Updated: Apr 16
I sensed that something was wrong with my 2nd pregnancy, right from the beginning. I would experience strange cramping at random times, I spotted at times, I wouldn’t feel her moving as often--I just knew. Every time I felt that panic, I rushed to the doctor. Every doctor that I saw told me that “everything was fine”. Twenty-eight weeks in, I began having contractions. Most of that day, I was in denial. The day before I spent with the OB/GYN with them again telling me “everything looked fine.” After all those doctor visits, I thought I was just overreacting. I told myself the cramping was going to go away with time. Denial. As the day rode on, my contractions increased with intensity and frequency. We finally rushed to the hospital. Two hours later, my little girl was born.
Seventy-three is a number that will always be with me. Seventy-three is the number of days I had to leave my daughter in the NICU. For 73 days, guilt riddled my body night and day; I blamed myself like many mothers do. Why did I think I could have a child when I was over 40? I shouldn’t have played volleyball when pregnant. I shouldn’t have worked so many hours. I shouldn’t have drank coffee--the list was endless. I didn’t stop crying for the first two weeks of her life; even though, the NICU nurses told me she was strong. Weighing 3lbs at birth gave her an advantage, they said. Weighing 3lbs at 29 weeks was a miracle, they said. I was one of the lucky ones.
The NICU was lined with minuscule creatures. Mothers standing over their incubators, inserting arms into suction holes holding and stroking tiny hands, feeling helpless. The open unit allowed no privacy. You could hear continual beeping of all the machines fighting for the helpless. Some of the one pounders didn’t make it. Some of the 2 pounders would eventually move to cribs instead of incubators. The 3 pounders were lucky that they didn’t require c-paps that smothered their faces. The days lingered on, each filled with bits of chaos—babies, nurses, doctors and mothers all in survival mode.
Every day that I walked out of that hospital and had to leave my little girl laying there alone, with probes and needles all over her tiny little body, my insides tore apart. It’s the most unnatural feeling in the world, to leave your struggling baby in the hands of strangers. I used the long drive home to let out my tears before I transitioned to the needs of my three-year-old, waiting not so patiently.
I remember asking the NICU social worker if there was a formula for making sure your baby didn’t endure any of the ailments that premature babies suffer. I was determined that my baby would be healthy and not have limited brain functioning, poor eyesight or lifelong heart problems. She kindly and gently stated that taking care of my needs and being calm would be all that my daughter needed. As a therapist myself, I knew that she was right. I swallowed my fear of medication, spoke to my doctor about my symptoms and started a medication that helped ease my anxiety and depression. I returned to therapy myself to find support and process the trauma of delivering a premature baby. I also made up my own personal formula for healing. I held my daughter, kangaroo style, for a minimum of three hours a day. Five years later, she has grown into a smart, independent, thoughtful, healthy, amazing daughter.
I decided to share this personal experience to reach out to other mothers. I want to let women know that guilt is a useless emotion that keeps us from shining. Guilt devours our energy, keeping us trapped in a cycle of darkness. Acceptance seems so foreign during difficult times, but finding acceptance, in the birth of a premature or sick baby, enriches our lives and allows us the peace that we deserve.
I’m not sure why the universe/god decided that my girl was to come into this world early. Sometimes I think it was because I didn’t have a good relationship with my mother, and maybe the thought that I could’ve lost her will always keep me connected—keep me self-aware, not to take my daughter for granted. I am grateful today for my experience with the NICU. My thoughts and prayers are with mothers still in the trenches. I hope that you can find hope, light and acceptance, leaving guilt far behind. Reach out to your supports, find new supports; it’s okay to ask for help.
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Kristen Dammer believes in addressing the whole health needs of you as a person, and her dedication, creativity, and flexibility as a therapist are her greatest strengths. Her holistic approach to anxiety, grief and trauma helps you feel in control and creates a welcoming environment for you to share your vulnerabilities, fears, and experiences. She is trained in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and uses it to treat anxiety and trauma. Follow Catalyss Counseling on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.