I was standing in line at Vons, my cart full of packaged “healthy” food for my week in the NICU, when the lady in front of me turned to the side. I felt my face get hot and tears began to fall as I saw her round, swollen belly. She smiled at me and I looked down. All I could think was, that was supposed to be me. I’m supposed to be shopping for healthy food items for the last two months of my pregnancy.
Instead I was three hours from home, in a city I had never visited, living in a hospital room, hoping that my little girl would make it through the night.
Our NICU floor was on the same level as the labor and delivery unit. Late night coffee runs for me meant that I inevitably ran into a laboring mom walking the halls. I would watch her in envy, wishing desperately I could have had my chance. My early delivery came with no answers, no solutions, and felt very unresolved. As the weeks passed, and those weeks rolled into months, I saw countless moms and learned to just look down, so I wouldn’t face the pain that they were going to get to take their baby home, while I was just waiting to hear the words “discharge.”
I was walking the halls one afternoon when I saw a laboring mom walking the halls as well. Our eyes met and I saw something that I recognized: fear. I was taken aback by that. How could she, with her full term baby, be afraid? Didn’t she know there were babies just down the hall that were fighting for their lives? I was almost angry.
The next day a similar experience happened as well. Our eyes met, she with her swollen belly and me without, and fear seemed to meet us both. I started to think about what they might have to fear, as if I had the corner on fear, or scary situations. Granted, I was living in a scary situation, but I noticed my heart began to soften. I started to see these women that I had envied become real. Their parenthood journey, while vastly different from mine, didn’t mean they weren’t still afraid. Their stories were each completely different, and unique, filled with their own insecurities, family issues, and more.
Just like those moms had a story, every single baby in that NICU has a different story. Some are twin or triplet births, some are high risk babies, some are drug-addicted babies, and some are just like mine: unexpected. But they all have something in common.
They are very mighty.
Something in me changed that day. I realized we’re all on our own journey, with our own pains, and hurts, fears and dreams that need acknowledging, healing and support. My hope for you today is that wherever you are in your process, that you accept your feelings. It’s okay to be angry, hurt, and scared. But when you’re ready to step out and release, allow yourself to be seen by others and to share in others’ hurt and fear. And if today is not that day, it’s okay. We’re all here for you, championing for you and your little ones. Because just like your little fighter, you have become a warrior. Take heart that this journey will not knock you down, but make you stronger than ever.