It happens when I’m in Target, passing the baby section and see a couple excitedly scanning items for their baby registry.

Or when I’m in the park watching my boys happily playing and I glance over to see a mom clearly close to her due date pushing her toddler.

It even happens when I visit a close friend in the hospital after she’s given birth to her beautifully healthy, ready-to-go-home baby.

On the outside, I give a smile . . . but on the inside I feel that familiar crushing feeling.

The jealously. The anger. The resentment. The failure. My own internal struggle.

The reminder that I never got to carry my boys to term.

Many NICU parents will tell you what a rollercoaster their journey was; about how many hours they spent in agony over their child’s start at life in this world.

But few will tell you what a dark place they were in at this time in their lives. The dark that doesn’t end with discharge. The dark that doesn’t end with milestones. And the dark that cannot be explained.

The feelings that follow a traumatic birth can be shameful. Shame that is so heavy and black, it can swallow you for hours each day. The feelings of anger and loss over a pregnancy that was taken away. The emotions of not being able to provide a safe environment for your baby to grow. The complete isolation, loneliness and fog that can descend over your mind during the first weeks, months and sometimes years of your child’s life.

This blackness can be tough to acknowledge and to climb out of. Your partner may not feel the same way; your parents may not understand the cloud you are in; and your family and friends may not see in the pain in your eyes.

I cannot tell you these feelings will forever go away. We are nearly four years from our last NICU baby and I still struggle at times. Seeing an expectant mother in her last trimester can trigger feelings of jealousy, anger and resentment for no reason at all. Visiting a newborn baby in the hospital can send me into the memory of being in my own empty hospital room listening to crying babies and new mothers all around me. And desires about adding to our family have nearly disappeared for fear of repeating our experience a third time.

I have learned time and gratitude are natural healing agents. I practice soaking in moments, being thankful and journaling to get me through the waves of anxiety that sometimes peek through my days. I have also discovered talking about my experience with those that have been through it helps immensely and sharing stories with moms who are currently traveling through the NICU journey can be therapeutic.

This darkness didn’t and doesn’t define me. It didn’t steal my love for my sons. It is something I acknowledge and recognize. And what comes out of the dark is warrior mama. One who will fight for her children forever. One who is passionate about helping those who are going through their own darkness and hopes to shine a light on their path, so they, too, may leave it behind them.

Pam Frasco

Pam Frasco is a proud preemie mama two-times over and founder of Project Preemie. Her experience with 31.5 weeker Sonny and 30.5 weeker Sal has given her a passion to connect with and give back to the Preemie & NICU Communities. Pam is a long-time March of Dimes supporter fundraising over $50,000 for the Cleveland March for Babies walk. Pam lives in Cleveland with her two sons, husband Nicholas and two Boston Terriers.