preterm babies with the Huggies Preemies nappy range.
A premature nappy needs to offer fragile little babies optimum protection. It needs to be highly absorbent and made from natural, breathable materials to ensure that your baby is comfortable which in turn will provide you with the assurance that baby is well taken care of. And holy crap… they are so so so tiny.
There will be moments on this journey when you can’t bear to watch, when you can’t stand to see the pain and the things they have to do. I won’t tell you it’s okay, because it’s not. There are so many things about this that are unfair, and this one is the biggest. But you need to remember that this is the only way.
Without this there won’t be anything to come after. You are not a bad mom for having to wait outside, or for being upset. You feel like this because you are a good mom and you’re fighting the instinct that tells you to protect your child.
Take a photo of your little one every day. Take the time to embrace every milestone because one day you will wish you could explain to this child just how extraordinary, how captivating, their story really is. You will wish they understood just what it took for them to be here. So make a note every day and one day, when you have a moment of peace, you’ll put together the pieces of a story worth telling.
Finally, please know that you are not alone. Some of the most therapeutic times are found in the NICU when moms begin to connect. There are some amazing support groups and Facebook groups out there where you will find other parents going through the same daily hurdles. Wether you are an NICU mom yourself, or pregant, or thinking of having children of your own
My giant baby (to you anyway, I know) weighs 11,5kg’s today. Almost five times his birth weight. He is healthy and normal for his adjusted age. No more oxygen, no more wires, no medications. I know he looks like a freak of nature to you – sometimes even I can’t believe this is the same baby who could curl up into a little ball under my cupped hands. I watched with delight over Easter as his stick-like limbs got chunkier and his little belly got bigger.
When I smile at you, holding this giant baby, I want to tell you that I hope with all my heart that your baby will be fine too. That the fear slows down as time passes. And if your baby does need extra care, I want to tell you that a gift of the NICU is that now I can look past the medical devices – if that is what your child needs, when I see you in public in a year or two, I will see your beautiful child, not his equipment.
This healthy baby on my lap has been where your baby is. We know how much it hurts.
It is okay that you are crying. Your journey is hard… sometimes you have to cry. Breathe. Feel. Embrace and know that these ‘worst days’ of your life will make every single one of the ‘good days’ greater.
Lots of love, a fellow NICU mom.