I saw you this morning in your hospital gown, an IV dangling from your forearm. You were half raised from your chair and peering into a lonely isolette at a tiny miracle, sleeping soundly amid leads and wires and monitors. That expression on your face spoke a billion words to me and made me want to give you a hug that could maybe speak a few words back.
But I didn't want to be creepy, so I just walked on by and instead, I am writing you this letter that you will never read.
See, there are some things you should know that might just help you get to the other side of this; some things I am still learning on this, my third trip through the NICU.
You should know that you will be okay. Despite what may come and how you may get there, today will eventually be nothing bigger than a memory and you will only be stronger than you were even just a moment ago.
You should know it's okay to feel whatever you are feeling. I saw your eyes go watery and I heard that stuttered sniff and I know you were swallowing back tears. Please know, you are allowed to be sad and scared and confused and yes, even angry. Watching your baby -- literally a piece of you -- born too soon or too sick, struggling with even the most basic needs, is just barely one step shy of maddening. Plus, the new-mom hormones make it difficult to get through a Pampers commercial with dry eyes, so guess what, you get a free pass on this one.
Cry. Do it. Whether it's at your baby's bedside or in the middle of the supermarket checkout line. The urge will hit you both places, trust me. And you know something? People may get uncomfortable for a minute, but they will most definitely get over it and you'll feel always better after you give in to the tears.
You should know that sometimes these things just happen. There has been no adequate explanation for my early babies. It makes me frustrated and discouraged and yes, pissed that no matter what I do, I can't seem to carry a baby past 34 weeks. I followed all the rules, went to all my appointments, took all the vitamins and quit eating and drinking all the appropriate things. By this, my third pregnancy, I did some pretty drastic things involving a carefully selected specialist, activity modification, a very uncomfortable surgery, and more drugs than I can count, yet here we are again.
It's easy for John Q Nobody to think that NICU moms brought this situation on themselves, and it's easy for us to worry that maybe he's right. Sure, there are unfortunate circumstances when mom's decisions during pregnancy may increase the risk of landing in the NICU. But you know who you are in your heart and what sort of mom you are capable of becoming, so quit worrying about what Mr Nobody thinks and focus your efforts on things you can control.
Speaking of control, you should know that you will have very little of that, but welcome to motherhood (preemie or otherwise). Try to engage as best you can in your baby's care and put some trust out there in the doctors and nurses and therapists and whatever higher power you might be familiar with. It may not be easy or comfortable but it will be necessary.
You should know that you may feel a little bit alone. People don't always know how to react to a sick or early baby and sometimes it's easier for them to just not react, or they might not say all the 'right' things. You may find yourself doing your postpartum shuffle past the healthy newborn nursery and feel a pang of jealousy for all the plump, sleeping newborns, free from monitors and g-tubes who will go home with their families in a day or so. You may develop a yearning to connect with someone -- anyone -- who can understand and commiserate with your complicated feelings and help break you free from this strong sense of isolation.
Finally, you should know that you are stronger than you think. Just because you are presently being held hostage by your postpartum hormones and just about everything makes you cry, it doesn't mean you are weak. You are strong enough to wake several times in the night to a hospital grade breast pump instead of to a crying baby. You are strong enough to march (ok, waddle) in and out of the NICU several times a day to participate in cluster care and allow your infant feel the heat of your skin on his. You are strong enough to immerse yourself in medical terms like 'O2 saturations' and 'tachycardia' and 'gavage.' You might even be strong enough to walk that narrow and delicate balance beam between parenting a newborn in the NICU and parenting a toddler or two at home. I won't lie. At times it will seem damn near impossible and like you are completely flailing, but I promise you that you can do this.
I'll say it again, because it bears repeating: You should know you will be okay.
Best of luck,
Another NICU Mom