Life in the NICU is an emotional rollercoaster for all parents. “You are handling everything so well” – is what everyone would say to me. Was I? Maybe, maybe not. I’m still not sure.
I think it’s because I’m still processing the fact that I had a traumatic birth. I’m still in disbelief that my baby was born at 32 weeks; I’m still in awe that she was okay.
However, I do want to share my experience of giving birth to a preemie as a first time parent. Here are six emotions that summarize my experience:
I was confused.
I didn’t have a chance to anticipate. During my pregnancy, I only thought about my pregnancy. It was difficult to envision my baby leaving my womb, let alone leave my womb 8 weeks early. I would’ve eventually gotten around to reading about childbirth and packing a diaper bag but instead I had only my usual necessities in my purse when I had a sudden and rather traumatic birth. I was in shock and I never got a chance to catch my breath as I went on autopilot the next few weeks.
Everyone reacted differently to our news as well. Some people swarmed in with sympathy and support: hospital visits, encouraging notes, meals and groceries. Some people shared stories of how they knew someone who gave birth to a 1lb baby and they turned out just fine so I shouldn’t sweat it. And some people tiptoed around the subject as if unsure whether to say “congrats” or “sorry”. As a first time parent, I was unsure of how to feel about the whole ordeal and the vast difference in other people’s reactions added to my confusion.
I was heartbroken.
The journey was harder than I admit. Initially I didn’t feel a strong attachment to my baby – it definitely wasn’t love at first sight. Rather it was awe and wonder which blossomed into affection as time went on. That said, it was disheartening to see my tiny baby hooked up to wires and monitors. For the first few days, I didn’t even get to see her face without all her accessories. Worse, it was heartbreaking to see her getting poked and prodded and bleeding.
At first I just felt strange about coming home without a baby – I walked into church on Sunday to receive lots of congrats but no baby to show. Eventually it got harder to leave her and my heart always broke as I left her at the end of each day. And then there was the distress of not knowing when she was coming home. Everyone asked but no one knew. Although I looked fine, tears flowed easy and often.
I was exhausted.
My instinct was to do. I had a deep sense of helplessness so I busied myself with everything I could do for her well-being. Within 4 days post birth, I was driving myself to and from the hospital. Although I was still physically recovering from my C-section, I was consumed with the vigorous routine of bi-daily visits and 3 hour milk-pumping cycles. I was exhausted all the time. I was also emotionally drained although I did not realize at the time. Since I was obsessed with my routine, I never gave myself a chance to process and to recognize the pent up emotions I had: fear, guilt, angst, jealousy to name a few. This culminated into a few emotional outbursts throughout the journey.
A blessing in disguise
Although a tumultuous journey, my NICU experience was also a strangely blessed adventure. I was relieved. With every surge of anxiety over new diagnoses and concerns, there were waves of relief as each hurdle was resolved and each milestone was met.
I fell in love. Within a short period of time, the little one stole my heart. It’s true what they say – there is no love like that of a mama for her child.
Finally, I was thankful – for so many things: our family and friends who supported us, the hospital staff, and the fact that I didn’t get postpartum depression to name a few. The whole experience was the Lord’s handiwork. In hindsight, His perfect timing and His providence are evident in every step of our journey. I am so thankful for Rosie’s growth and development. She is our little gift from above and we will do our best to steward her well.
This is our NICU experience. If you know someone who is an NICU parent, I hope this will help shed some light on what they’re going through. And if you’re a NICU parent, I’m sure you can relate to my experience – although I am sure you will have your unique challenges and victories. Share your experience with us below.
Hang in there – you are not alone!