45 Photos Of Parents That Capture Their Emotional NICU Journeys

In honor of National Prematurity Awareness Month.

When we talk about National Prematurity Awareness Month, we often focus on the amazing preemies that fight so hard to survive in the beginning of their life. But it's also important to remember the parents that surround them with love and hope for their bright futures.

We asked the HuffPost Parents community to share photos of themselves with their preemies in the NICU, and to tell us how they were feeling in that moment. "I didn't know how long our NICU journey would be, what hurdles we'd face, how our lives were going to change," wrote Erin Armknecht, mom of a preemie. "But in this moment, the first time I held my baby I'd prayed and waited and hoped so, so long for, I knew it would all be worth it." Check out the photos below of parents with their preemies in the NICU, and learn more about how preemies are completely inspiring.

Amanda Kopp
"I was focusing on slow, even breathing to help bring my 25-week-old's blood oxygen level up and make the machine stop beeping. I often covered myself in this prayer blanket made by my grandmother's friend. I could feel all the prayers from family, friends, and total strangers when I wore it."
Rachel Barber Wolfe
"This is my husband and our twin girls, who were born at 24 weeks. They were 1.4 and 1.7 pounds. This was taken in the NICU, after they were both around 3 pounds and could be held together. This photo has been shared a lot because we sent it to Daddy Doin Work, but it's my daughters and my husband. And in that moment he was thinking that it was good for them to feel him and hear his heartbeat. He was happy they were alive and thriving after being born so early."
Naila Syed
"Here is a picture of my husband with my eldest daughter and our preemie baby. Eesa was born at 33 weeks of gestational age, weighing 3 pounds,14 oounces. He was a twin -- his brother passed away at 28 weeks gestational age, and we weren't sure baby Eesa would make it. It was a very difficult pregnancy, to say the least. In this picture, my husband is thinking how beautiful he is and how incredibly lucky we are to have our baby safe and sound. He made it!"
Denise DeTorre
"This was my first time seeing my twin girls after my emergency C-section. They arrived early at 33 weeks. I couldn't believe they were as healthy as they were after being born so early. It was surreal because I couldn't pick them up and hold them yet, so it hadn't all hit me that they were mine. Now they are thriving just turned 2 years old -- beautiful girls.
Erin Armknecht
"This is Samuel, born at 30 weeks, weighing 2 pounds, 4 ounces. He was two days old here, and this was the first time I ever got to hold him. I was so sick -- my blood pressure was still terrifyingly high after my emergency C-section. I don't remember a lot about the 10 days I spent in the hospital, but I remember this moment like it was yesterday. He was so tiny, so terribly fragile ... and yet, he wasn't. He was a fighter. He was so strong. I didn't know how long our NICU journey would be, what hurdles we'd face, how our lives were going to change. But in this moment, the first time I held my baby I'd prayed and waited and hoped so, so long for, I knew it would all be worth it. He came home last December 1st, after 99 days in the NICU. He is still little, but he is also still mighty."
Mandy Horner
"Here I am in the NICU with my twin boys, who were born August 2nd. At this moment we were being moved to the next NICU bay for less assistance, and I was thinking I couldn't wait to be home with them. They are our rainbow babies and we had been waiting to have a baby at home for quite some time!"
Julie Dwyer
"Born at 33 weeks. I put on my bravest face, but inside I was completely terrified. I also remember just wanting to bust into that isolette so that I could feel him next to my skin!"
Mollie Trewartha
"Our twin sons, Emmanuel and Russell, were born just shy of 26 weeks. This was their first time meeting, about two weeks after their birth. My husband and I were still wondering how our NICU journey would end, praying both boys would survive, and we wanted some photos of the boys together."
Suzanne Cruz Krygowski
"Born at 27 weeks. My baby girl was 1 pound,13 ounces. This photo was taken in the third month in the NICU, and I was so happy that she was getting bigger and healthier. She is now 6 years old and in first grade, and she amazes me every day.
Brandi Nelson
"Three days old and three days into our NICU stay. My baby boy was born at 35 weeks for unknown reasons and weighed 5 pounds, 12 ounces. The thoughts running through my head in this moment were how thankful I was that he was so healthy for a preemie (he only had to have a feeding tube due to not sucking/swallowing well) and how tiny he felt on my chest. That itty bitty baby is now almost 14 months old and 30lbs. Even his doctors forget he was a preemie. But I will never forget our 16 days spent in the NICU and how it has made me never take a day with him for granted."
Sarah Chace-Goral
"This is the moment our 33 week twins Sadie and Sophia were reunited, nine days after birth. They would spend 20 days in the NICU before coming home. We have so much love for the nurses and doctors at Women and Infants in Providence, RI, for the care and love they showed our girls. We survived the NICU and the first year. They turned 1 on September 13th!"
Katrina Ann
"This is my husband and I with our daughter Isabelle. She was born almost seven weeks early at 4 pounds,11 ounces. We were so lucky because even though she was preemie she was so healthy. We were so happy to have her, but so anxious to know when she would be able to go home with us. The doctors said there was no set time, it would happen once she was eating on her own and keeping up her weight. Going home without my baby was so depressing, even more so because she was in another state (due to the hospitals near us not having NICUs). My husband had to go back to work, so we traveled every day to see her. She was born on November 28 and due to a setback with her having a milk protein allergy, she finally came home on December 23. She is now almost 4 years old and a healthy, thriving child. We are so grateful for the NICU staff for all they did for our little one.
Jenny Shaffer O'Donnell
"This is a picture of me when I first held my daughter Ellie, who was born at 28 weeks, 11 and a half weeks early. I was terrified and trying not to cry because she was so tiny, and I felt so guilty that I had failed her as her mother. I had failed at keeping her safe and here she was fighting for her life. She was so tiny, I was afraid I was going to break her -- she was 2 pounds, 13 ounces at birth. But I was determined to do everything I could to make it up to her. We spent 63 days in the NICU getting her healthy. Today she is a crazy 3-year-old. From the moment they told us that she was coming whether we liked it or not, to the moment we walked out the door of the hospital with our baby (finally!), it was tough.
Tiffany Taylor
"Our sweet baby girl was born at 26 weeks gestation, weighing 1 pound,7 ounces. This is a picture of the first time I got to hold her. I didn't have time to feel badly or overthink anything -- all I knew is that I was holding a sweet, innocent, tiny girl and she was mine. I was very tense because I was so scared to move and pull on her leads or the tube that was breathing for her. At this moment I was overwhelmed and calm all at the same time. Feeling her warm skin on mine was exactly what I needed. One of the hardest things I've ever gone through ... not necessarily my pain, but watching such a tiny human having to be exposed to so many machines, people and procedures was heartbreaking. But thanks to technology and all of the amazing doctors, nurses and specialists, our little Aria Penny Taylor is 19 months old and perfect!
Michelle Murphy
"This is me at 19 years old. My first born and only son... At this very moment, I was thinking how in the world I created such a fighter, and how lucky I was to have him. He was 1 pound, 12 ounces and 12.25 inches long. Unfortunately my baby never made it home. I spent nine days in the NICU with him."
Kirsten Voorheis-Love
"This is the first time I held both of my twin girls, born at 34 weeks. They were about 5 days old and a nurse told me it was time to hold them both. I was scared to death of that moment and of all that was to come. They are turning 5 years old this month."
Jocelyn Wong
"Born at 31 and a half weeks, this was the very first time I held my baby girl. I was so scared because she was so tiny and had so many things hooked up to her. I felt some relief as she laid there on my chest, sleeping peacefully. I was still so scared because I didn't know how long she would be in the NICU and if she had any problems, etc. She's now 5 years old and in kindergarten and a very bright sunshine in our life."
Karen Marciano
"This is Hunter, born at 26 weeks. He weighed just 1 pound, 12 ounces at birth and is the surviving twin to his identical brother, Parker. During Kangaroo time (as this photo shows), I'd often be torn between amazement, daydreams about his future, and an intense worry about our ability to care for such a precious gift and what his future would look like."
Caitlin Rizner White
"Born at 35 weeks, he was in the NICU for two weeks. When he was rushed to the NICU due to apnea, he endured a week of feeding tubes, scalp IVs and a CPAP. I felt so scared, overwhelmed and exhausted, yet so lucky to have a preemie that we knew would be going home someday soon. This is the first time I got to really 'see' his face."
Elle Pullman
"Born at 36 weeks, he was 3 pounds, 14 ounces. He was so tiny and this was my first chance to hold him. My hand was twice the size of his head. It had been three days and we had been discharged with his twin sister, who came home. I looked into his eyes and he was so alert and aware, I just couldn't believe he was here and I started crying -- happy tears because we knew he would come home soon, but it hurt to not be with him every possible moment. He is now a healthy, happy 3-year-old. Thanks to all of his NICU nurses who loved on him when I couldn't."
