September is NICU awareness month. Before I had Lily I had only heard of a few people who had spent time in the NICU with their babies. But you never fully understand it until you go through it yourself. Its hard to explain the roller coaster of emotions that you go through when you’re there. Its a real contradiction; you’re excited yet terrified, happy yet sad, heartbroken yet thankful. Looking back now almost 4 years later, I still don’t know if I’ve fully come to terms with what happened.
The birth of your child is supposed to be an exciting time for everyone. When you are told your baby is going to be born prematurely, everything changes. We weren’t ready for her to come, emotionally or physically. We had literally just gotten her crib the day before she was born. It wasn’t even put together yet. Her nursery was no where near being done. I was supposed to have another 3 months to get ready. But she was coming whether we wanted to or not. We were both in danger, so she had to come out then (read my post about our Preemie Miracle )
I missed out on a lot of things I thought I would experience when having a baby. I missed out on labour and having a “normal” vaginal birth. I didn’t even get to be the first one to see her. Multiple doctors and nurses met her before I did. My husband saw her and spent time with her before I did. Even my parents and my sister could go and visit her before I was allowed out of the maternity ward. It was tough. Those are all things I would say I needed to grieve during our time in the NICU. It’s OK to mourn things not going the way you expected, as long as you don’t let the grief take over. I think it’s an important part of the healing process.
You see, it’s not just the baby who needs help, support and healing… it’s the parents too. Of course the baby is the primary focus, but our emotional health as new parents is important to. You can’t be a good parent if you can’t take care of yourself first. I had to learn this the hard way by leaving my daughter at the hospital overnight to go home and get a shower and a good nights sleep in my own bed. It was heart wrenching to leave her there. I had to learn this by taking the time to go for a walk or get a tea to drink even though my Mom guilt made me think I needed to be in Lily’s room 24/7. The only way I was able to do this was that I knew she had the BEST care possible. She was exactly where she needed to be. We had the most well equipped baby sitters ever, our NICU nurses and doctors. I can’t even begin to express the appreciation I have for these women and men. They would leave their families for 12-24 hours at a time to come and take care of my baby. They would talk me through all the medical jargon and explain to me in plain English what was going on and what the plan for her way; they explained all the beeps and lights on the machines Lily was hooked up to, they made me feel like a person… a normal person. Not just a zombie who was going through the motions (even though I felt like it at times!)
To be honest, I didn’t really feel like a real mother until Lily started breast feeding around 2 months old. I pumped religiously before that so she could still have my milk, but there was so little else I felt like I could do. The nurses let us change her diaper in the isolette and we bathed her, but that’s about all we could do other than cuddling her (I sure did enjoy the snuggles though! She does not like to cuddle anymore… maybe I used them all up while she was in the hospital). When I finally got to nurse her it was something only I could do for her. No one else, only me… her Mother. It is one of my most special memories.
The whole time we were there, even the day she was born, I was scared but I had this deep sense of peace. I knew that no matter what happened, we would be OK. We would just deal with whatever our new normal was. Whether she needed glasses from being a preemie, or was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, or needed heart surgery because of the hole in her heart… all I can say is I know God was with us walking every step of the way in our NICU journey. That’s the only explanation I can come up with!
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” ~Phillippians 4:7
Read more related articles about our NICU journey: