Being a NICU Mom Changes You Forever
I had four babies before I ever experienced what it's like to be a NICU mom. But last month, I officially joined the NICU moms' club when I woke up at 2:30 in the morning to a placental abruption five weeks before my due date.
I was terrified, to say the least, and the ride to the hospital that morning was one of the scariest times of my life — and I stayed scared until I delivered my daughter and heard her cry for the first time. I had a few moments of complete and utter joy holding her until the team assembled in the room specifically for her whisked her away to the NICU.
I'll never forget what the moments after that were like: me sitting completely alone in a silent hospital room, feeling like I had just woken up from a bad dream, wondering when on earth everything went so terribly wrong. This was my rainbow baby after all, and everything was supposed to be glowy and magical and joyful — not terrifying and scary and full of unknowns and ending with a baby not in my arms.
But that's where I was and thanks to the amazing hospital we were able to deliver at, my baby was admitted to the NICU unit. That is where she spent the first week of her life, and where I had my initiation into the world of a NICU mom. That week was hard and scary and frustrating in so many ways, but it taught me so many lessons that I will forever be grateful for. And if you've ever had an experience as a NICU mom, you know that it changes you in so many lasting ways.
Everything about me changed even from our short experience in the NICU — I grew softer, yet stronger, all at the same time. I learned what true fear is and what true joy is. I learned to never, ever judge another parent because just when I was tempted to give a parent the side-eye for yelling at her nurse, I would learn her history — and realize that if anyone deserved to be extra cautious, it was definitely her.
I learned that when it comes right down to it, there is no better form of self-care than a good, hot shower. Oh my gosh, it's life-changing what a hot shower can do.
I learned that all the staff in and near a NICU, from the cleaning staff to the incredible nurses to the nurse practitioners and doctors to the volunteer baby cuddlers (side note: I have seen my future and it is BRIGHT) are literal, actual heroes. Despite the fact that they are dealing with some of the hardest situations on earth, they are still the most positive, happy, upbeat, and helpful people ever. I am serious about this — if you want to believe that there is still goodness left in this world, look at your nearest NICU. I have never seen people who so genuinely love what they do. My husband and I were both left blown away and in awe of what they do and what they did for our baby and us.
I learned that time has no meaning in the NICU, where life goes by in increments of feeding times and a schedule ticks by as you absorb the rhythms of the unit that runs like a well-oiled machine. I learned that it can feel unbelievable that the world outside keeps going on, that you can sit in utter disbelief–tinged with anger–at a restaurant outside of the hospital and wonder how anyone can wolf down those pancakes like everything is perfectly normal.
I learned that, in the hardest way possible, I had to learn to take direction from my baby. In our early days in the NICU, I pushed so hard for her to make progress. I wanted her home so badly that I pushed her to do things she wasn't ready for, like latching to nurse. The wise NICU nurses, of course, tried to guide me, but I was too stubborn. It took me a long time to learn that I had to wait for my daughter to be ready — and I learned to let her take the lead.
And perhaps, in a lot of ways, that's the most valuable lesson the NICU could have taught me as I parent this little one. That I can plan for how I think things should go, I can panic when things don't go the way I expected, and I can push and prod her to do what I think she needs to do, but in the end?
Well, some kids are just going to do things their own way. And they're called NICU babies, and I'm proud to be a NICU mom.