Menu

I wasn't prepared for the rollercoaster of emotions having a NICU baby would bring

I had to learn how to feel all my emotions as a NICU mama

I wasn't prepared for the rollercoaster of emotions having a NICU baby would bring

Baby gifts scattered on the kitchen table, unopened and unwashed, from the baby shower two weeks prior. The crib still in pieces on the floor of an unfinished nursery, waiting for a missing part to arrive before we could assemble it. And Christmas decorations lingered throughout the house because I wanted to wait until after New Year's to take them down, hoping I could get a few maternity pictures with the glow of the lights on my almost 33-week belly.

But I wasn't home to see all that. I was in the hospital trying to wrap my head around what had just happened. Only three hours separated the time we arrived at the ER and the time we had a baby. There had been no time to process things, no time to cry.

It wasn't until the storm began to calm, and I lay alone in the bed recovering while my husband went to the NICU, that it truly hit me—we have a preemie.

I couldn't shake the overwhelming feeling of failure.

I went through every detail of my pregnancy, criticizing and blaming myself. I shouldn't have worked out so much. I should have drunk more water. I should have gotten more sleep. I shouldn't have stressed out about things.

I asked every single medical provider the same question: Was there something I did to cause this? And I would preface it with "be honest," as if I thought they would sugar coat something or tell me it wasn't my fault just to be nice.

I was angry.

Why did he have to come early? Why was my pregnancy cut short like that? I wasn't ready—we hadn't taken the maternity photos I wanted, we hadn't finished getting the house ready, we hadn't celebrated our last days as a couple.

I felt cheated: I loved being pregnant and I wanted my last seven weeks. That belly was my sidekick; we did everything together. We rocked out to '80s music in the car. We kicked butt in spin class every Saturday morning. The end of long days, while I chilled on the couch with hot apple cider, was our special time when my sweet baby would kick and play the most.

Unexpectedly that all came to a halt. And as I zipped my winter coat for the first time on the day I was discharged, I was flooded with the reality that I was leaving the hospital alone—without my belly and without my baby.

I was sad.

It is heartbreaking to have to hold your baby's tiny hands through isolette doors, fighting the urge to just grab him and wrap him tightly in your arms. When we were finally able to hold him, I would cry for hours with his tiny body against mine, looking at all the wires hanging off his small chest and the feeding tube taped across his sweet cheeks.

How did we end up here? It became difficult to see people around me with great pregnancies and healthy babies. Every night they kissed their babies goodnight and we kissed ours goodbye.

And I felt guilt, so much guilt.

There was the expected guilt where I continued to blame myself for causing my preterm labor. Then there was the unexpected guilt where I beat myself up for feeling all these things. How dare I be so selfish? It could have been worse. I should be grateful he's doing so well.

That's when I realized this might be the hardest emotion to deal with: Why couldn't I just give myself permission to feel?

My heart breaks for families that go through much worse. But at that moment, my heart was breaking for my family. I had to mourn the loss of the expected and accept the path we were put on. We got pretty good at watching the monitors, and the constant beeping eventually became unnoticeable. We celebrated different milestones and unique firsts, like the day he moved into an open crib and the day the NG tube came out.

Over the next days, weeks and months, I continued to struggle through these emotions. These feelings don't just go away when you and your baby finally walk out those NICU doors to go home. The NICU stays with you. For some, it might be a short time and for others, it may be a while before they start to heal.

As for me, I am still brought to tears thinking about everything we experienced. I don't know when or if it truly ever goes away. What I do know is that my son is now 10 months old and I am embracing every emotion as they are all part of the journey of a preemie Mom. I give myself permission, and you should too, mama.

You might also like:

10 must-have registry items that will change your life, mama

The baby gear heavy hitters that should be top of your list

Calling all mamas-to-be! It's a fundamental truth of (impending) motherhood that your prepping-for-baby To Do list can feel a mile long, but really the best way to feel organized is to sort out the most important item at the top of your list: your registry. Sure the items you choose to include will end up running the gamut from nice-to-haves to absolutely essential game-changers, but mamas in the know quickly learn one thing: Not all baby gear is created equal.

So while you can and should pepper your registry with adorable inclusions that aren't necessarily can't-live-withouts (go ahead, add 'em!), you should make sure you're ticking the boxes on those pieces of baby gear that can be absolute life savers once you're in full-blown mama mode. From car seats to bouncers and playmats, your play and travel gear will be some of the most obvious important items on your list, but so can unexpected things, like a super comfy baby carrier and a snooze-inducing white noise machine. So to help you sort through the must-have options, we turned to the holy grail of motherhood that is buybuy BABY and handpicked 10 of the very best essential pieces that will change your life, we promise.

Keep reading Show less
Our Partners

14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

Shop

10 photos to take on baby’s first day that you'll cherish forever

You'll obsess over these newborn baby pictures.

Bethany Menzel: Instagram + Blog

As you're preparing for baby's birth, we bet you're dreaming of all of the amazing photos you'll take of your precious new babe. As a professional photographer and mama, I have some tips for newborn photos you'll want to capture.

Here are the 10 photos you will want to take on baby's first day.

Keep reading Show less
Life