Birthdays for NICU families are often bittersweet.
As the big day approaches, feelings of excitement and joy are often mixed with some disappointment and grief.
Although are thrilled that you made it to a day you once considered might never come, you also reflect on the past year of your life and realize that things did not go as you planned.
You did not know the first few days, weeks, or months of your child's life would be spent inside a hospital longing for that journey to be over. You probably did not know that once you were discharged that you would spend so much time in and out of doctor's appointments. You constantly hoped to not have your child undergo developmental delays and worry if they are growing like they should.
But seeing their smile and realizing just how far your miracle has come changes those feelings from disappointment to gratitude.
I will never forget celebrating our twin daughters’ first birthday. We combined the day with their baptism because we skipped large gatherings to avoid getting sick and missed the opportunity when they were first born, so all of our family and the godparents were joining us for the blessed birthday party!
The night before we were setting up the decorations. I had two long strands filled with photos of both of them. There was a photo for each month highlighting their major milestones. Between these two stands hung a clothesline of onesies showing their sizes as they grew that year. As I saw the major size difference in clothing I was shocked. I kept thinking “Were our babies really that small?” I felt so disappointed that their beginning was anything but picture perfect.
My husband reminded me to look further down the line to see just how far they had come since then! Our girls were fighters, and these miracles were thriving! He was right and I wrote them a letter to remind them of how strong they are in hopes they read it when they need encouragement.
The next day, during the party, my husband made a speech (he is not the speech giving kind, but he thought it was necessary). He thanked every person who showed up for us that first year and got a little choked up when realizing that we finally made it to their birthday! I thought it was just me who felt that heavy load lift off my shoulders when the day arrived and in hearing him, I realized he was holding onto that grief as well. The whole time our girls were oblivious to this grief as they were clapping, grinning, tasting cake, and loving every minute of attention. It was a joyous day!
I am writing this as our girls’ SEVENTH birthday approaches! At times, I still get those heavy feelings, but I am noticing that those feelings are fading and are being replaced with new memories. We are living the special moments that I prayed so hard for when they were in the NICU.
It is so important to take a moment and rejoice in the little victories. Whether you are 7 days in, or 7 years in, know that it is ok to feel all of the feelings as you reflect on their birthday and that you are not alone!
Tips for NICU Graduates’ Birthdays:
-Acknowledge all of the feelings!
-Reflect on the past.
-Write a letter to your baby.
-See their progression through photos, clothing, or even diaper sizes!
-Make a memory box.
-Raise awareness and share your story!
-Give Back to your local NICU or through a NICU organization like Reading Through the NICU! (Book donations are our favorite!)
-Know that you are doing great!