We haven’t met, but we have both been in the same place. Not a place in the literal or geographic sense, but a place of true, raw emotion. Having a child in the hospital is always an unbearably difficult experience, but to have your child hospitalized for the holidays makes it that much harder. It is during this winter season that everyone seems to be feeling joyful and spreading cheer, while you feel alone, afraid, and disconnected from the world. I have felt your pain. I have been there, too.
My first baby was born two weeks before her due date on Christmas Eve. Although we had known our baby girl would be born with medical issues, we would not know exactly how things would play out until after she was born. We were prepped and informed of the various possibilities that could occur, but all the knowledge in the world could not have prepared us for the devastating reality.
Not long after her birth, we were told that our baby would be immediately transferred to the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit in a children’s hospital over an hour away. I struggle to find words powerful enough to describe how I felt that day. Scared. Helpless. Lost. Traumatized. Wounded (both literally and figuratively). And on Christmas Eve. I wondered how Christmas — the holiday that had brought me so much happiness throughout my life — could ever be the same.
The hospital discharged me earlier than planned so I could be with my baby girl. It was Christmas morning and I had no gifts for her. There were no ornaments announcing “Baby’s First Christmas.” There would be no special Christmas outfit, as the ventilator, tubes, and wires wouldn’t allow it.
Upon arriving, I was filled with fear and anxiety. My heart was broken. I was broken. As I waited to enter the CICU to see my baby, I encountered another mother doing the same. My eyes immediately overflowed with tears. She gave me a sincere and empathetic look and said only, “I know.”
Just hearing her acknowledging my feelings meant so much. She knew. That was all that needed to be said. She just knew. So, mama, I want to tell you now that I know …
I know how you are feeling even if you can’t express it yet.
I know that you will long to be home with your baby on this holiday, as you do every single day.
I know you will sit in the sterile hospital room where time stands still, imagining your family and friends laughing together and exchanging gifts as the sun goes down.
I know your mind will wander to picture their home-cooked family dinner, while you eat a bland cafeteria meal.
Oh, how I know. This experience is difficult, and nothing anyone can say will change that fact. However, I need you to know that you can do this. Please reach out to others when you need comfort. Most people want to be supportive, but don’t know how. I was lucky to have my husband and our parents with us that Christmas Day. It made all the difference.
And if you can, bring a little bit of home with you. Being in the hospital can feel isolating. So decorate your baby’s room or crib, bring a special holiday blanket for them, or set up a table top Christmas tree or menorah. The little things will help you feel connected.
Please don’t forget to care for yourself this holiday season, too. I know it sounds cliché, but it is so important. I remember not wanting to do anything but sit by my daughter’s isolette. I had no appetite and had to force myself to eat. You have to eat! And make sure you have time to rest. You cannot run on empty. Although these things sound like common sense, you and I both know how difficult they can be. Try to do something that is comforting to you every once in a while, like taking a walk or listening to music. It will help you stay healthy and grounded during a time when you feel like things are out of control.
Above all, please remember you are not alone this holiday season. You are not forgotten. You are not invisible. Please know that I see you. I understand.
Hang in there, mama. You are stronger than you think. I tell you this because, I know.
A Mom Who Has Been There, TooMore On