After my daughter was unexpectedly placed in the NICU, I’ve wanted to bring awareness and offer support for parents experiencing the NICU for the first time.
Here is my story:
Everyone warns you about the pain of childbirth, but no one warns you about the agony of being separated from your baby.
There is so much education, awareness, and support for miscarriage and postpartum depression but what about neonatal intensive care parents?
We entered the NICU for the first time after our daughter was born for what we expected to be a four-hour observation only to find her surrounded by nurses and connected to wires, tubes, and an IV. It was alarming and terrifying, to say the least.
They don’t teach you about the NICU in your birthing class.
What was I supposed to do? How are you supposed to cope? But nothing can prepare you to see your baby in that condition.
The first night spent in the hospital was torture, lying in bed and hearing the cries of a newborn in the room next door, wishing that could be me.
The heartbreak I felt as I was being discharged from the hospital healthy, but my baby must remain behind. How unnatural it is to leave as I slowly walk away, waiting to get to the car before crying so that others don’t see my tears.
Waking up every three hours, not to feed a baby, but to pump, which was just another reminder of my reality.
The bitterness of watching fathers leave the hospital to shortly return with a car seat for their healthy newborn to go home while I sat outside the doors to the NICU, once again wishing that could be me.
My husband and I conquered holding and feeding our daughter while managing all the tubes and wires she was connected to.
We found strength in celebrating small victories like being taken off CPAP and moving to an oxygen cannula, or a full feeding without regurgitation or the use of her gastric tube.
Driving to and from the hospital three or more times a day to visit my daughter became my normal. I learned to juggle pumping and eating in between the NICU visiting hours to maximize my time spent with her. Holding back tears as I whisper, ”Goodbye, baby girl. I’ll come visit you in the morning,” at the end of each day. This is something that never got easier.
We will always appreciate the NICU doctors and nurses for their guidance and support, but at the time it was difficult not to envy the complete power they had over OUR child.
We couldn’t help but see our daughter as a princess incarcerated in a dragon-guarded castle.
I made friends with other moms and looked forward to hearing positive updates on how their sons and daughters were doing. We related in so many ways that friendship quickly grew. It was so exciting each time one of their babies graduated, but at the same time, I wished it was mine. I felt resentment for seeing other babies spend less time in the NICU compared to my daughter, and I wrestled with guilt for feeling that way.
We were extremely grateful our daughter was as healthy as she was and only had respiratory difficulties, unlike many other families who aren’t so lucky.
Our baby was determined; she learned to breathe on her own. She stopped losing weight and started gaining as she learned to eat on her own. It was finally our turn to be discharged—my wish finally came true.
We were so excited for our little family to finally be together and home, but with that excitement came fear.
There were no longer beeping machines to notify us of the well-being of our daughter and summon additional assistance from her nurses. Her whole existence and performance so far had been monitored and charted and recorded and trended. Now that we don’t have all the equipment anymore, how can we possibly know if she’s thriving or not?
If having all of these obstacles weren’t enough, I felt an odd disconnect from my baby. I loved her more than imaginable, but at the same time, I’d been living without her. We didn’t get the independent, skin-to-skin contact that creates that instant bond as a result of being separated. Our bond, however, grew stronger and stronger as the days went on. I’ve learned our journey was different and may have taken more time, but I now know there’s nothing wrong with that.
In the face of all the challenges, we have a healthy 1-year-old who continues to meet milestones despite being premature. We couldn’t be more grateful.
I hope by writing this others can relate and know they’re not alone. It’s important to keep in mind that everyone’s stories are different. It’s equally important to offer support and encouragement regardless of the circumstances. Being strong is exhausting—remember it’s acceptable to seek help.
Originally published on the author’s Facebook page