This isn’t how you wanted it to be, I know. In all those months of imagining what motherhood would look like, you never expected it to look like this. I know from experience — I was a NICU mama too.
You thought you’d spend these first precious days snuggled up in bed, holding your baby skin-to-skin. You’d watch for her hunger cues, feed on demand, and marvel at the tiny person lying on your bosom. When it was time to sleep, you’d tenderly swaddle her and place her in the bassinet, just an arm’s reach away.
Instead, you watch your sweet babe sleep in an isolette. The IV looks enormous in her little arm. Wires extend from her body. Monitors beep. The bilirubin light shines bright blue.
The distance from your hospital room to the NICU feels like miles. Maybe your C-section incision hurts with every move. Maybe you’re stretched, torn, and sore from a vaginal delivery. Or maybe you were discharged before your baby, and your heart breaks every night when you have to go home. Like you’re leaving a part of yourself behind.
I wish I could sit beside you and hear your story. But since I can't, I’d like to send you some love and offer encouragement.
You are a good mama. And you will get through this.
You will find strength you didn’t know you had. You’ll learn new terminology, talk to doctors, and make decisions. You’ll take pictures and rejoice in the smallest of victories — an ounce of weight gained, a treatment tweaked. Your sweet moments will look different from everyone else’s, but they will be sweet, nonetheless.
You will also discover your weakness. Sometimes, you’ll fall apart, and that’s OK. Let someone else be strong for you — your husband, a parent, a sibling, a friend, a nurse. Allow yourself to mourn the loss of the way you thought things would be. But as you process all those emotions and adjust to your new normal, remember, you are still mothering.
You will find a way to bond that is unique to your situation. Maybe you'll touch your baby’s tiny toes through the side of the isolette and savor the soft warmth of skin on skin. Maybe you’ll squeeze out a bit of breastmilk, like love in liquid form. Maybe you’ll whisper a prayer, sing a lullaby, or simply tell your baby you love her, over and over again. In this big, unfamiliar world, your voice is the one she knows from her time in the womb.
Every gesture, no matter how small, is an expression of your love. Even if you can't be by your baby’s side, you’re still the one who carried her inside of you. No matter how much or how little contact you have, nothing can change the fact that you are her mama.
I know you want nothing more than to take care of your baby. But these NICU nurses are some of the most vigilant, big-hearted people you’ll ever meet. Your baby is in good hands. You need to make sure you’re taking good care of yourself. Stay on top of your pain meds. Eat. Take a shower. Get some fresh air. Sleep. You need it—physically and emotionally.
In the most difficult moments, remember that you are not alone. Your family and friends are beside you. Beyond your inner circle, you’re surrounded by a community of other NICU parents. There’s even a — it’s September.
Every baby has a different story. But there’s no competition for which baby is the healthiest or who has it the hardest. That’s one of the NICU’s hidden beauties. Everybody simply wants their baby to be OK. Whether you share stories with your NICU neighbors or keep to yourself, the other parents are there with you. They get it. And so do all the other NICU mamas who have come before you.
With all my support,
A fellow NICU mama
This post first appeared on Mother.ly