College graduation will probably be a close second, but I think the day that my sweet little preemie became a NICU grad will always be my proudest mommy moment. The early arrival of my 5-pound, 4-ounce newborn was unexpected, and I was definitely not mentally or emotionally prepared for her NICU stay. Even still, I navigated through her time there the best I could.
If I'm being completely honest, though, I was a hot mess for most of the time we spent in the NICU. Every single moment was spent at the hospital, right by my daughter's side. The majority of the time I would sit next to her, holding onto her tiny fingers or reading to her. I worried, prayed, cried, talked with doctors, waited for positive updates, and watched my preemie fight. Those days were real, raw, and seemingly never-ending.
While I heard so many reassuring and loving sentiments from family and friends during my daughter's NICU stay, I still was shocked by some of the negative comments I received from strangers and acquaintances who I shared my story with. They were comments no NICU parent ever wants to hear, no matter how innocent the intent.
- "Is she supposed to be that small?" Not everyone is educated about premature birth, but asking these types of questions to a concerned mother who just gave birth to a preemie is not the best idea. Spare us the frustration. Just google it.
- "Will she ever catch up to others her age?" My daughter is now a thriving 2-year-old who's actually taller than most other girls her age, but some preemies will have health complications that could prevent them from developing on track with others. Those parents should not have to explain that to anyone but their child.
- Making any comparison to a full-term baby. They were not born full-term, so just stop.
- "Babies need to be exposed to germs." It's true that exposing young children to germs builds their immunity. However, premature babies are an entirely different story. They are isolated from most germs for a reason.
- "I've never seen a baby that tiny!" Would you like a medal?
- "I'm so glad mine was full-term." Parents of preemies do not want to hear how relieved you are that your newborn did not need to spend time in the NICU. Period.
- "Do preemies still develop normally?" Unless you are a doctor, we probably don't want to discuss our preemie's development with you.
- "Aren't those medications bad for a newborn?" Some premature babies in the NICU are prescribed medication in order to improve their health. Unless you're that preemie's doctor, please don't be too concerned.
- "All of my children were full-term." That is amazing news, and these mothers should feel proud and fortunate. Hold off on sharing that with a mom of a child in the NICU, though.
- "Why is the baby's colouring off?" Full-term newborns experience skin changes, from the texture to the colour. Premature babies do as well, although it might not look the same.
- "At least you'll get more sleep." If it meant that my newborn was healthy and safe in her own home, I would have given up the nights I slept while she was in the NICU.
- "It's only temporary." This could easily be intended as a positive affirmation. When you have a child in the NICU, though, knowing this chapter is only temporary does not make any negative feelings or emotions disappear.
- "You're not breastfeeding?" It is possible to breastfeed your baby in the NICU, but there are a lot of reasons a preemie might not be able to. They can have trouble latching, they might need to receive milk through a feeding tube, or they simply don't have enough strength to do so. Also, it's none of your business.
- "Do you think you'll develop PTSD?" Post-traumatic stress disorder can affect mothers who have had children in the NICU. We don't want to be reminded that this could happen.
- "You're so lucky, you don't need to change her diaper!" While my daughter was in the NICU, I wish I'd gotten to change her diapers more (the nurses would usually do it), especially as a first-time mom. Even the unglamorous first moments of motherhood are sacred, changing diapers and all.