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Hey NICU Mom, I See You

You are not alone.
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November 17th is World Prematurity Day. I am not the mother of a premature baby. I am, however, the mother of a NICU baby, and I do have a deep and real understanding of the fears, worries and pain that many parents of preemies endure.

In honor of World Prematurity Day, I would like to send a message to all moms who are going through the difficult and painful journey of the NICU.

Hey NICU Mom,

I see you.

I see you shuffling silently through the hospital, your slightly swollen belly a telltale sign that you have recently given birth. I see the pain in your red-rimmed eyes -- eyes that spill tears down your cheeks without you even noticing.

I hear your thoughts. I know you are wondering what you did to cause this situation, or maybe what you didn't do. I have felt the guilt you carry with you every second of every day. Your pain is palpable, and you never knew that your heart could physically hurt. Your dreams have been dashed. Lullabies are not being sung in the beautiful nursery sitting empty in your home. Instead, you hum over the beeps of the machines monitoring your little one's vitals.

Your exhaustion goes beyond the normal fatigue of a new mother. Waking up every three hours -- not to feed a baby, but to pump -- just reminds you of your reality. The few hours of restless sleep you manage to catch in between are almost an escape; in these times, you can dream your baby is home with you. Happy, healthy, home.

Your hands are raw from continuous washing in scalding hot water. You've mastered the art of rocking and maybe even bathing your baby while managing all the tubes and wires involved. You are surviving on whatever food they are offering in the hospital cafeteria, and your back hurts from hunching over the isolette day in and day out.

Your brain is swirling with medical jargon you are actually starting to understand. You celebrate each little victory: each poop, each ounce of milk your baby was able to consume on their own, each gram gained. These little victories have become your lifeline.

Your baby will get stronger; she will learn to breathe on her own, he will learn to eat on his own. Eventually you will be discharged and you will feel on top of the world.

Your life will never be the same. It will be filled with follow-up visits and explaining to family why they must wash their hands before touching the baby. Some will not understand. They will expect you to move on right away. With time, your pain will ease -- but it will never go away. It will become a part of who you are, tucked away in a secret, special place right next to your heart.

Yet in these early moments -- moments when you can't yet see the birthdays and holidays you will celebrate in the years to come -- you feel alone.

You are not alone. You are part of a tribe no one wants to be a part of, one that no one ever imagines will be a part of their story. You are part of a tribe that is here to support you whenever you are ready.

This will not kill you. You will be stronger.

You are not alone.

I see you.

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