I’m a young mom.
I’m a young NICU mom of a premature baby.
When I say those two sentences, they probably don’t paint the same picture in your head.
Being a NICU mom brought so many different variables into motherhood.
I didn’t get pushed out in a wheelchair with my balloons floating from their gift bags – while the father of my child walked next to me with the car seat.
They didn’t help me get in the backseat of the car. And I didn’t ride off staring at my baby, imaging the new life we were about to live.
I left the hospital with everything that reminded me of my hospital stay – the cute stuffed animals and gifts everyone brought… But none of that mattered.
I left empty handed with no baby in the car seat, and I stared out the window thinking of the next time I’d get to see him, and worrying about his future.
I woke up every single morning and didn’t hold my baby. I grabbed my phone to call and see what changes they made in rounds, and how he did through the night.
I got questioned every single day by family and friends, “When is the baby coming home?!” And all I could say was, “Hopefully soon!” And I paired that with a big smile, all the while knowing he had so many more milestones to hit.
I stared at a perfectly put together nursery, with a perfectly empty crib, just imagining what it would be like to have my baby home.
I put together something new for the baby everyday – like the stroller, the swing, the bouncer – just to make the time go by.
I reorganized the closet 50,000 times just so I could go through all the little baby clothes just one more time.
I planned my day around when the baby ate, so I was able to make it to the hospital to do the hands-on-care.
I was reminded every single day, by every nurse and every doctor, how great of a mother I was. And I smiled back and said, “Thank you,” even though I felt like everything I was doing wasn’t good enough.
I became secretly and painfully jealous of every mother and baby I saw come and go from the NICU.
I became more than a mother. I became my baby’s personalized mother, nurse, doctor, and angel all-in-one. Because – let’s face it – we all knew our baby’s blood count, bilirubin, co2, sodium, and the results to every other lab, x-ray, or exam they could possibly do.
I got to a point where I was scared to even ASK if they have an idea of when my baby would be able to leave. My hopes had been crushed so many other times with the thought of bringing him home.
I waited so long for that one moment when I would be able to be in a room alone with my own baby – no other babies next to us, or other mothers or nurses or doctors- just me and my baby.
My baby and I became so strong and proud of each other from this experience.
I was grateful for every single obstacle God had given me, because eventually he did get out… and eventually everything was okay… and eventually we were HOME.
For this, I prayed.
My name is Hailey. I’m 22 years old, born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. I delivered my first and only son when I was 27 weeks pregnant. Zaire King Jernigan weighed 1lb 9oz and was 12 inches long when he was born. After 150 long days in the NICU, as terrified and excited as I was, I was able to take my NICU warrior home.