This isn’t how you imagined it. There was supposed to be a tree with twinkly lights and gifts lovingly placed underneath. There were plans for a big family gathering with intentions to indulge in cookies and eggnog. The day was going to end with matching Christmas pajamas and “It’s a Wonderful Life” by the fire.

But instead, you are here. Spending your holidays in the hospital. Confined by white, sterile walls. Teams adorned in scrubs surround you as you chew on a stale cafeteria cookie and watch your child under a blanket of wires.

Related: To the mom who feels fragile this holiday season

This is far from the picturesque holiday you had envisioned, from the celebrations flooding your newsfeed. 

Watching the world feel joyful while you experience some of the most painful days of your life is overwhelming. You feel more alone than you have ever felt—altogether forgotten by anyone outside of those four walls. It can seem as though no one understands, as though no one can relate to this new, all-consuming agony. 

But mama, I do. I understand.

Two years ago, I was you—spending the most wonderful time of the year watching monitors, making medical decisions and longing to be anywhere else.

I started Christmas morning by scrubbing into a secure unit and visiting my six-day-old baby in the NICU. Needing treatment for jaundice, he was completely inaccessible to me as he healed under bright blue lights. Staging a “Baby’s First Christmas” ornament next to him for a picture in his Panda Warmer, I could not help but feel that it was all so unfair. 

This was not how my baby should be spending his first Christmas. There was supposed to be a cute, if not slightly ridiculous, outfit and family photos by an overcrowded tree. His stocking was supposed to be hung with an absurd amount of presents waiting for us to open. 

Related: 15 keepsake ornaments to celebrate your baby’s first Christmas

Instead, I was holding his hand, watching him fight for his life through a ventilator as we spent our holidays in the hospital.

Releasing your expectations, whether it’s your first Christmas with your baby or your seventeenth, is heartbreaking. You waited all year for this day—and it’s nothing like you imagined. Now, you are suddenly and very harshly being forced to let go of what could have been and embrace what is. 

This season is temporary. Soon you won’t be spending your holidays in the hospital. You will be home.

Related: Grieving during the holidays: 3 expert tips for navigating a loaded time of year

While it may feel as though you have been forgotten, I want you to know that you are not alone.

I am thinking of you as you mourn your Christmas traditions and grieve your celebrations.

I am validating you as you navigate unwanted feelings of jealousy and wade through the holiday-induced envy of matching pajamas and seasonal dresswear.

I am supporting you as you withdraw from the festivities and leave the “Merry Christmas” messages unread.

I am holding you close as you navigate the nightmare that has become your reality and manage circumstances that are the very definition of unfair. 

I am sending you love as you unwrap medical diagnoses instead of gifts, and watch vital signs instead of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

Related: 17 kid-friendly Christmas movies the entire family can snuggle up to

Even as you wade through these challenges, I hope you know that you are a warrior. You are doing things that a mama should never have to do—and I am so proud of you. 

You may not want to be here, but please know you are exactly where you need to be—comforting a sweet, sick child while actively proving that holiday magic exists everywhere. Even in a hospital bed. 

These days are dark, but know they are not forever. This season is temporary. Soon you won’t be spending your holidays in the hospital. You will be home, celebrating with the traditions you so dearly missed. You will be home, indulging in cookies that were not overdone and snuggling in pajamas far cozier than a gown. Your days are coming, mama. I promise.

Until then, I am holding you close, dreaming with you of the days ahead—days that will bring far more joy than a Christmas celebration ever could.

Motherly Stories are first person, 500-1000 word stories, reflecting on the insights you’ve experienced in motherhood—and the wisdom you’ve gained along the way. They also help other women realize they’re not alone. Motherly Stories don’t judge. Instead, they inspire other mamas with stories of meaning, hope and a realization that “you’ve got this.” If you have a story, please submit it here: