by Nico Shanel
Almost two years ago today, I gobbled down my Thanksgiving meal but instead of enjoying my usual “I definitely ate too much” nap when I finished, I hopped in my car with my husband and headed to the NICU to see my sweet little one who was born just two months earlier at 24 weeks and 6 days, weighing only 1 little pound. It’s really humbling and quite confusing to watch your baby fight for their life on a day you are supposed to be hyper aware of what you’re thankful for. In fact, that Thanksgiving, my son had contracted Klebsiella pneumonia and was back on the jet ventilator, completely erasing all the progress he had previously made.
In the NICU, you often hear “one step forward, two steps back” and over the course of our 6 month stay, we would hear that a lot from our nurses and doctors.
On one hand, I was grateful that my bub was alive and fighting strong. But that day, I still couldn’t help but feel jealous of all the new parents who were taking their “I definitely ate too much” nap at home with their new babies (and I would often find myself having other moments of envy towards new moms with healthy babies throughout my sons stay and after).
It was hard for me to really be grateful on that day and many other days because I didn’t understand why any of this was happening. I had a routine pregnancy up until 24 weeks and it seems like everything spiraled out of control quickly and randomly after. Why did I have to be grateful for circumstances I didn’t feel my baby, nor I deserved?
Back then, I bottled all my frustrations and most of my emotions and just pushed through each day, even more so around the holidays in order to distract myself. Because of this, I would find myself breaking down a lot inside and outside of the NICU. It was hard to just be myself again, but I continuously put on a mask of strength for my baby’s sake while disregarding my mental and sometimes physical health in the process.
I know now that this wasn’t the healthiest way to get through that hard time, but it was what I could do at the time. It’s very easy to be hard on ourselves as humans on a regular day. But throw in having a baby in the hospital along with the holidays quickly approaching, and you have a situation where there can be a lot of emotions and tensions bubbling under the surface. This can leave you vulnerable to more self-judgment. Trust me. I know the feeling. And it’s not always the best feeling.
There may be many times where hard feelings arise during this time and it will pass just as fast as it came. I wish I could have told myself back then. Just that it’s okay and to be a little easier on myself. There may be days that you are spending precious holidays you are used to spending at home in a NICU that feels cold and foreign. That’s hard enough. You may be feeling disappointed or down. That’s okay. And it’s okay if it’s not okay with you as well. I know that sounds crazy, but the point is that it is important to acknowledge and honor your feelings, no matter what they may be. One day, your baby will be at home with you celebrating the holidays and they deserve a healthy and happy parent who will help them celebrate.
This holiday season is going to look a little different this year because of COVID, so it is important to stay healthy not only physically but emotionally as well. Try journaling any thoughts you have (that’s what helped me write SUPREEMIE!) so that they don’t stay trapped in your head or your heart. Stay connected if you can virtually with your family and friends. Let them check on you and care for you. You are loved and you deserve to be taken care of too. You and your precious baby in the NICU are doing your very best! Be proud of that and remember that you must take the NICU one day at a time.
Nico Shanel is a debut children’s author and mother to two preemies. When she’s not mommy-ing, she loves traveling with her family and blogging in her free time. To find a copy of her book SUPREEMIE and other preemie inspired items, go to www.Supreemiebaby.com.