I waited seven long months of pregnancy for your arrival but still wasn’t ready for the moment you came early. Suddenly, everything seemed scary and uncertain but one thing was for sureyou surprised me from the start. There was no slowing you down.

I longed to finally meet you face-to-face but nothing could prepare me for when they whisked you away before I got the chance. The hours waiting were the longest of my life. Nothing about our new home in the NICU felt normal. There were so many limitations on my time with you, so many unfamiliar medical terms and devices, and so many eyes on me as I learned how to handle your fragile body.

I dreamt of the day I could rock you, but I dared not move the first time you were placed onto my bare chest. You were attached to more wires than I cared to count, but you looked straight into my eyes and that was all that mattered.

You appeared to have found your own piece of heaven, and I, my saving grace.

I planned to bring you home from the hospital but there I was, returning without you. If you could have seen my heart, you would know it was shattered into a million little pieces. I had to keep moving with no time for thinking, or I could never leave you. Even now, I pray you don’t remember the days I couldn’t be there. It’s more than I can bear to imagineyou on your own.

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I set up a comfy crib just for you, but instead, you slept in an incubator in a room full of strangers. Yet from the moment I held your hand through the tiny opening, I knew you were mine and I was yours. Together we would stay, through whatever broken expectations or difficult obstacles lay on the road ahead.

I knew I would face an array of emotions as a mother but never realized I would feel so inadequate and helpless.

I felt weighed down by the guilt that you came too soon with such a rough start to life. If only I had kept you in a little longer, maybe just one more day would have made a difference.

I wanted so badly to feed you but found myself replaced by a small tube, giving my milk to you via someone else. When the time came, I could hardly even give you a bottle without your choking spells sounding the monitors. At first, their beeping frightened me, but eventually, I was nervous to take you home without them. I found comfort in this new reality of bradys and desats, CPAPs and nasal cannulas, care times and kangaroo chairs, daily temps and weigh-ins.

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I expected a hospital stay and recovery but didn’t realize I would be so physically and mentally weak from my own medical complications. I couldn’t care for myself let alone my family, including big brother and sister waiting at home. I was torn apart, just wanting to be everything to every one of you.

I looked forward to welcoming you into our family with happy tears, but instead, I saw your daddy cry for the first time as your condition worsened. I felt myself drowning into a hole I couldn’t climb out of. As I held on by a thread, everything seemed to collapse around me. The memory still lingersI fear it will never fade. It dwells in your first photographsthe ones of your little body living off machines.

I prepared to give you life but never imagined to see you look so lifeless.

I was overcome with the thought of losing you or receiving a diagnosis that would change all the dreams I had for you. As we waited for test results and the weeks dragged on, I took care of you just like I had turned into your personal NICU nurse. Every gram gained and milliliter drank was a cause for celebration. Eventually, you breathed on your own and maintained your temperature out of the box that had become your home.

I hoped to teach you everything in the world, but it was from you, my itty-bitty preemie, that I learned to survive. Not only did you fight to stay alive but you have also thrived. PICC line battle scars and all, you met every milestone in front of you. In fact, you often surpassed them in typical warrior style, and I found myself lucky just to keep up.

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I anticipated going on an adventure with you but little did I know it would start so soon. Our NICU journey was a roller coaster ride filled with ups and downs, but we found strength in the love and support of our family and friends, in the capable hands of caring nurses and doctors, in the arms of those who held you when we weren’t able, and in the prayers of so many.

I prayed for you to be born healthy but God had a plan I could not foresee.

As He drew closer, I learned that sometimes the best gifts come earlier than expected, during the most difficult times, and in the smallest packages. You may have been tiny, but you were so mighty, just like my love for you. I hope you never forget that and never let anyone slow you down.

Amber Backus

I am a journalist turned stay-at-home mommy to four children, three sons and one daughter. These days, naptime is the perfect time to return to my first love of writing.