Kaysea McCulloch
"Mother of four, all of my children where premies. My oldest son passed away at 23 weeks. Here I am with my daughter at 30 weeks. She was on all sorts of tubes, wires, IVs and monitors. I wasn't even able to hold her for a week. I remember the fear and fake smiles as I looked at her purple and blue body. But I also remember the way I felt staring down at my only daughter, I would just whisper to her, 'stay strong, because it is just you and me against the world.' Five years later, I still whisper this in her ear every day. It has become like our little thing."
Melissa Sledge
"Me and our daughter, born at 27 weeks, weighing 1 pound, 6 ounces. This was the first time I was able to hold and touch her without gloves. It was such an amazing experience -- this was the turning point in her life when she became a 'real' baby. From that point on, and for the next 90 days, I never stopped holding her. In January we will celebrate her 3rd birthday."
Kimberly Burrows
"Born at 34 weeks via emergency C-section. Zoey was diagnosed with cancer at 5 hours old and was put on a life flight helicopter and flown to a children's hospital an hour away! This picture is me reuniting with my daughter after five days of being at the hospital where she was born. I was so scared, but so thankful for the NICU! Zoey is now 6 and cancer-free!"
Sara Stockton
"Rory was born at 34 weeks. Like his brother, my water broke and I went into labor, despite having had 20 weeks of progesterone shots to prevent preterm labor. However, unlike his brother who roomed with me and went home when I did, he spent almost two weeks in the NICU learning how to eat. I was terrified. What started out as odd but routine for me was wildly different from my first son. I thought something must be wrong, and I must have caused it. In retrospect, we were just extremely lucky with our first son. Rory is now a funny, sweet, perfectly normal toddler."
Sarah Kennelty
"This was the first day I got to meet my son, Luca. He was born at 28 weeks and was immediately transferred to a different hospital before I had woken up from the C-section. I waited five days to finally see him. I wasn't able to hold him yet and could only touch him for this brief time through the arm holes of the incubator. This was the smile I mustered to bring to my face after 20 minutes of uncontrollably crying upon seeing him. I wasn't prepared for the sight of him: Bruises, tubes, concave chest, wires and machines everywhere. He became my world at this very second -- that very day my heart was stolen by my beautiful son. He is now 3 years old, healthy and fully caught up to his age. I am so proud to be his mommy."
Melinda Gilbert Strathman
"This was my 28.5-week-old the very first time I was able to put clothes on him! I was so excited, I couldn't decide what to dress him in, and of course everything I had bought was too big! It's crazy the small things that seemed so big, I will never take any of it for granted. I had premature labor and rupture of membranes. They were able to stall labor for three days but he was very eager to be here, so I delivered him by emergency C-section on Labor Day. I mainly remember thinking and dreaming about the day we would finally be able to take him home. The two months he was in the NICU felt like forever, and all I wanted was to be able to hold my baby on MY comfy chair, in MY home!! He is 7 years old now!"
Stacy Layman
"I was in preterm labor with my daughter for six weeks. Through intense medical intervention, she stayed in until 35 weeks, but did not escape a stay in the NICU. This was the first time I got to hold her, when she was 4 days old, because she was hooked up to too many machines before that to help with blood sugar, jaundice, temperature regulation, and breathing. No one can prepare you for the feeling of being discharged from the hospital and having to leave your newborn there, if even only for a few hours until you can return. And after four whole days of not getting to hold my sweet little girl, this moment was amazing. I never wanted to let her go. She will be 6 years old in a few weeks and I still don't take holding her for granted."
Elizabeth Kmety
"Born at 34 weeks due to preterm premature rupture of membranes. After 40 hours of labor I developed Chorioamnionitis, which led to an emergency C-section birth. At birth, my son was treated for pneumonia, low blood sugar, and breathing difficulties. This photo was taken two days after Bennett was born, when I got to hold him for the very first time. I was exhausted but overwhelmed with how much love I felt for someone so tiny."
April Devnick
"My son was born via emergency C-section at 25 weeks. He weighed 1 pound,15 ounces. I nearly lost my life due to hemorrhaging from a complete placental abruption. He required 11 minutes of CPR and, once revived, they didn't expect him to last 24 hours. We spent 99 days in NICU. He is now an amazing 4-year-old. I love this picture that my sister took a little less than a week after he was born. My eyes are swollen from crying, but I am just looking in at this amazing being that was just in my belly and praying that he keeps fighting."
Jenny Graddy
"My thought was, 'I can't wait to hold you.' Just one of the many goals when your baby is a preemie."
