I see you, mama, who holds her breath while they bag your brand-new baby. Asking “is she okay?” and being met with “everything is fine” when you know that everything is not fine. The baby who was due in just a few weeks. The baby, who just a few hours earlier, you joked “wanted to surprise us early.” The baby who was fine on the monitors just minutes before.
I see you, mama, when they tell you they are transporting your baby to the NICU. The baby you held for five minutes before they took her to the nursery for closer observation. The baby who was supposed to be laid on your chest while you stroked her sweet face and whispered happy birthday. The baby who was supposed to have uninterrupted skin-to-skin after birth. The baby you specifically stated was not supposed to leave your room much less leave the hospital.
I see you, mama, digging through the “go bag” with a lump in your throat.
Moving over the freshly washed coming home outfit to find your pumping bra and strapping on pumps to suck drops of colostrum from you like it’s your job because it’s “what you can do for her right now.” The baby who was supposed to be breastfed on demand from the start. The baby who hopefully would defy her brother’s milk protein sensitivity and be able to breastfeed for a year.
I see you, mama, who was told she “was lucky because now she could rest.” Snot crying in the bed alone—not resting, thinking about her baby alone in an ambulance without her mama. Does she know you’re not there? Does she need you? The baby who was supposed to keep you up all night while you both got to know each other. The baby who was supposed to be with her mama. The mama who doesn’t want rest, who wants her baby.
I see you, mama, discharged to go straight to the NICU.
Ripping off your IV Band-Aids to scrub in. Shuffling down the hall to the shared bathroom with your third-degree tear, hugging your purple Frida mom recovery box. Logging 7,000 steps a day to see that baby on the fifth floor. The baby who was supposed to be home, snuggled up in bed on bed rest with you.
I see you, mama, when friends and family say things like “you should be so thankful she’s not really sick” and “she will be home in no time.” Because that is the last thing you feel right now while you wait for shift change to get to hold your baby because you can’t manage all the wires and leads to pick her up yourself. The baby you were supposed to be able to hold whenever you wanted. The baby you desperately want to pick up to soothe when she cries. The baby you were supposed to baby wear and snuggle skin-to-skin.
I see you mama with babies in two places. You snot cry in the driveway leaving the little head peering out the front window at home, and you snot cry in the hospital parking garage leaving your littlest baby in the isollete upstairs. The baby who was supposed to go home to her big brother. The big brother who was so excited to meet his “girl baby.” The brother who has to wait just a little while longer.
I see you late preterm mama.
I see you grieving those first magical days in the hospital with your baby that are so hard and so special. I see you pivoting when the baby who was supposed to be okay suddenly was not okay. I see you doing hard things that were not in the plan.
I see you trying to figure out what happened. Why your baby was the one who “just needed a little more time.” Why your baby wasn’t okay when “so and so’s baby was born early, and he didn’t need to go to the NICU.”
I see you navigating hurtful comments from misunderstanding family and friends. Trying to smile and be thankful because maybe they are right. Maybe this is not a big deal. Pretending like everything is fine when everything is really not fine.
I see you, mama, sitting and waiting in the uncomfortable chair for your baby to be ready to go home. The baby who “just needs a little more time.” The baby who one day will listen to her mama tell her about the day she was born. The day her mama met the strongest, feistiest baby she knew. And how the mama came to the NICU every day to wait in the uncomfortable chair pulled up right next to the isolette until she could bring her baby home.