If you’ve read our story, you know I left my daughter every night for the first 4 months of her little life while NICU nurses cared for her. Even though she was our first and I didn’t know any different, it was still one of the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The guilt of leaving weighed on me, night after night, day after day…
Our new reality
Because Amelia was born so premature, we built a cocoon around her for many months. She was discharged from the NICU on December 6, 2017 and came home on oxygen. Because of oxygen tubes and monitor wires, it was cumbersome to take her out, and on top of that, she had a weakened immune system during a horrible flu season. So, for the next 5 months, she only left the house for appointments. On the rare occasions when I left her, it was in the care of one of four people, including her dad. Even though I’m grateful I was able to be home with her and keep her healthy and safe, I realize I was prolonging the inevitable, leaving her in childcare. In those early months, the thought of childcare just seemed so far away, so I chose to embrace where we were in life.
As it happens, time flew by. We celebrated her first birthday and shortly after, she was knocking milestones out of the park. Yes, she’s behind developmentally, but it became clear quickly that she’d be making her own way, catching up before too long. We spent the summer and fall of 2018 making up for lost time with playdates and outings, however we continued to keep her out of childcare at church or the gym. When winter rolled around again, we retreated and laid low, opting to keep her healthy so she could get bigger and stronger. Our cocoon worked well for another season!
In the spring of 2019, her pulmonologist signed off on discontinuing oxygen at night, meaning she would completely tube-free, and we were elated. It was the invisible finish line we’d be striving for for 16 months without realizing it. Nothing would stop us now! Even with this change, we were careful to not over stimulate her body, specifically her immune system. While we increased our activities outside the house and guests in our house, we continued to refrain from childcare. However, our new found freedom helped me feel more “normal” as a SAHM. And “normal” felt good.
Excuses serve those who make them
At some point before she was off oxygen, Amelia reached that stage where she wouldn’t sit nicely through church services with us, so we started staying home on Sundays, watching church online. Then, it was winter and of course we needed to protect her, which meant avoiding crowds. Then, my husband got busy at work and, since I was training for a half marathon, my only chance for long runs was Sunday mornings (I’m very picky about when I’ll run, I know I know…). All leading to our continued online viewing of church.
At the time, I didn’t realize our continued efforts to protect Amelia from all the possible sicknesses that could truly be devastating to her little body was really a defense for me. I wasn’t ready to turn her over to just anyone. I waited 3 days to hold her, 10 weeks to pick her up without permission, 4 months to bring her home. Sharing her with the world was so difficult because the shiny and new hadn’t worn off. So yes, we kept her out of childcare to protect her, but ultimately, I was also protecting my heart.
Once the half marathon was over, I’d run out of excuses. All I could say is, “She’s never been in childcare and I’m not ready for that.” Notice I said “I’m” not ready. Momma isn’t ready. My husband decided it was time to rip off that band-aid. I woke up early that Sunday morning and enjoyed some quiet time. I texted with another mom who could explain the childcare process at our church. (If you don’t know this about me, I don’t do new things/things I’ve never done before very well.) By the end of that early morning time, I felt more ready.
The Help Desk at church was so, well, helpful. The volunteer showed us our options for childcare rooms. You see, even though Amelia is 22 months, she’s not quite walking. That being the case, I wasn’t sure which level/room would be the best fit. As we peeked in two different rooms and chatted with the staff, I felt nudged to the nursery, hoping it’d be less overwhelming for her. My heart raced as we handed her over to the young staff. They seemed gentle, kind and happy to be there. All the characteristics you want in a person watching your child. The staff didn’t know our story. They didn’t know I’d never left my baby girl in the hands of strangers. These sweet caretakers had no idea the significance of what was happening.
In that moment, as I said goodbye and watched my baby girl go with these strangers, excitedly watching other little ones, my heart broke. Since the day she came home to live with us almost 18 months ago, I’ve never left her with someone I didn’t know extremely well. Not once. It occurred to me that my fellow mommas have been doing this for months at this point, but I have not.
You see, the first night of her life she was taken from me immediately to be given a chance at life. I saw her later for a few moments when I placed my hand on her foot and said “Hi”. Then, I left her in the care of her nurses who, although they eventually became like family, were strangers to us that night. There was no other option; it had to be this way. For the following 126 days, I got to know these people. I learned to trust them as they cared for our baby girl and shared in the responsibilities of mothering Amelia.
When she came home, she was all mine. I didn’t want help, I didn’t want a break. I just wanted to be the momma and give her everything. Honestly, I wouldn’t change what I did by keeping her in my care continuously. She stayed healthy and I learned to be a mom, two things I was very concerned about for us. I know enough though, to know I can’t hold on to her forever. That’s not how the parenting game works. At some point they go off and create their own little lives. I have no doubt that first day in church childcare was epic for my little social butterfly. I’m sure she laughed and shared and made her silly faces. She was even invited back!
Letting Go Process
Amelia and I had very different experiences that first service apart. For her, it was hopefully thrilling, but for her momma, old feelings came rushing back. The feelings of leaving the hospital and not being able to care for her and protect her. I stood in worship, tears rolling down my face. Although I knew it’d be hard, there’s no head knowledge that could have prepared my heart for the emotions I felt. So I let the feelings come as I felt the love of my Father embracing me.
A wise mom once told me, this whole mom thing is a constant letting go process. My letting go started earlier then it should for any mom. For the past year and a half, I hit the “pause” button, in a sense. Now I’m back in the game, friends. I’m excited for my little one to make her own friends and have a life apart from me, but it’s also so hard. Whew. Even as I write about this days later, all the feelings come rushing back. I know I’m not unique in this, but it is just raw and will only get easier with time. Thank you to all of you who’ve come before me. I know you will show me how to do this as gracefully as I can.