Dear New Moms of Preemies,
What you’re going through is difficult. It’s so difficult! Not only do you have a new baby, but you have preemie. You’re trying to be a mother in the middle of a hospital ward, surrounded by other babies and nurses and machines beeping constantly. You’re facing the heartbreaking reality that even though you’re going home, your little one isn’t going home with you yet(!!!). You have to deal with IV tubes, oxygen, and feeding tubes in addition to diapers and the possibility of far-reaching issues even after your little one comes home. And, chances are, so much information is flying at you, you can’t keep it all straight.
And this is on top of the after-birth hormones raging through your system!
So, mothers of preemies…
Don’t feel bad for crying…
Because you’ll probably cry—a lot. You’ll cry at little things, and at big things, you’ll cry while looking at your baby’s face, and you’ll sob while they place the feeding tube or IV. Sometimes you won’t be able to stop crying when you drag yourself out of the hospital to go home for a few precious hours of sleep before dragging yourself back again. You’ll cry tears of happiness when your little one is finally home but cry tears of sadness at the same time because you’re still overwhelmed and afraid and hurting from everything that’s happened. It’s normal, it’s completely understandable, and it’s at least partly your hormones. And don’t worry about sobbing in front of the NICU nurses—they have probably seen it many, many (many!) times.
Don’t feel bad for setting boundaries…
No matter what people say. Don’t feel bad for limiting who comes over, especially if they’re sick. Try to ignore the snide comments and eye rolls when you bring out your bottle of hand sanitizer. Don’t listen when people tell you you are being overprotective, that you need to stop worrying, that you’re too anxious, and that you need to figure out how not to be so anxious. They weren’t there with you in the NICU. They haven’t been there for every doctor appointment, home care visit, or OT session. They haven’t been told by every single doctor, nurse, home care nurse, therapist, and online informational page that you need to do everything you can to keep your little one from getting sick, because if they do, it could be disastrous.
Will they be there with you during the endless nights when your little one is sick, or if they end up back in the hospital? Probably not. You take care of and protect your little one in the way you believe you should—don’t let anyone tell you differently.
Don’t feel bad for feeling anxious and overwhelmed…
Especially as cold, flu, and RSV season set in. Don’t feel bad for pasting signs up around your house that tell people to take their shoes and coats off, to wipe down their phones with alcohol, to wash their hands and use sanitizer, and to STAY AWAY if they’ve been sick, been near someone who was sick, or are sick. Place those stickers all over your little one’s carrier that tell people not to touch because “your germs are too big for me!” when you have to leave the house.
When you’re inundated with information that tells you your little one is extremely vulnerable to illness, you have every right to feel anxious. Never mind the NICU experience, day in and day out surrounded by nurses and medical equipment and ultra-sterile conditions and with the threat of illness hanging over your head the entire time. And all of this on top of having a newborn baby. Who wouldn’t feel anxious?
Don’t feel bad for feeling, or being, traumatized…
Because what you’ve been through is traumatizing. If you don’t feel traumatized, if you don’t feel upset, that’s perfectly okay, too. But every NICU mother I’ve spoken to has some degree of trauma left over from those difficult, overwhelming, anxious days, whether it’s only been several months, several years, 18 years, or even over 60 years. Don’t let anyone diminish your feelings, your trauma, or your need to heal and address your concerns in a way that is right for you.
And while you’re in that space, don’t feel bad for feeling jealous of other mothers. I still feel a twinge of jealousy when other mothers talk about their birth experiences, just simply by the fact that they were able to hold their babies immediately, that they were able to take them home. I wasn’t the first one to hold my baby and going home while she was still in the hospital was one of the most painful experiences of my life.
Find Your Village and Know You’re Not Alone
I am not a doctor, I am not a specialist, and I am not a therapist. So, my caveat to this, of course, is I need you, wonderful, wonderful reader, to seek help if you feel so overwhelmed that you can’t function, can’t take care of your child. If you’re so anxious that you can’t put your child down or can’t leave them in a room without you for fear that something bad will happen. I understand—I’ve been there, and if you feel like they’re better off without you, please, please know it’s not true—they need you more than anything. Please reach out, please seek help.
If you reach out somewhere and you don’t get the help you need, reach out to someone else, to something else, until you find the help and support you need. There are support groups in your hospital, in your area. Look for postpartum anxiety and depression specialists online. Search for mother’s groups online, whether they’re in your city or town or they’re just an online message board. It truly does take a village.
We’ve gone through this or are going through this, too. We’ve been there or are there. We know how you’re feeling and we’ve felt it, too. You’re not crazy, you’re not too emotional, you’re not overprotective—you’re a NICU mom or a NICU parent. And, honestly, this is true for moms of babies born healthy, at-term. We’re all here for each other.
Another NICU Mom