On a walk through the NICU to visit my precious niece, I pass maybe twenty rooms. They’re all filled. I see so few parents. “Some babies are here for six months,” the desk lady tells me, “Their parents have to go back to work to keep insurance and pay for all of the medical expenses.” My eyes well with tears. I want to visit all of them.
The walk is quiet. My niece is quiet as I gaze at her. Every baby has every need perfectly met in their incubators that mimic the womb, but that’s not why it’s quiet. No, it’s something else, something that’s sitting too heavily on my heart not to share:
Nobody here is strong enough to cry.
These NICU parents didn’t get to hear that first cry that I heard from behind the blue curtain. The cry that was the first sign of life outside the womb for our first little guy. It was the cry that told me I’m officially a mommy. It was the cry that prompted his dad to lock eyes with mine and cry the most joyful tears together.
It was another cry that told me I could stop pushing now. The work was done and the snuggles could start. My second little guy had arrived and was breathing and mine to love.
But over time and with familiarity, it’s the cry that interrupts my sleep three times a night for feedings. It’s the fuss that tells me he didn’t want to be put down just yet. That whimper that says stop what you’re doing and meet my needs. The big tears that fall when someone got hurt. The whines that I resent more than I cherish these days. I hear a cry and now my first reaction is to groan and ask WHAT NOW?
But the crying I’ve somehow learned to dread is something any one of these NICU parents would give anything to hear from their precious child. A cry: signaling the strength and health to tell a parent that a need is present. It’s a promise of life. Precious is the very breath each of these NICU babies are taking. Some of them haven’t been cradled in their mother’s arms yet. Some of them have gone days without seeing a familiar face. Some of them will never get to leave the hospital. All of them have somebody aching for them to pull through, to come home, and to cry at any time of day or night for any purpose. All of them are loved and each one of their lives is precious and purposeful.
I left the NICU humbled. I left the NICU thankful for the cries I hear daily. Yes those cries mean work, but it’s the best work, the kind of work that matters most in this world. I left the NICU prayerful. For the many parents longing for the very things I take for granted: breath, heartbeats, life, and health. I don’t deserve them any more than they do. But I do have them in my children, so I’ll honor the twenty or so babies I passed in the NICU by cherishing these signs of life even when it’s difficult.
To all of the NICU parents in the world, you are heroes. My heart aches for you to bring your little one home soon. Press on and keep loving. God bless you and your parenting journey. <3