I was 37 years old when I became a mom, and it definitely gave me a lot of years to imagine what becoming a mom would be like, as it was something I knew I always wanted. I dreamed about those very first few moments post labor – that first cuddle with my new baby on my chest as I inhaled the newborn scent, tears of joy streaming down my face as I watched my husband hold our child for the very first time, coming home suddenly fully responsible for someone else’s well being and not knowing where to begin with our new life.
My reality was something very different.
I gave birth to a baby girl in early 2022. I did get to hold my daughter, although brief, when she was fresh out of the ‘you know what’. We did manage to get a nice family picture, despite our smiles being covered by masks (thanks Covid!). But shortly after delivery, she was whisked away to the NICU for what we thought was going to be very temporary, slight respiratory assistance. I did not see her again for another three and a half hours and at that point it was through a glass incubator. My husband didn’t even get to hold her until the day after she was born – a moment I only know through photos that were taken by a kind NICU nurse.
What we thought was going to be a very short NICU stint turned into a very stressful, brutal, worry filled, heartbreaking, frustrating seven week stay that all ultimately came down to feeding issues (my girl did not like to eat, unlike her mom) and slow weight gain.
Three days post delivery, despite the large number of bags we had in tow, my husband and I returned home empty handed, as our new daughter lay alone in a sterile, not at all warm hospital. Instead of an apartment full of baby cries, sleepless nights and dirty bottles in the kitchen sink, our apartment was quiet. The bassinet that sat next to our bed remained vacant night after night. There were no bottles to be found in the sink. We actually slept (well, kind of).
Those seven weeks of the NICU were trying and filled with many teary car rides going back and forth to see our girl. I would head to the hospital early in the morning and stay until 6:00pm or 7:00pm. Once home, I would hug my husband and then he would leave for the hospital, returning around 12:00am or 1:00am, after I was dead asleep. Not only were we spending way more time in a hospital than anyone should and consuming way too much hospital cafeteria food, but we were like acquaintances passing each other on the street, catching up for a little while before moving on to our next endeavor.
My husband and I became what he called “backpack parents”, packing up at the start of each shift to go see our daughter, as opposed to just rolling over and picking her up from where she slept beside us. We had to, while holding back tears, say goodbye to our newborn at the end of each day, a memory that rids me with guilt and makes me sick to my stomach to even think about. We had to leave her in the care of people we did not know, but whom we were forced to trust.
Thankfully and fortunately, we were able to take her home after those seven weeks and it is not lost upon me that this is lucky. Our challenges did not end once our baby made it through our front door, but she is home.
My husband and I learned very quickly how to switch into that extra gear that you have when it feels like you just can’t keep going. And even though we’re no longer in the hospital, we’ve moved into that gear many times as new parents, just the way most parents probably have. Whether it’s about a hospital stay, making it to a bedtime that feels hours away or a completely inconvenient, but very necessary spur of the moment bath due to a diaper blow out, you keep going. You can keep going. You have to keep going. Because that’s what your baby needs you to do.