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Dear mama,

This isn't how you wanted it to be, I know. In all those months of imagining what motherhood would look like, you never expected it to look like this. I know from experience—I was a NICU mama too.

You thought you'd spend these first precious days snuggled up in bed, holding your baby skin-to-skin. You'd watch for her hunger cues, feed on demand, and marvel at the tiny person lying on your bosom. When it was time to sleep, you'd tenderly swaddle her and place her in the bassinet, just an arm's reach away.

Instead, you watch your sweet babe sleep in an isolette. The IV looks enormous in her little arm. Wires extend from her body. Monitors beep. The bilirubin light shines bright blue.

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The distance from your hospital room to the NICU feels like miles. Maybe your C-section incision hurts with every move. Maybe you're stretched, torn, and sore from a vaginal delivery. Or maybe you were discharged before your baby, and your heart breaks every night when you have to go home. Like you're leaving a part of yourself behind.

I wish I could sit beside you and hear your story. But since I can't, I'd like to send you some love and offer encouragement.

You are a good mama. And you will get through this.

You will find strength you didn't know you had. You'll learn new terminology, talk to doctors, and make decisions. You'll take pictures and rejoice in the smallest of victories — an ounce of weight gained, a treatment tweaked. Your sweet moments will look different from everyone else's, but they will be sweet, nonetheless.

You will also discover your weakness. Sometimes, you'll fall apart, and that's okay. Let someone else be strong for you — your husband, a parent, a sibling, a friend, a nurse. Allow yourself to mourn the loss of the way you thought things would be. But as you process all those emotions and adjust to your new normal, remember, you are still mothering.

You will find a way to bond that is unique to your situation. Maybe you'll touch your baby's tiny toes through the side of the isolette and savor the soft warmth of skin on skin. Maybe you'll squeeze out a bit of breastmilk, like love in liquid form. Maybe you'll whisper a prayer, sing a lullaby, or simply tell your baby you love her, over and over again. In this big, unfamiliar world, your voice is the one she knows from her time in the womb.

Every gesture, no matter how small, is an expression of your love. Even if you can't be by your baby's side, you're still the one who carried her inside of you. No matter how much or how little contact you have, nothing can change the fact that you are her mama.

I know you want nothing more than to take care of your baby. But these NICU nurses are some of the most vigilant, big-hearted people you'll ever meet. Your baby is in good hands. You need to make sure you're taking good care of yourself. Stay on top of your pain meds. Eat. Take a shower. Get some fresh air. Sleep. You need it—physically and emotionally.

In the most difficult moments, remember that you are not alone. Your family and friends are beside you. Beyond your inner circle, you're surrounded by a community of other NICU parents. There's even a NICU awareness month — it's September.

Every baby has a different story. But there's no competition for which baby is the healthiest or who has it the hardest. That's one of the NICU's hidden beauties. Everybody simply wants their baby to be OK. Whether you share stories with your NICU neighbors or keep to yourself, the other parents are there with you. They get it. And so do all the other NICU mamas who have come before you.

With all my support,

A fellow NICU mama

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When I was expecting my first child, I wanted to know everything that could possibly be in store for his first year.

I quizzed my own mom and the friends who ventured into motherhood before I did. I absorbed parenting books and articles like a sponge. I signed up for classes on childbirth, breastfeeding and even baby-led weaning. My philosophy? The more I knew, the better.

Yet, despite my best efforts, I didn't know it all. Not by a long shot. Instead, my firstborn, my husband and I had to figure it out together—day by day, challenge by challenge, triumph by triumph.

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The funny thing is that although I wanted to know it all, the surprises—those moments that were unique to us—were what made that first year so beautiful.

Of course, my research provided a helpful outline as I graduated from never having changed a diaper to conquering the newborn haze, my return to work, the milestones and the challenges. But while I did need much of that tactical knowledge, I also learned the value of following my baby's lead and trusting my gut.

I realized the importance of advice from fellow mamas, too. I vividly remember a conversation with a friend who had her first child shortly before I welcomed mine. My friend, who had already returned to work after maternity leave, encouraged me to be patient when introducing a bottle and to help my son get comfortable with taking that bottle from someone else.

Yes, from a logistical standpoint, that's great advice for any working mama. But I also took an incredibly important point from this conversation: This was less about the act of bottle-feeding itself, and more about what it represented for my peace of mind when I was away from my son.

This fellow mama encouraged me to honor my emotions and give myself permission to do what was best for my family—and that really set the tone for my whole approach to parenting. Because honestly, that was just the first of many big transitions during that first year, and each of them came with their own set of mixed emotions.

I felt proud and also strangely nostalgic as my baby seamlessly graduated to a sippy bottle.

I felt my baby's teething pain along with him and also felt confident that we could get through it with the right tools.

I felt relieved as my baby learned to self-soothe by finding his own pacifier and also sad to realize how quickly he was becoming his own person.



As I look back on everything now, some four years and two more kids later, I can't remember the exact day my son crawled, the project I tackled on my first day back at work, or even what his first word was. (It's written somewhere in a baby book!)

But I do remember how I felt with each milestone: the joy, the overwhelming love, the anxiety, the exhaustion and the sense of wonder. That truly was the greatest gift of the first year… and nothing could have prepared me for all those feelings.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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My husband and I always talked about starting a family a few years after we were married so we could truly enjoy the “newlywed” phase. But that was over before it started. I was pregnant on our wedding day. Surprise!

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