When my son was nearly a year old, I started a NICU parent peer support group in my city, in response to the lack of support for parents like myself. It is in these meetings, where we talk about all that we witnessed in the NICU, the lasting effects of trauma, and the unique nature of raising former NICU babies (and, if we’re being honest, the unique nature of raising former NICU parents too). A topic came up the other night in one of these meetings. It was one that has come up for all of us, many, many times before.
The instinctual, hormonally driven, and irrational divine animal instinct to be close to, care for, and protect our young. One might even argue that the instinct of a new mama is the most powerful thing there is. Touching your baby, holding your baby, smelling your baby, hearing your baby’s cry, feeding your baby. These are all the most basic instincts for a mother.
In order to survive and effectively function in the NICU, we have to suppress so much of what’s natural. We take that primal, instinctual, fierce, hormonal, mothering energy, and we put it aside. We wrap it in the lanyard that holds our NICU visitors badge, dip it in some hand sanitizer, and place it to the side.
The truth is, that in the process of releasing and taming something so natural, so instinctual, and so powerful, we do a lot of damage. I don’t know that there’s a way around it, and it sucks.
One of the first things I tell a newly appointed NICU mom when I talk with her is- “remember, you are Mom. You are in charge. You know best. No one can do it better than you.” And it pains me every time I do, because I know that it’s a tall order for her to actually believe it. I know that in the NICU, you only “sort of” feel like a mother.
The truth though- you are MOM. You know best, and you do it better. Better than any nurse, published neonatologist, specialist, or machine. You are mom, entirely and completely.
It will soon be 3 years since my son came home from the NICU. Today, I can say firmly that my mom-stincts are gold. I’m working everyday to allow them to carry me through motherhood without fear, and to trust myself always. It takes time, it takes having support, and it takes healing. Each loss you have felt, will slowly be met with a gain, and in time you will develop a bond with your baby, and confidence in mothering.