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The NICU is not the place you go to meet people. It's an intensive care unit, not a party. Chances are, if you're here, it's a high-pressure situation. The background noise is beeps and buzzes and the whooshing of air in and out of ventilators. There's a clicking, too, a “tck, tck, tck" of the feeding, pumping, counting down the milliliters of milk and vitamins dripping down tubes and into bellies.

This is not the soundtrack for small talk.

And yet, when my son, born prematurely at 30 weeks, was one month into his NICU resort stay and clearly thinking he was on sabbatical and would return shortly to the womb, I met the woman who would become my best friend. I met her on the worst day of my life.

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Brain scans are funny. Dots on black and white and gray delineate good from bad, solid from liquid, tissue from bone. On the day in question, my son had a 30-day brain scan, unbeknownst to us. Apparently, this is standard procedure. (Over the next few months—how long it took us to graduate—we would come to learn all the procedures much better than we would have liked.)

It was a sunny and warm day in April, the kind that makes all the kids in all the classrooms stare out the window and wish for summer. Of course, inside the NICU the weather is irrelevant behind tinted windows and fluorescent lighting. But I carried the mood in with me, a spring breeze along with my pumped milk in its little cooler.

The nurse in my son's room was new. They always were. I never could learn them all. She informed me that the head of the NICU would like to see me. She'd page him, she said. And then she looked at me three seconds longer than was normal. That's how I knew something was up.

When he entered, the big man himself, he spoke a great many words I did not hear while pointing to gray spots on a picture of my son's brain. I looked at the scan, and then I looked at my son in my arms, awake and eyeing my like, “You, hey you, I see that milk there. What's the hold up, lady?"

And then I heard the doctor say, “periventricular leukomalacia." Eleven syllables to tell me that my child had damage in all four quadrants of his brain. Very gently, I kissed him on his head, which smelled of hand sanitizer, and handed him to the nurse so I wouldn't drop him. Then I walked out and lost it – lost all control of my body and words and thoughts. I cried and shook and tore at my clothes a little.

Hours later, I went back in and sat in the hospital-issued rocker and held my son again. We looked at each other. He sized me up with an owlish stare and then stretched and pooped, very casually, like he was The Big Lebowski and I, his bowling buddy. No biggie, man. The nurse laughed from her corner where she'd been charting stats. We got to talking.

Five years later, this nurse is in my contacts under “family." She has a husband and a house and a dog and a mother, and I've seen it all. It sounds weird to refer to your “best friend" when in your 30s, like you're one mall trip away from buying matching necklaces at Claire's. But she is.

After we came home from the NICU, finally, she called to check in. Nobody actually uses the numbers they swap on the way out the door, but she did. She came over a week later. And she's been coming over ever since, swapping quips and bringing iced coffee and all the good magazines for the pool.

We've celebrated birthdays and Thanksgivings and drunk wine at vineyards and made our husbands watch Katherine Hepburn flicks. She's the one I call when I'm losing my mind over insurance battles with my son's wheelchair or swim therapy. She's also the one I call when I watch the newest episode of “Game of Thrones."

She's my person. She's my best friend. She would roll her eyes at this. This is why we work.

You don't expect to make new friends at my age. You've got your standard go-tos locked in, the ones that don't require effort. You've already dated and wooed them. But I wooed a new one. I met the best friend I'll ever have on the worst day of my life, which I guess moves it up a notch.

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.

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


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