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To the NICU Moms on Mother's Day

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I know this was not how you expected this to go.

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I know that instead of breakfast in bed, you are running to the cafeteria for a quick bite before the next feeding. I know the doctor keeps telling you to eat. "You gotta increase that milk supply!" I know you don't feel like eating anyway.

I know that instead of a massage, you are rubbing your swollen feet. I know you haven't had the time to "put your feet up," and you still haven't healed from your C-Section or episiotomy, but there is no time to take care of yourself the way you should. Your sole purpose is to be here with this little baby...to get her through each moment.

I know you wouldn't be anywhere else, but I also know you can't help yourself when you pass the nursery full of healthy big babies. I know your mind takes you to places you shouldn't go...like what life would be like having everyone around you, bringing your baby for her feedings (all those breastfeeding classes you went to), everyone passing that baby around.

You thought it would be that way. That you would welcome visitors. But, the reality is that visitors are terrifying. Any germ they carry could have life-threatening implications for your baby. So you watch carefully as visitors scrub in. You panic when your throat is scratchy, from allergies or just exhaustion. Everything in the world is dangerous now.

I know this is not how you expected this to go.

But know this:

You are strong.

You delivered that baby and immediately became her biggest cheerleader, supporting her through the most terrifying of all struggles our children will have to face: a fight for their lives.

You're a fighter. Because even through the exhaustion, through the monitors, through the IV changes, the jaundice lamps, the blood tests...you hold on. You hold on to those tiny fingers until the day comes when you get to hold your baby. Then you hold that baby for as long as they let you until one day, they let you take her home.

You're a survivor. The trauma of watching your child fight for her life is something you never should've had to see. But seeing this has made you. You will have more compassion, more empathy, more wisdom than many others around you. And being a survivor will help you when that sweet baby faces more of life's challenges later on. You'll remember the trauma of the early weeks. That trauma provides you with the greatest gift: perspective.

Happy Mother's Day, NICU Mom. I know this was not how you expected this to go. But keep holding on.