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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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Motherhood is a practice in learning, growing and loving more than you ever thought possible. Even as a "veteran" mama of four young sons and one newly adopted teenager, Jalyssa Richardson enthusiastically adapts to whatever any given day has in store—a skill she says she's refined through the years.

Here's what just one day in her life looks like:


Jalyssa says she learned to embrace agility throughout her motherhood journey. Here's more from this incredible mama of five boys.

What is the most challenging part of your day as a mom of five?

Time management! I want to meet each of the boys' individual needs—plus show up for myself—but I often feel like someone gets overlooked.

What's the best part of being a mom of five?

The little moments of love. The hugs, the kisses, the cuddles, the smiles... they all serve as little reminders that I am blessed and I'm doing okay.

Are there misconceptions about raising boys?

There are so many misconceptions about raising boys. I think the biggest one is that boys don't have many emotions and they're just so active all the time. My boys display many emotions and they also love to be sweet and cuddly a lot of the time.

What do you think would surprise people the most about being a mom of five?

How much I enjoy it. I never knew I wanted to be a mom until I was pregnant with my first. My desire only grew and the numbers did! I am surprised with every single baby as my capacity to love and nurture grows. It's incredible.

How do you create balance and make time for yourself?

Balance for me looks like intentional planning and scheduling because I never want my boys to feel like they aren't my first priority, but it is extremely difficult. What I try to do is not fit it all into one day. I have work days because motherhood is my first priority. I fit in segments of self-care after the kids' bedtime so I don't grow weary.

What's the biggest lesson you have learned from motherhood?

I have learned that sacrifice is actually beautiful. I was terrified of the selflessness motherhood would require, but I've grown so much through the sacrifice. There is nothing better than living for something bigger than myself.

When did you first feel like a mom? How has your motherhood evolved?

I first felt like a mom when I was pregnant with my first son and I intentionally chose to change my eating habits so my body could be strong and healthy for him. I didn't have to think twice—I just did what I thought would be best for him. That decision being so effortless made me realize I was made for motherhood.

My perspective has changed with each baby as I've realized motherhood doesn't have to be one-size-fits-all. With my first son, I was a by-the-book mama and it was so stressful. With each baby, I have felt more freedom and it has made motherhood so much more beautiful. I have evolved into the mother that they need, I am perfect for these boys.

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