Dear Mama,

I know how you feel. You suddenly find yourself looking into that clear glass case holding your tiny newborn in the NICU, wondering, How did this happen?

You are not alone. It happened to me, too. I was unprepared and in a state of shock.

15 thoughts I had in the days that followed having my NICU baby

1. This was not part of my plan

My first son was born on time and I clearly remember walking the halls of the hospital, passing by the NICU and shuddering at the thought of my baby being in there. It was a thought that quickly passed—because, of course, I would never have to worry about having a NICU baby. My deliveries would be easy and end in healthy babies.

2. Is this my fault?

I asked myself this question often. Did I have him early because I danced in my room the night before my placental abruption? Did I eat too much gluten? Did I miss a clue? The list of self judgement goes on.

The answer is, no. It was not my fault and it is not your fault either. You did nothing wrong.

One in ten babies a year in the U.S. is born prematurely and although many medical advancements have been made to save babies born early, the numbers of babies born prematurely in the U.S. have unfortunately increased in the last year. Much more research needs to be done, and usually the doctors will not be able to tell you exactly why this happened to you.

3. I’m scared

This is to be expected. It is a terrifying experience and I am truly sorry that you have to endure this. You will get through it, I promise.

4. I’m angry

I understand how you feel. You feel like everyone else outside of the NICU on the labor and delivery floor is smiling and laughing and taking home their healthy newborn. An overwhelming feeling of anger and helplessness can take over when we feel powerless and afraid. I remember constantly flipping between feeling terrified and angry that this happened.

5. Will my baby live?

My biggest fear was that I would lose my precious angel. From the second you are told you will have your baby early, you will have to deal with a roller coaster of emotions—the scariest being that you don’t know what to expect.

All I can say is, I have bonded with many NICU mamas since our experience, and most of them (like myself) walked out of the hospital with a healthy miracle baby. The doctors and nurses in the NICU are incredible and your baby is in good hands.

6. I detest the NICU.

I love the NICU now, but didn’t always. The NICU is scary and no one will blame you for not loving this experience. The sounds of alarms and ventilators may haunt you for months after.

You did not want your baby to end up here and might even hate the NICU, since you don’t know how your baby’s story will end. But I can assure you that you will love at least one nurse or doctor who ends up caring for, loving and nurturing your baby back to health. And years after, you will remember that more than anything else.

7. I want to fast forward time.

I dreamt of the day my baby would be three and the NICU would be a distant memory.

I’m there now. You will be too.

8. I am grateful.

Of course anger, sadness and fear are the common emotions you will feel when experiencing something so traumatic. But I was also surprised by how happy and grateful I felt.

I was grateful for every day that my boy was alive.

I was grateful for the time I had snuggling him in the NICU.

Related: I’m a NICU nurse, and here’s what I tell parents about caring for their NICU babies

I was grateful for the NICU mama friends I made in the pumping room who I still call friends today.

I was grateful for the extraordinary doctors and nurses who knew how to care for my child and give him the strength he needed.

And mostly I was grateful for my baby, who became my little hero.

9. I wish someone would tell me that it’s going to be OK

Everything will be OK.

This is one of the hardest times you will ever face, but healing from trauma can lead to strength and joy.

10. What about me?

I need to be taken care of. Even something as simple as a mani-pedi, massage, bowl of ice cream, trashy magazines, food deliveries—absolutely anything to feel loved and supported. Don’t be afraid to ask for the help you need and deserve.

You’re scared and need five minutes to not think about the fact that your baby is in the NICU. Send this article to your family and friends and let them know that you need support.

11. At least I can sleep

OK this experience is awful but on the bright side, you can sleep through the night while your baby is being cared for in the hospital. Of course you would rather that he could be with you, but you really do need all the rest you can get right now so your body and mind can heal from your unexpected birth experience.

12. All I do is pump

I know. The pump is your BFF right now. It may feel like all you do is pump when you’re not with your baby.

Pump as often as you can! At some point sooner than you realize, they will start eating ferociously and it feels so good to have that milk stored up for them.

13. My baby is my hero

I read a quote once about being a parent of a preemie that summed it up perfectly.

“Some days I am very uncertain if I was made for this. Then I remember, you were made just for me. If you can do it, then there is no need to have my head down.”

14. I’m stronger than I thought


15. I will never, ever be the same

You’ve got this, mama.

With love,

A survivor and fellow NICU mama

A version of this post was published September 21, 2017. It has been updated.