I find myself downplaying my NICU experience when talking to other NICU parents, thinking what my family went through is nothing compared to what their family went through. It usually goes something like this:
Me: How long were you in the NICU?
Them: 100 days. You?
Me: Oh, only 11 days.
I am always adding “only” to our NICU time, as a way of acknowledging their struggle and letting them know that our stay was nothing in comparison to theirs. I mean, how could it be? It was only 11 days, right?
But time spent in the NICU makes its mark, no matter the length. Our experiences are unique to each of us.
Some years ago, I trained for and completed a half marathon. I knew it would be hard, but it was a challenge I was excited to take on. Race day was the hottest day ever experienced, or at least it seemed that way. November weather in San Antonio, TX is always up in the air. Even though I followed all of the fueling and hydration recommendations from my coaches, I suffered severe heat exhaustion and had to get assistance from the medics. It was a hard day, but I finished.
Sure, it wasn’t a marathon, but a half marathon is still a feat. Whether it was a hard race, uphill, downhill, cold weather, raining, it was still 13.1 grueling miles. I may not have broken any records, but I earned that medal. I didn’t complete a full 26.2 miles, but I still did something amazing that many have not done. It’s not right to downplay my hard work.
Those of us who have endured a NICU stay need to show ourselves that same grace. No matter the length, a NICU stay is still hard. It’s a fast-paced environment that most of us did not expect we would be thrust into. No matter if it was two days or 200 days, your experience still matters. The emotional and physical struggles still occur.
So, instead of comparing our ordeals to one another or downplaying our experiences, let us link arms and celebrate as we continue on our journey and cross that finish line. We did it.