Many mums, and indeed dads, will relate to pregnancy and early motherhood as a time that is fraught with emotion. The joy when you finally see those long awaited blue lines. The nervousness as you wait in hope of getting to that 12 week milestone. The relief when you have the big scan at 20 weeks and all is ok. The happiness as you head into your third trimester. The anxious excitement as you wait for the big day to finally arrive; that joyous and momentous day. The sense of complete awe and love for your perfect newborn baby. The feeling of overwhelming responsibility.
But when things don’t go to plan, like when your baby arrives prematurely, your sweet baby dreams can turn into your worst nightmares as you find yourself on the biggest emotional rollercoaster of your life. Firstly there is the complete sense of detachment and separation from your baby who is not by your side as you had envisaged. You grieve for the pregnancy and birth that you had hoped for and the difficult road that now lies ahead for your baby. As you watch your baby fight so hard, you feel a complete sense of helplessness because sometimes it feels like there is very little you can do to help.
As time goes on, you normalise the ‘abnormal’ and life in NICU just becomes life. As humans we have an incredible ability to compartmentalise, move on and forget but there are still times when it all just hits you like a bus and you are suddenly overcome with emotions. For me, the triggers have been different at different stages but 14 months on, here are my big ‘gotcha’ moments:
The sight of a beautiful baby bump; to me there is nothing more beautiful than that big baby bump but sometimes the sight of a mum-to-be now serves as a reminder of a pregnancy that didn’t go to plan and all that time in the womb that was taken from our baby who arrived 15 weeks early.
Returning to hospital; I’ve often heard of parents feeling very emotional about returning to NICU but for us NICU was our baby’s home for so long (almost 5 months), that visiting is often enjoyable (and the novelty of leaving the hospital WITH her will never fade). However put me anywhere near the children’s hospital where our little girl stayed for 9 nights when she was three months old and it’s a completely different experience. I feel faint, dizzy and sick to the bone as memories of a very, very, volatile time in our preemie’s path returns. Suffice it to say that five arrest calls in nine days has left me somewhat scarred for life.
Photos from NICU; we accumulated a very impressive album of photos from our 143 day stay in NICU but it’s getting harder and harder to look at these pictures now. At the time it was so normal to see our baby covered in tubes, wires and masks and looking so small and weak (but like a superhero at the same time). Today, I look at the photos teary-eyed and just can’t believe that was our baby.
Pictures of her big sister during that time; aged only 15 months old when her baby sister made her surprise early arrival, she was only a baby herself having just started to walk and talk. While I tried so hard to make our home life as normal as possible during our time in NICU, looking back now I can’t help but feel I was somewhat missing from her life for those five months. She had to grow up so fast and “hospital”, “monitor” and “alarm” were among her first words.
An encounter with a newborn baby; in my head, every newborn baby I meet has had a seemingly perfect journey into this world and I just wish that my baby girl had an easier start to life; the start that she, and every baby, deserves.
Sometimes too it’s just the quiet moments. Like when you watch her playing side by side with her big sister or another term baby and you can’t help but think: “Man, did she deserve that? Really?”. As time goes on, it becomes harder to believe all of this happened. And happened to our family.
I hope our little girl will never remember the start she had in life and that soon we will forget even more. Either way, we’ve all come so far and we can never forget how lucky we are to be here today.