Niecy La Porta-Noseworthy
"My water broke at 33 weeks and they delivered Noah at exactly 34 weeks. He was 5 pounds, 7 ounces, and at this moment I was extremely terrified and depressed. I blamed myself because I had been raking leaves the day before my water broke. I hated having to leave him there after my stay was up. All I did was cry everytime I saw him. Thankfully I got better, and Noah was out in a week and is a crazy toddler now."
Casey Spohnholtz
"I was completely exhausted after a stressful hospital stay, waiting for two days to see my baby, and waiting for my husband to arrive home on emergency leave from an overseas deployment. But he was so tiny and perfect in that moment."
Chantavia Crowder
"My baby was expected to be due on my college graduation date, but I delivered her six weeks early. She weighed 4 pounds. This was my first time holding her, 3 days after her birth. I was at the NICU everyday. I never slept and I put my graduation on hold to be with her. Best decision ever, because I was able to spend those moments with her when she needed me the most."
Heather Blegstad
"First kiss. 30 days old, just minutes before his heart (PDA ligation) surgery. How did I feel? Terrified, but I stayed strong for him."
Kari Bickel
"My son was born at 33 weeks due to preeclampsia. I still am so thankful for all those NICU nurses who took such good care of him while we stayed. It made for a relatively relaxing stay, which, as a new mom with a military husband and no family nearby, was a total blessing. I love my baby so much and am thankful daily that he is ours."
Andrea Renee
"This was the first time I held my son, born at 26 weeks. He was three days old and I was elated, scared, happy, sad, proud, angry, anxious, terrified, confident, nervous, and shocked -- mostly at the fact that I was allowed to hold him so soon. I didn't imagine I would be able to hold him so soon. I will forever be able to hear, smell, taste, feel, see this exact moment, for the rest of my life."
Stephanie & Juan Romero
"At this very moment I was excited because this was the first time we were able to feed and hold her. The best feeling in the WORLD."
Liz Leitman
"I had to have an emergency C-section and because he was 34 weeks, he got whisked away to the NICU. My husband went with him and I'm so grateful for that, that they got that time to bond when I couldn't be there and before they had to intubate him when he started having trouble breathing. He's an amazing daddy and they still have an awesome bond."
Stefanie Wilder-Taylor
"Holding one twin. They were 33 weeks. I was completely freaked out, as you can tell by my face."
Chelsea Frandsen Horsley
"Skin-to-skin for the first time with the sicker of our twins. I remember so distinctly feeling warm, warm in just the right way a mother should who's caring for her child. Up until that point, I hadn't felt like 'his' mother any more than the wonderful nurses were. But this moment I felt peace, happiness, and warmth, and I knew our special bond was beginning."
Faith Ann Bender
"She was a 25 weeks at 1 pound, 10.5 ounces and 13.75 inches long. I can't wait to get her home -- it had been 118 days in this photo and we were ready as ready could be. We were scheduled to go home in less than one week, and we've now been home for two weeks."
Sharon Fleming Fowles
"My triplets at 2 days old. This was the first time I was able to hold all three at once. I was wondering how they had all fit inside of me just two days before."
Andrea Doolin
"My husband and I have been together since high school. We were married in 2005, after 17 years together. We lost a baby boy in 2006 and our son was born at 24 weeks in 2007. He was in the NICU for three months. He's now a happy, healthy 2nd grader."
Kristen Brundage
"I look at these photographs of myself and my husband with our son and feel like this was so long ago. Anderson William was born on November 12, 2012, six weeks early through an emergency C-section due to preeclampsia. While we were in the NICU, I could not fathom the idea that Anderson would ever be healthy or whole. I was convinced that he would have lifelong complications because he was born so early, and we felt so out of control. But even with those feelings, I was so overwhelmed with love. This sounds cheesy, but it was as if I had known him all my life. Today, Anderson is almost 3, and is living life to the fullest with love and joy and lots of hugs."
Frank Fiumara
"My fiancée holding our little guy. He was born 6.5 weeks early. The day before he was born, we had gone to the hospital -- Susan wasn't feeling good and was in a great deal of pain, thought she might be in labour. We were sent home since she wasn't dilated at all. We got home, put his crib together, which had been delivered while we were out. The next morning her water broke and we rushed back to the hospital, where our baby boy was born. He was about 3 days old in this photo, Sue was finally getting some sleep and I was just thankful that our little man was in the best NICU in the city, with fantastic nurses looking after him. He's a healthy 1-year-old now and absolutely perfect."

Check out more amazing photos of preemies and their parents below:

Preemie Parents Reflect On Their Time In The NICU