There is one thing a NICU parent wants to hear above all else. One phrase. One set of words that means everything.
"Your baby will be fine."
And it is the one thing that alludes you when you're in the NICU. No one can say which baby will need therapy, which one will need oxygen, which baby will go home in a few weeks and which baby will stay for six months. They can guess and speculate. But, the awesome and yet tragic part of tiny babies is that sometimes there seems to be no rhyme or reason for why one baby succeeds where another struggles.
Sure, a baby born after 28 weeks generally has a different journey than a 26-weeker. A baby at 24 or 25 weeks has a long road ahead, but so can a 32-weeker. One baby who weighs less than 2 pounds can be out of the NICU before the baby born at 5 pounds.
As a NICU parent, you want to look around at the babies going home, and you want to know one day soon that baby will be yours. But, comparing is a double-edged sword. With J, I got so frustrated about how long everything was taking him. He stayed in the NICU for an extra three weeks because he was a slow and distracted eater who could not master the NICU's feeding schedule. (He is still a slow and distracted eater...) Now, looking back, why was I so hard on him? He could breathe. He could eat. He could maintain his temperature. He had no brain bleeds. He had no illnesses. He was small, developmentally-delayed, and fantastically healthy.
I just didn't have perspective. I was still comparing him to what I had always dreamed. I'd be a champ at labor and delivery. I'd have a big, healthy baby. I'd nurse him right after he was born. Those were reflections on me and my limitations, not on J.
I think I wasted so much of J's first year grieving all my dreams. I feel so selfish, but I also realize that working through those emotions and then letting them go was probably healthier than stewing on them.
What is normal? What is fine? A NICU parent often doesn't want to hear about all the jobs they'll have after the NICU. Just the hospital stay is overwhelming enough. They are broken, and they can't imagine where they'll find the strength for any more giving. But, then those babies come home, and we find ourselves giving more than we knew we had. Therapies and doctors appointments become a new normal. The routine changes, and it is sometimes very hard. But, it doesn't mean our babies aren't worth the extra effort.
The truth is that most of our babies will be stories of miraculous achievements, of stats broken and odds defied. Most of them will amaze us with their resilience and their resolve. They will grow up to be beautiful.
They will be fine. It's just that "fine" means something different to us all, and sometimes "fine" isn't what it used to be before you had tiny babies.