A normal pregnancy, followed by an easy delivery, that’s what every mother hopes for. Those first moments after giving birth should be filled with happy tears, while you cradle your new bundle of joy. But for preemie moms – and even term-NICU moms – that usually isn’t the case. For me, my happy day turned into a tragic one, watching my first triplet enter this world and then say goodbye a few short hours later. I was too sick to realize that two of my triplets were even alive. The hopes of a happy “birthday” was shattered by their early arrival at 22 weeks.
The first few days after delivering my trio were a blur. I knew what the NICU was and I knew that my children would most likely spend some time there, but it’s hard to picture your everyday life until you become a NICU mom. The first time I saw my children was a few days after they were born. I entered the dimly lit nursery and saw two isolettes with the names “Parker” and “Peyton”. Their frail little bodies were hooked up to machines, their skin so transparent I could see every vein. Their nurses were busy monitoring the beeps of the machines, which would signal when something was wrong with my children. The sounds, alone, can make any person go crazy. Add to it the fear of your child not surviving and life in the NICU is full of mounting stress. For months, each day I arrived at the hospital not knowing what to expect. A routine morning could quickly change into a stressful day, filled with emergency surgery and blood transfusions. And for my family, those first few months were filled with anxiety, and eventually more grief, as we watched our son pass away in the NICU just shy of two months old.
As the weeks went by, and the calendar moved from summer to autumn, I learned how to handle the stress of the NICU. Our lone survivor began to turn a corner, and after three months, our tune changed from “if” to “when” Peyton would go home. I became friendly with our nurses, many of whom are now lifelong friends. They were there with tissues the moment they saw me crying and they there with a high-five as our lone survivor would reach a milestone, big or small. The alarms and beeps of the machines became background noise and I no longer stared at the monitor wondering why my child’s stats were dipping. The more time I spent there, the less stress I felt. Simply put, the NICU was my home. My husband and I spent more time there than our actual home. We kept a shelf of children’s books at our daughter’s bedside and we had her tiny little clothing tucked into drawers. Over time, I learned how to deal with the stress, taking a deep breath or allowing myself to cry and feel, then pick myself back up again. Every day I would peer through the isolette window at my daughter and remind myself of the strength she exudes. Seeing a smile or her beautiful eyes staring up at me took all of the stress away.
Nearly two years after my triplets were born, I still find myself in stressful situations. The NICU is a distant memory, but as any parent can tell you, raising a child is full of stress! These days, I feel stress watching my child slowly try to catch up developmentally. I get stressed keeping her doctor and therapy appointments organized. Watching her trying to scale and climb over everything in our house can be stressful. And I get stressed out thinking about her future. Will my 22 weeker always face an uphill struggle? But it’s at these moments that I think back to the early days. I think about each of my children and the strength they have shown me. My daughter Abigail, doing everything she could to save her brother and sister in the womb. My son Parker, fighting for two hard months and inspiring so many others to never give up. And our perfect little Peyton, defying the odds to become a toddler full of joy (and energy!). They may have been only a pound each at birth, but my triplets had more strength than I could ever imagine. And seeing how far Peyton has come, is the perfect medicine to take the stress away.