One thing that everyone always told me while Scarlett was in NICU was to remember to “take care of myself”. Scarlett was in excellent, capable hands and while my being there was necessary and extremely beneficial for the BOTH of us. I knew it was important to take care of my self too.
In the first few weeks though, that was really hard for me to do. I wanted to spend all of my time with Scarlett, sitting with her, talking to her and letting her know that her momma was there. I never wanted her to feel like she wasn’t important or loved, or that she was doing this alone. We were in this together.
Having a baby in the hospital doesn’t mean you get an easier start on parenthood. (Every child comes with their own set of challenges – ours just started a little earlier than expected) Even though I didn’t have a crying baby waking me up at all hours of the night, I was still having to wake up every 2-3 hours to pump. (Though it was a while before Scarlett would be able to have any of my milk, I needed to make sure I had a supply ready for her.) But I was so so tired. Every morning felt like I was running a marathon. I would wake up early, pump, get ready for the day and hurry to make my way to the hospital before rounds. I didn’t want to miss anything. All I kept thinking was, okay, I have a baby in the hospital and I am fortunate enough to be there for her every day – so I need to make sure that I am.
Because the reality is, not all parents have this luxury. Mothers get 6 weeks of maternity leave – that’s it. Dad’s don’t have that option, and if they do, God bless you. If you can afford it and you have vacation days saved up, you might be able to use those too (if you’re lucky). Or maybe you planned ahead and decided to stop working once you have your baby, that’s awesome!
When your baby is born early, your “plans” you had, go out the window. There is no set timeline in the NICU, you never really know when your baby will get to come home. Sometimes, babies don’t make it home; not to the home where their parents live, anyway.
When you stop to think about it, that’s a lot of pressure right?
But, that was my mindset. I knew I was blessed, and I was determined to take that blessing and make the most of it.
But it left me exhausted.
The first time I left Scarlett like actually didn’t see her for a full day, was the day my sister was married. In the days leading up to that, I had been strong. I had come to terms with my current situation and accepted the road I was on. But when that day was over, I completely broke down. I was tired, my boobs hurt and I had spent the entire day wishing I had my baby with me. All-day long people had been asking for her and I wished they hadn’t, because it only made me miss her more.
I remember ending up at my moms’ doorstep that night, sobbing. I just wanted to lay my head down and rest. I think that was the night I had finally realized I needed to take a time out. I needed to stop looking at the BIG PICTURE and instead focus on one thing at a time. I needed to allow myself to feel every single emotion I was feeling, and then deal with them one at a time.
I was angry. I was sad. I was heartbroken. I was scared. I was tired. I was overwhelmed.
It really freaking sucked.
Up until that point, I had just been focusing on staying positive, and being strong. I forgot that it was okay to NOT be okay. I was allowed to cry. I was allowed to feel angry. I was allowed to be sad. Feeling all of those things was normal.
I felt cheated out of something special and I was allowed to mourn its loss.
So I did. I cried and I cried and I felt all of my feelings.
And then I gave it all to God.
I prayed and I talked to him. He, of course, knew how I was feeling, so I didn’t have to say very much. But I did. I talked to him and I asked him to be with me and give me strength and to carry these things for me because I couldn’t. I couldn’t do it alone.
I also talked to my people about how I was feeling. I told them I was struggling and we talked about it all. They, of course, all told me the same thing, take care of myself and that it was completely okay to feel the way I had been feeling. They also held me accountable and checked in on me from time to time. Making sure I was actually taking care of myself and not just saying I was.
You can’t drive a truck on an empty tank right?
So I started taking my time in the mornings, I would sleep in a little later on days I felt I needed a little more rest. I set a routine for myself and kept myself busy in-between visits with Scarlett. I tried to remind myself not to feel guilty for not always staying with her. It was okay for me to get out of the hospital for a little while and do something for myself. So I did. I actually got myself dressed every day and made myself look a little more presentable, which helped me feel better. I took my time getting to the hospital and made sure to feed myself while (if not before) I was there. I usually always grabbed coffee (because duh, who could survive anything without coffee?) and I would take something to keep myself busy as I sat with her. In the afternoons I would leave to go have dinner with my mom and run errands. Or I would try to make plans with friends and family so I would have something to do other than spend ALL day at the hospital or the RMH.
On weekends BJ and I would visit Scarlett and then he and I would go out and do something together. It was important that we spend time together too. I can’t speak for him but I know he was working hard to support us. He was also probably feeling some if not all, of the same feelings I was about our life at the time and we needed to be there for each other too. Honestly, if I didn’t have him I know I would’ve been more stressed and worried than I already was. He has been an amazing partner and an even more amazing dad.
Things got better for me mentally and emotionally.
I thank God for my friends and family who were there for me and made sure I was okay. I can’t tell them all enough how much they helped me survive the most difficult time in my life. I love you all so much. And to the wonderful and amazing NICU nurses and staff who checked in on me and took their time to talk with me every day, Thank you. Your kindness meant the world to me and I hope you know what a blessing you are to families like mine.
Of course, some days were better than others, but I got through it.
To the momma who is sitting in the hospital with your baby right now, please remember to take care of yourself too. That baby is going to need you happy and healthy when they get out of there. So try your best to take care of you. Know that while it is hard, and the road might seem never-ending, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. You might not be able to see it yet, but I promise you its there.
Just have faith.