June 13, 2016

Emotions As A NICU Mom

As a NICU parent, you have emotions and feelings that no other parent will experience. These feelings run very deep and often manifest themselves on top of each other. There is a popular statement among NICU parents that "no one really knows what it's like unless you've had a baby here". And that's really the truth.

As an attempt to sort my own complex feelings, I've compiled a list of the emotions I navigate every day. (A little self-therapy never hurt anyone!)

I'm putting this first because it's the forerunner for all other emotions. This isn't a ran errands all day tired. Not even an up all night with a collicky newborn tired. It's a dragging your feet, feel it in your bones, look back and wonder when you got in your car and drove to this destination, tired. A tired that puts you into a amnesia-dazed fog. You will have entire stretches of the day that you don't remember. You will wonder how your body is still functioning. No amount of sleep will feel like enough. And yet, somehow you keep on trucking along. I've never experienced anything like this before. I almost wonder if it's becoming dangerous for my own health, but realistically what could I do about it?

You will be jealous of the parents next to you as they prepare to have their baby discharged. You will be jealous of the baby that whizzes off the ventilator in a month while your baby is still intubated. You will feel an especially sharp sting as you see friends and family post anything baby related on social media. Seeing those newborn photo shoots will make what you are missing out on with your own baby very apparent.

When you spend hours on end in a tight hospital room shared with multiple families, you get to know the people around you. You become fast friends and you share mutual empathy for each other. They are truly some of the very few people that know exactly what you are experiencing. And it's very refreshing to get to speak to someone else that can not only relate to you, but someone you can swap medical info with and not have to go into lengthy explanations. It's a breath of fresh air and makes the entire experience a little easier to swallow.

Because of the genuine empathy you feel towards other parents, there is nothing worse then having your child do well while the other family is having a rocky week. You know exactly what they are going through and the worries they are juggling. You see their tears and silently shed a few for them yourself. You ask how their baby is doing, and after receiving a sullen update, the guilt comes hard and fast as they inevitably ask how your baby is doing as well, and you have to answer them by saying, "Really great!"

Guilt lies everywhere else in your life as well. No matter what you do, guilt follows. You feel guilty for leaving your older children with family while you visit your baby. You feel guilty when you leave your baby that evening when he's still wide awake. Heck, you feel guilty for not technically scrubbing in for exactly three minutes before you go to your baby's crib. The guilt is real, and silly, and constant. No matter what you do, guilt follows for some ridiculous reason. 

Feeling hyper-sensitve and guilty about everything also makes you prone to feeling judged by people around you. When you can't come in one day, you will feel judged by the nurse. When you have been there most of the day, you will feel judged by the nurse. When you can only make it in to see your baby for a couple of hours, you will feel judged by the nurse.

They don't do anything in particular to make you feel judged. They are always understanding of the situation you are in and deep down you know you are the unrealistic one. And yet, something about them always replying with a varied, "sounds great, you just do what you can..." no matter what situation you have for the day, makes you second guess yourself.

So similar to guilt, you are constantly worrying about everything. And when I say everything, I mean everything. And the things you worry about are over things you've never experienced before. How is he doing? Do I really understand what's going on with him? Is he really making the progress I think he is? When he wakes up when I'm not there, is he ok? Am I spending enough time with him? Am I spending too much time with him? What is his future going to look like? How does the doctor really feel about his future? Have we been able to really bond through this? He's had so many care takers, does he really know I'm his mommy?

Then there's your other children: Are they doing ok with the babysitter? Do they really understand what's going on? Are they feeling any resentment towards me for not being around? Am I with them enough? Am I with them too much? Do they still feel loved by me? How are they really coping through all this?

I could go on and on and on...

Joy and Gratitude 
The NICU teaches you an entirely new perspective on life and how to find joy in the smallest of things. Never in my life would I think poop was such an exciting feat. Or that getting the chance to change that poopy diaper would be the most exhilarating moment of my day. I crave getting to change a diaper so that I get a small moment of normal contact with my baby. As I sit and watch his monitors by his bedside, I am thrilled as I see a gray bar on his ventilator monitor indicating he just took a breath on his own.

I've never thought so much about simple things we never pay attention to, like taking a breath. The smallest of occurrences can bring you to tears of joy.

You come to appreciate each precious minute you have with your child and you notice the tiniest of details. And those little things are what you have to hold on to as you painfully return home from the hospital without your baby for the 89th day in a row.

It's a tough life, and not one I would wish on anyone. But through all the fears, worries, guilt, and exhaustion, your sweet baby always manages to help you feel a small moment of happiness. Even if it's just watching and counting how many breaths your child is taking, the joy can be found. And those moments of joy help all the other emotions quiet. 


  1. Hang in there Corissa.
    You ARE doing a great job!
    love you.

  2. My MIL is a NICU nurse at the U. The only time she will ever judge a mom is if that mom was a druggy and has no attachment to the baby.
    You are doing amazing! I can't imagine juggling everything you are right now.
    Hang in there- you come from an amazing family and amazing faith in your Heavenly Father!

    1. Thank you! I know they don't REALLY judge you. You just become so hyper sensitive to everything, that you portray those emotions onto yourself. Nicu nurses are angels! :)