Parents with babies in the NICU have such a weariness about them. It's not just the lack of sleep; it's the constant stress. All the worry about all the things worth worrying about. Every parent has such a fascinating story. Each parent comes from a different place in life to this common ground that we all share. It doesn't matter your education, your socio-economic status, your birthplace, your color, your religion, your marital status, your gender. We are all NICU parents. We all have a long haul ahead of us. We all have baggage that we can't seem to leave behind. And we stand in the middle of the emotionally-draining, frightening, lonely NICU, and we wonder if we'll ever make it out of here. And not just here, as in the NICU, but here as in the emotional space where walking this road strands you. Having a baby in the NICU challenges everything you believe, everything you dreamed, and everything you love. It turns you inside out. Your pain is written all over your face. You feel as if people on the street must pass you by and feel sorry for you. They have to know that you're walking around without your heart, the one you left by your baby's bedside.
I remember so vividly that hollowness, that feeling of despair, that antsy desire to be anywhere but here and nowhere but here all at the very same time. Nothing is right in the world, and nothing is the same. Everyone has a different piece of advice, but none of them sound like what you need to hear. You are tied in knots, fit to be tied, tied down, ties flapping in the wind, hogtied. You don't even know what you are. One minute you think you have all this heaviness under control, and the next minute you're in the bathroom, balling your eyes out. You freeze people out, to save yourself from explaining. You wall yourself up, to hold it all in.
I wish it were socially acceptable for me go up to these NICU parents and hug them. I wish it were okay for me to kiss them on the cheeks. I have to maintain a distance, so they don't think I'm crazy, but I want to give them some warmth to take with them throughout their cold days. I want them to know that they are not alone. No matter who you are, being a preemie parent is a test in emotional endurance. We all have good days and bad days, and then we wake up the next day to keep going for those tiny babies.
The help I can offer feels so minute compared to the depth of their pain. I wish I could do more.