Four years ago, our oldest daughter was born 7 weeks prematurely and spent 17 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) before we were able to take her home. At the time, it was easily the hardest thing my husband and I had ever gone through. Nothing prepares you for a premature birth and it is completely unnatural to leave the hospital without your child.
Looking back four years later, I am thankful for our journey. It was without a doubt the toughest time of my life, but there were so many blessings that came out of it.
I would like to preface the rest of this post by admitting that I could not have written this four years ago. I battled many negative emotions during and after our NICU stay. I felt a lot of guilt, sadness, jealousy and even grief. If you are experiencing a similar situation and you are still battling those emotions- that is completely normal. I don’t want to minimize what you are going through. I am simply sharing a small part of our journey in hopes that it may encourage even one family.
- I strongly believe that being in the NICU positively impacted our parenting style. We learned very early on that parenting involves a lot of letting stuff go. My husband and I had to become flexible quickly because we didn’t have any other choice. Overall, we are stronger and more laid-back people because of our experience.
- Our daughter learned to be a very easygoing eater. She loved to nurse, but also took any bottle, any time. This provided us so much flexibility in her first year of life. We never had to worry about leaving her with a family member or babysitter for a date night. My husband was also able to handle bedtime completely on his own, which ended up being a great bonding experience and it really came in handy when our second daughter joined us a short time later.
- We met some amazing people. NICU nurses are some of the best people on this planet. They gave us confidence as new parents and lots of encouragement on the toughest days. They cared for our daughter when we couldn’t be there. They fought over styling her hair after the bath and wrapped her up in the very best swaddles.
- We were able to appreciate our second child’s birth even more. Although deep down I knew we missed a lot of things with our first daughter’s birth, I didn’t really understand how much until we had our second. Getting to hold our baby right away was one of the best moments of my whole life. We cherished that first hour in recovery with her so much, because we knew the pain of separation.
- We were the recipients of so much love. I will never forget the outpouring of love we received during that time. We had friends and family praying for us, sending us meals and buying baby gear that we didn’t have yet. We had a complete stranger offer her RV for us to stay in the hospital parking lot so we didn’t have to drive back and forth to visit our daughter. I have never been so touched by the amount of love and generosity this world has to offer.
I am sure some of these things may seem small or even a little silly, but focusing on the positive parts of our journey has played a big part in my healing. There have been many parts of my motherhood journey that didn’t go as I planned, but focusing on having a heart of gratitude is something that gets me through the toughest seasons. I hope that whatever season you are in, you can focus on finding the silver linings even on the most difficult days.