“I will never be the same”
I remember vividly, the long, excruciating night that I laid in my hospital bed, while my 2lbs baby boy was transported across the city to a hospital I had never been to, my husband bravely by his side. I could hear the newborn next door healthily crying and it’s mother being coached by a lactation nurse. It was enough to break me. While I should have been holding my baby, my mother held me that night instead. There was no hope in my heart, no energy for anything more than sobs, and the gut-wrenching sensation that I would never overcome this- that I would never be the same.
When asked about it, I have often described the experience of those early NICU days, as having been teleported into someone else’s life. It was like an enormous storm had blown through and all around me was the unrecognizable rubble of my life. For days on end I was heard saying aloud (either to those around me, or to my own reflection in the mirror of the NICU’s family restroom), “This isn’t my life”. I was disoriented. I was a disaster. Lifelessly stumbling around, signing consent papers, answering questions, asking questions, and filling the role of what felt like some other unfortunate person’s life.
Saying goodbye to my former self and grieving her loss, was something I fought for a very long time. When you surrender your spirit, and put on a visitors badge to see your child, one who should still be inside of you, you become someone much different than the person you were. When you ask a nurse for permission to hold your baby, and you need her assistance to do so, you become someone different. When you carry your burdened body to bed each night and stare across the hall to an empty nursery, you become someone different. To expect anything else of yourself, is unfair. It is a profoundly dark, and unnatural experience. One cannot help but be irrevocably changed by it.
So if you feel as though you will “never be the same”, you’re right. You probably won’t. And you’re not alone in that.
There is life after the NICU. I promise you this. It is hard, quite hard. But much like life somehow manages to delicately unfold in the NICU, life after does the same too. It is one with the potential of love, growth, healing, gratitude, connection, community, and believe it or not- moments of absolute and imperfect normalcy.
And if you’re currently sitting next to your tiny babe’s isolette, staring at your phone (which has been sanitized) as you read this, desperately attempting to concentrate on something other than the beeping in the background, know that I see you. Know that when I write these words of encouragement, I do it with a complete and vivid memory of what those shoes you're wearing feel like. I write this not as an idealist, or as someone who wants to say the ever so popular (but ever so unhelpful and inaccurate) “it will be ok”, but as a mother who was at one point entirely broken.
While parts of my old self are long gone, the new parts that have emerged in their place, are twice as strong. They are the ones that now ultimately give greater meaning than those that were lost. Even at two years out, with the right smell, sound, or memory, I’m still capable of catapulting right back to the green chair in room 18. Those days have become fewer and farther between. And on the hard days, I surround myself with the support of my fellow warrior parents- a community of genuine understanding and encouragement.
Be patient with your tattered spirit and with your healing body. Be gentle with yourself. And remember that although you will most likely never be the same as you were before you scrubbed in to see your baby, you carry within you the potential to thrive.