Frozen in the NICU

Time is such a funny thing. We all experience it differently depending on what’s going on in our lives, and yet, a day or week or year are all the exact same for us all.

Time flies when you’re having fun, but when you’re in the middle of a 60 second plank, it’s the longest 60 seconds of your life.

You find out you’re having a baby and time can’t slow down enough for you to get everything prepared. The weeks become months, and then before you it, it’s baby time!

At least, that’s how it should happen.

“Your baby is coming today; right now.”

It’s an exciting phrase to hear when you’re close to (or passed) the 40 week mark.

It’s terrifying when you’re not even into your third trimester and the doctor is gearing up for an emergency c-section.

It’s not time.

It’s too soon.

My baby needs more time.

It’s way too early.

It can’t be time!

I can’t speak from experience because I haven’t had a baby at term, but I imagine that even mothers to full term babies get scared when it’s time for their babies to be born. The difference is, no matter how long labor is (or feels like it is), the fear is replaced with elation, joy, bliss, peace once that baby is in their arms.

When a preemie mom gives birth, that fear, dread, terror, pain doesn’t go away.

Is he okay?

Will he survive?

Is he breathing?

Where are you taking him?

I can’t hold him?

Can I just touch him?

I was able to touch my son’s hand through a little hole in his travel incubator, before he was transferred to a different hospital, better equipped it ha NICU to take care of him. Many other parents can’t even do that.

I waited one week exactly before I could hold my son and do kangaroo care. Many other parents have to wait even longer.

After being in the NICU for so long, I noticed time sort of blending together. I knew the hours had passed, because it was hands on time again or my timer went off reminding me to pump, but the world around me seemed to stop within the hospital walls.

The date on his board kept changing and moving forward, but I felt frozen in time.

Our pod-mates kept getting discharged and new ones admitted, but I felt stagnant, stationary, stuck, frozen.

In comparison, we had a fairly short NICU stay. We were discharged after 52 days, and the months of April and May in 2018 are completely lost to me.

Time stood still for me during those 52 days, and yet the world continued on around me. My friends kept going on with their lives and kept posting pictures of their families and pets and activities, because time hadn’t stopped for them like it had for me.

It’s an odd sensation, feeling stuck in place while everyone else moves on with their lives. Time lost its meaning for me, and I was only living for that minute, that moment, that second. Other people were making plans for their future and I could hardly process what was happening in my present.

In the NICU, time stands still. It’s like a little time warp that holds you prisoner and ages you while the rest of the world carries on as normal.

Then, finally discharge day is upon you and you think that surely time will begin moving normally again.

“Oh wow, he wasn’t in for very long considering he was so early!”

True, our son came home before his due date, and yes he did very well in the NICU other than his PICC line leak, but those 52 days felt like 52 years to me.

The problem is, while you were stuck in place, everyone else kept moving, kept advancing, kept living. Now you’re caught in a game of chase, and time just won’t slow down. The world keeps on spinning and you’re left scrambling to get a grip, let alone catching up with everyone else.

It may feel like you’ll never catch up with everyone again, but you will.

It may feel like you’ve been left behind and forgotten, but you will start to feel normal again.

All you need is…wait for it…

Time.

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