I never anticipated it. I had a relatively easy-going, healthy pregnancy. Some nausea in the beginning, but I wasn’t violently throwing up. I had fatigue in the first trimester and the third, but again, nothing out of the ordinary. And the cravings (oh, the cravings!) were mostly for ice cream, like a stereotypical pregnant woman. At all my checkups and ultrasounds, everything was moving along fine. My pregnancy seemed a primer straight out of the “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” playbook.
Until at 34 weeks, when that wasn’t the case. I had to be induced. And because I was six weeks early, my baby would have to stay in the NICU.
Whether your stay in the NICU is a week or six months, it changes you. You never get used to seeing your tiny baby covered in wires and hooked up to machines. Every day is a test. Some days are great — things are plowing along, and you think discharge is just within your reach. But there can be setbacks. And those setbacks are hard pills to swallow.
Because I wasn’t mentally prepared for a NICU stay, I never really knew what to expect. Some days were fine — my son seemed to be progressing rapidly. Other days, it felt like he would be having his senior prom at the hospital. I owe a lot to the staff who saw me at my worst and most unprepared. They calmed me down and assured me it would be OK.
And it did turn out to be OK, whether or not I believed them at the time.
My son is thriving now, and while his first month feels like a distant memory, there are parts that are hard to ever forget: the worry about how he was progressing, the wondering if he would ever come home, the fear every single time any of his alarms went off, and the absolute anxiety throughout his car seat test — the last hurdle he needed to pass in order to be discharged.
There are still memories or moments from the NICU stay and his birth where what lingers is sadness and what could have been. My son’s library has a few books about being a preemie, which always manage to make me cry a little. Reminiscing over his baby book pages from that time period also brings on the tears.
But I also want to advocate for and support current NICU families. I have a list of resources that I share in parenting groups. I will be wearing green on September 30 in honor of NICU Awareness Day, and I plan on running a 5K Your Way for Project Sweet Peas, a national nonprofit organization that provides care packages, financial aid, and other services to NICU families.
Even though our NICU journey seems like a lifetime ago, I want to remember how important it was that we had the help and support system we did, and I want to give back in any way I can.