Today, I am brining my baby home from the NICU. I have replayed this day over and over again in my mind from the first time I saw my son, born ten weeks too early, laying in his isolette, his body weighed down by oxygen, a feeding tube, and the IVs taped to his body, so incredibly fragile and small. For weeks, I imagined what it would be like to hold my baby without having to get in my car, drive through the cold to the hospital, and show a badge to get buzzed through two heavy, locked doors. But mostly, I imagined what it would be like to simply walk away from a place that has become home to so many deeply emotional moments for me with my child and never come back.

Of all the many emotions I am feeling on this special day, the strongest is gratitude. Deep, overwhelming gratitude for the physicians who cared for me throughout my high risk pregnancy, and for the NICU nurses who helped my son grow to become the healthy, seven pound ball of sweetness that I am bringing home today. 

Diagnosed with a complication known as a Subchorionic Hematoma at 11 weeks gestation, my pregnancy would consist of five emergency trips to Labor and Delivery, 10 total nights hospitalized prior to delivery, and 11 weeks of bed rest before a placental abruption necessitated an emergency C-section on Valentine’s Day.

In all of my life, I have never been as vulnerable as I was the day my son was born.

On that day, I had to trust my doctors completely to act in the best interest of my child. It is humbling to think how different our lives could be today if my doctors hadn’t known to deliver him exactly when they did and as quickly as they did. I can’t pretend to know what it is like to loose a child, but I know what his death would have done to my five-year-old. I know the questions she would have asked, how she would have turned his death over in her mind again and again to try and make sense of something that would never fit into the happy world my husband and I have built for her, and I know how she would have grieved for her brother in her own little way. I know OBGYN’s get the reputation of being the guys with the speculum. I imagine they are overworked and probably never get thanked as often as they should, and I know they have had to find a way to see the worst form of grief daily without becoming totally jaded. I hope my doctors know that, even though my son was born so prematurely, his outfits were already washed and neatly folded in his dresser. I want them to know that we had the cutest pumpkin themed pregnancy announcement this fall, and I took pictures of my growing belly at every milestone in my pregnancy so that I could show my son one day what I looked like when I was carrying him. Finally, I want them to know that my daughter would blow a kiss to my tummy every night and tell her brother that she loves him on her way to bed, and, because of them, she gets to live in a world without grief for a little longer.

Without a doubt, the hardest part of my NICU experience was accepting how little I could care for my child. As our days in the NICU turned to weeks and months, I began to see how lucky I was to be around nurses who not only help to save babies and care for their mothers, but who do so with such love and compassion. I cannot imagine how I would have survived the NICU if I couldn’t trust completely that my baby was being well cared for by his nurses. These nurses were the faces he saw when he woke up at night, and they were the hands that changed him and swaddled him when I couldn’t be there. His nurses taught me how to feed a preemie, they listened to me when I needed to talk, and they celebrated every milestone with us. Above all, these nurses love my son, and even though he could not yet be home with his family, knowing that he was still surrounded by love made the drives home more bearable. 

Though I certainly would have preferred if his life began less dramatically than it did, I am so thankful for the perspective I have gained as a NICU mom. The NICU is home to the strongest type of love, and to see my fellow moms steadfastly see their child through the ups and downs of hospital life, to see babies who fight against the consequences of their prematurity with such vigor and strength, and who are so fiercely loved by the families that hold them so tightly in their hearts when they cannot carry them in their arms, is a beautiful thing to witness. Today, when I bring my baby home and we leave the NICU firmly in our past, I will not take lightly what a gift I have been given. Our doctors and nurses have given me Christmas mornings and graduations and all of the thousands of small, ordinary moments in between that will make up our lives together. The butterflies in my stomach today and all the good that my son will do in this life are because of the doctors and nurses that saw us through this difficult time, and I will think of them every time I count my blessingAnchors.

Originally published on The Mighty

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Emily Collins

Emily is the mother of three, including a new NICU graduate. She writes the blog With Love from the NICU