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To the Warrior Mom in the NICU

Photograph by Twenty20

Dear Mom in the NICU,

I see you. I’ve been you. There is something I need you to know: You are doing an incredible job. This is impossibly hard and you are doing it anyway.

I won’t tell you that you should take time away for yourself or that someday this will all be a distant memory, not because these things aren’t true, but because I’m sure you’ve heard them repeatedly and they are of little use to you now.

Of course, fresh air and time away from the stress of the hospital are necessary, but when they're suggested as if it’s easy to step away, you feel so misunderstood. As if every moment you are apart, you don’t feel as though you’re walking around without your heart.

Let’s not even mention self-care. The mere notion of self-care feels mythical when you are tending to your postpartum body in a public bathroom.

NICU nurses are amazing humans and you will feel so grateful for them. But I know what it’s like to work hard to get to know each nurse, smiling when you’d rather cry and kindly asking about their own lives outside of the hospital. You need them to like you so that they give your infant the best care and you need to feel less like your baby is being cared for by a stranger.

I’m going to tell you the thing no one else dares utter for fear of giving it credence: This is not your fault.

You have not failed. In fact, the opposite is true. You are parenting on another level, showing up for your baby in amazing ways.

You are fiercely advocating for what is best for him or her, even when confrontation feels foreign and stressful. You are going to great lengths to make sure your baby is fed. You are holding your pee and skipping breakfast so that you don’t miss rounds, taking notes and asking questions. You’ve learned more medical lingo than you ever thought possible.

Instead of lullabies, the soundtrack of your days is beeps from omnipresent monitors.

I want you to know that it’s OK to mourn the experience you won’t get to have. Right now, it feels like you are living in an alternative universe, completely disconnected from the world beyond the walls of the hospital. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be.

You’re supposed to home with your baby, snuggled up and cozy, where you can care for your little one and someone else can care for you. Instead of lullabies, the soundtrack of your days is beeps from omnipresent monitors. You hate those noisy monitors and how difficult they are to ignore, and yet you wonder how you will ever feel comfortable caring for your baby without them.

Instead of the privacy of your own couch, you are attempting skin to skin for an audience. And yet the moments that you get to hold your little one are cherished in a way they might not be if they weren’t so hard won.

Instead of letting your baby lead, you are on a strict hospital schedule. You are the mother, but it’s doctors and nurses who decide when and how your baby eats, sleeps, and bathes. Having a newborn is never easy, but oh, how you wish that lack of sleep and getting your body back were your top concerns.

Hang in there, Mama. Do your best to take each day, each moment, at a time. You are mothering in extraordinarily difficult circumstances. Give yourself as much grace as humanly possible. So I’m going to say it one more time, in case you rolled your eyes that first time, in case you’re still struggling to see what a warrior mother you are. Please know this: You are doing an amazing job.

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