Dear new NICU mom,
It’s a place you likely didn’t expect- sitting in the NICU, watching your tiny baby fight for it’s life. It’s a place you wouldn’t choose. And if you’re like me, you had every intention and dream of holding a healthy, plump baby on your chest shortly after delivery. A dream of leaving the hospital, baby in tow. And now, here you sit, watching your fragile baby through a plastic box.
I wish there were magical words that I could write to make this situation better, but I know from experience that there are no words to do that. What I can do is share with you from one NICU mom to another, some words of encouragement.
When our son was born at just 23 weeks gestation, we were terrified. We knew babies were born premature, but never knew they could be born and survive this premature. We had no idea what we were facing.
You’re likely going to be bombarded with folks who care about you dearly. Folks who want to help you. Folks who want to fix the situation and take away your pain. Occasionally they’ll say things to you that will hit a nerve. They may be under the assumption that your baby is just in the NICU because he/she needs to grow a little more (not knowing the battle your child is in). They may demand you stop grieving and ask you to be glad that your baby is still alive. Some may go as far as to say to you horrible things such as, “At least you didn’t have to go to the end of your pregnancy and be miserable” (True story.)
But the truth is, unless they’ve been there, unless they’ve walked this, they won’t know that your heart is broken. They won’t understand that you’d do anything, go through anything if it meant you could just carry your child to term and save them this pain. And they won’t understand that in an instant, your dreams have been shattered and you’re questioning how you’ll ever pick up the pieces, glue them together and start again. You don’t need someone to remind you to be thankful-- you are. It will take some getting used to, but often times you’ll juggle being thankful for your child’s life while being scared to death for their future. That’s ok.
You see, some of us have been there. Some of us are still there. And we want to tell you one thing: all those feelings, those conflicting and sometimes awful feelings, they’re normal. Yep, totally normal.And no, you don’t need to explain them to us. We get them. We’ve had them. We’re still having them.
Plain and simple: the NICU is traumatic. All of the uncertainties, the obstacles your child faces, the pain, the statistics--- it all takes it’s toll. But you will emerge. You will find a hidden strength that you never knew you had. And you’ll see the strength of your child. You’ll grow amazed and proud of them as you watch them win their battles.
As you navigate these new waters... ...Don’t be afraid to speak up and speak out. Find your voice and share your feelings and concerns.
...Allow yourself the opportunity to correct others who may misjudge your fears of the future as an inability to appreciate the miracle of your child.
...Grieve. Lots of things have been lost along the way- a normal pregnancy, a normal birth, a normal departure from the hospital... the list goes on and on. Grieve it all. You’re experiencing loss, a huge, unimaginable loss.
...Know that you can’t prepare yourself for the future (after all, no one can predict it) and force yourself to stay in the present. Deal with the hurdles of the day.
...But when your mind does start to ask the “what ifs” about the future (and it will), when you start to doubt the path you’re on, don’t beat yourself up for it. Face those “what ifs” with courage and know that the strength you’re discovering will emerge as you face each and every new trial.
...Remember that your child, not statistics will determine his/her course (these stubborn NICU babies rarely follow the predicted path).
...And finally, know that you’re not alone. Some of the most therapeutic times are found in the NICU when moms begin to connect. Share stories with each other. As you begin talking, you’ll likely find that these women who you thought were so different from you, have now become the only ones who understand your heart. Don’t be afraid to talk to them. Chances are, they’ll appreciate knowing that they’re not the only ones feeling this way either.
This journey that you’re on, it’s a battle. It’s likely to take some turns. You’ll make advances and retreats. Sometimes it will feel like you haven’t left the trenches in weeks. But you will emerge. You will make it. The battle will end. And one day, you’ll look back on this time and it will be a blur. A new normal will emerge, you’ll begin to find happiness and good times again and you’ll look on your scars knowing that each one represents something you have conquered.
With Love, A former NICU mom
Here's a beautiful video about the beautiful project they created to support premature babies and their families:
Thanks, Lindsay Franks, for permission to share with our NICU Central community!