The moment I had been waiting for, the moment that was supposed to make all the pain worth it: the nurse placed my newborn baby girl in my arms. It was the most surreal moment, looking down at this tiny human that I had created, that I had carried, and that I had brought into this world.

Then I heard, “Say bye for now, Mama. Your baby is going to visit the NICU for a bit.” And the perfect world that had been constructed in those few precious moments came tumbling down, taking my heart with it. The feeling of having my baby removed from my arms is the most unnatural thing in the world. And then the storm came.

“Your baby is very sick, and we are trying to figure out why she is in such respiratory distress.” What? No. Fix it. Fix my baby. I am her mother, and it is my job to protect her and fix her. She just got here and already I am helpless and watching her fight for her every breath through a ventilator.

RELATED: When These NICU Days Are Over

Days went by and we were told, “I’m not sure if she will make it through this,” and a heart is taped to our hospital room door, which I later learned indicated our baby was in need of love and prayers. I watched her flat line and be brought back to life three times. I sat on the floor of the NICU family room feeling completely broken and helpless. 

But I did not break. I couldn’t break because I had to sit next to her and talk to her and tell her Santa was coming soon and would bring her lots of presents. I couldn’t break because I needed to pray the rosary and sing “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” to her. But mostly I couldn’t break because if my newborn was visibly fighting for every breath she took, then I could too.

Days turned to weeks, and I watched my baby get stronger and healthier. I cheered and cried as the machines came off and she was free to cry as loudly as she wanted. I held my baby and told her she was truly my champion and had taught me more in 19 days than anyone ever will. 

RELATED: To the NICU Mom Who’s Back at Home

On the day we were discharged, a nurse stopped me and said, “I’m so happy for you both! You had the sickest baby in the NICU and now you’re going home!” She meant it with all the good in her heart, but the reality of her statement may as well have slapped me across the face. 

And at that moment, I almost broke. An unexpected, dangerously close position right at the edge of the cliff I had been walking my way back from. But my baby had come too far and so had I, so I picked up my baby and held her close to my face. I felt her gentle and steady breathing and I snuggled her until I felt her heartbeat against my own. She was here. I was here. We had made it through the storm. 

Somewhere in the midst of trying not to break, I became a warrior. Her warrior. My baby is a miracle and I am a warrior. 

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Stefanie Chiarel

I am an early childhood educator and the proud mama of two NICU graduates. Therein lies my passion to connect writing to provide support to other NICU mamas and to unveil truths I have learned about life after the NICU. 

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