The overwhelming feeling of worry, sadness, and guilt when you walk through those NICU doors for the first time and every time after that.
The beeping machines.
The medical jargon.
The countless number of wires, tubes, and machines attached to such a tiny human.
The sterile smell.
The fear and anxiety.
The environment you may have heard of, but never really knew what went on inside.
The emptiness when you are discharged from the hospital and have to leave your baby behind.
The unknown of every minute of every day.
The fact that you want to find joy, hope, and excitement in your new baby but you're watching them fight for their life.
The constant wonder if there will be a light at the end of the tunnel.
The way your heart races every time you meet with the care team to hear what the day holds.
The incredible feeling of both joy and fear when you hold your baby for the first time, sometimes days or weeks later.
The constant guilt and frustration.
The way your heartaches because you can't hold your baby whenever you want to and have to look at them through a clear box.
The fact that you have so many questions that you don't have any answers to.
The lonely feeling at 2:00 am when you have to wake up to pump but your baby isn't next to you.
The way you cling to your phone when you aren't there but you also don't want the phone to ring because a phone call can mean bad news.
The way your stomach drops, a lump forms in your throat, your heart skips a beat and your mind goes blank when you hear a diagnosis, a procedure needed, or the likelihood of survival.
The soft smile while fighting back tears when your baby hits milestones, but not the milestones we think of when you bring a baby home… the milestones of your tiny but mighty warrior hitting 2 pounds, 3 pounds, off phototherapy, off CPAP, first bottle (which may be just 5 mls), first outfit because you couldn't dress them before, the first time you get to do skin on skin... every tiny but huge milestone.
Some parents bring their children home on oxygen, feeding tubes, trachs, or no medical equipment at all.
Some parents never get to bring their child home.
This is NICU parenthood.