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  • Renee Burns

A Valentine for you, fellow NICU mama

Updated: Feb 14, 2021

Holidays in general can be hard. Valentines Day can be extra exhausting especially if you’re solo. Especially if your social media is being bombarded with gooey images and confessions of love. Especially when you know what tends to lay just behind the social media façade.

I’ve always vacillated between ‘Valentines Day is a stupid made-up-Hallmark-capitalist- holiday’ to ‘Why didn’t I wake up to bouquets of flowers, while being showered by diamonds, and a bubble bath ready...’ Last year, Valentine’s day fell exactly 1 week before twin B (Eloise) was discharged from the NICU after a ‘brief’ 96-day stay. I was so excited, I bought hearts on strings from the dollar bin at Target, a HUGE balloon of a sloth (my animal motto while I was in the hospital working on staying still to keep babies in as long as possible), cards, and even found teeny-tiny preemie red knit hats. I had NEVER celebrated Valentine’s Day like that before. It was fun! We decorated their room at the hospital, got take-out, and had our first “date” with our girls. Us, sitting on the plastic, hard, hospital couch that we had become so accustomed to, with the TV on, and our girls in their cribs, wires attached, the constant beeping in the background letting us know if their oxygen levels and/or heart rates were dropping, spiking, dipping, spinning…all the noises that we also became accustomed to after the 100+ days of my hospital stay.

Fast forward a year, we’re home, we’ve lived through 2020 not only as new NICU-grad parents, but also as humans who were exposed to all the things that were “2020” in general….and I’ve noticed how much more difficult holidays have become. Maybe it’s the marker of time- the “oh this time last year Eloise has her spinal tap”, or “this time last year we were excited to plan our 1st big trip on a plane when we left the NICU”… or “this time last year our girls kept failing their car seat tests (one of the last tests that our micro preemie’s needed to pass in order to leave the NICU- it was terrifying. They had to sit in their car seats attached to their pulse oximeters and maintain their oxygen levels above a certain point…since we lived over an hour away from the hospital our girls had to sit for an hour in their seats in the hospital room…when they “failed”- meaning they were not able to get the oxygen they needed while propped up in that position- all the beeps went off).

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about all you NICU families, especially you long-term mamas, who are currently sitting in the NICU rooms, watching other families come and go, listening to the beeps, anticipating the day that they go away for you. I was SO excited this time last year to be celebrating Valentine’s day with my newest little Valentines… and even more excited to celebrate all holidays with them “unplugged on the outside”…only to find myself sitting here now, looking at the beautiful bouquet of roses my husband got me …feeling more melancholic than celebratory.

So here’s to you, my fellow NICU-mama warrior. After months of sitting next to you little (or little’s) bedside, know you have become part of group you didn’t want to be a part of, however it will become part of your identity, and you will only gain strength from this experience. Know that you are some of the toughest mother-F*er’s out there ;-) and that lots of people will never have a clue as to what you are fighting/have fought through. Know that when you need to shut your phone off, not respond to that person, not do that “holiday thing” that you’re “supposed to do”...that is OK! Above all, as isolating an experience it may feel like, especially today, know that you are NOT alone. Once you become a NICU mama grad you will find your tribe, your “Valentines”…those who can share their scary stories of the “car seat” tests, beeps, surgeries, intubations, extubations, oxygen levels, feedings tubes going in/out, in again…and experiencing all the holiday “firsts” in a hospital as a mom, sitting right there, but far away from your baby at the same time.

Take a walk, take a shower, eat that greasy piece of pizza…sleep. Allow the nurses to help. You’re doing great, and I’m glad I have all you badass NICU mama’s as my Valentine’s this year.

-XOXO- mama Burns

PS- At almost 15 months (or 12 months adjusted) weighing in 17 and 18 pounds, both my girls can now sit in a car seat just fine ;-)....eating on the other hand, is a another story for another day....



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