Before you say anything, I know mum guilt is a thing. Every mum has felt it, and it never goes away, I’m sure.
I’ve got mum guilt.
Actually, I’ve got NICU mum guilt, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit mum guilt. Its a different type of mum guilt you see, it’s in addition to the usual mum guilt.
Leaving Clara every night is tough – I’m not there to tuck her in, or pick her up and rock her if she’s unsettled. I’m sure she doesn’t mind who comforts her, as long as someone does, but I mind. That person should be me.
I’m not there when Clara cries in the night, I’m not always there to change her nappy, and I can’t give her the milk she desperately wants. Mothers are meant to comfort, clean, and feed their baby but when your baby is in NICU it’s not always possible to do that.
Waking up at home in the morning without Clara is tough. Our bed is still pushed against the wall to make space for the Next To Me cot we’ll now never need as Clara will be too big for it by the time she comes home. But it feels wrong to move it back.
There’s a sense of rush in the morning – every extra minute I spend at home is a minute away from my little girl. I don’t get to bed until gone midnight by the time we get home, eat dinner, and I express milk for her to have in the future. When I go to bed, I think of Clara, wondering what she’s doing or how she’s sleeping, and I tell her out loud that I love her. Already, I can’t wait to wake up and go back to see her.
If I get to the hospital later than breakfast time, I worry she thinks I may not turn up at all. I worry she may be feeling poorly and I’m not there to know and comfort her.
Some may say I should make the most of life right now. Having 24/7 care and medical support, no night feeds to wake up for or dirty nappies to clean up… I could stay home all day watching TV and sleep all night if I wanted! But of course I could never do that. I might not be having a ‘normal’ start to life with Clara, but she’s still my baby. I don’t want to miss a thing.
And that’s what makes it hard to find a routine. I know I should spend more time on me by eating and sleeping properly, or the house by washing and cleaning. But I feel guilty wasting those precious hours away from Clara. Because we were previously told her days were likely to be limited, I’ve been so careful to make the most of every minute we can have with her. As a result having no routine, just being up at the hospital as long as possible, has become the routine. It’s our ‘normal’.
Although I’m not sure ‘normal’ is something we should consider anymore. Our normal is different, it’s a NICU normal.
It’s tough adapting to life as a NICU mum but I’m okay with that. We didn’t expect or plan for this, and that’s what’s thrown me. I love a plan, a list, a time line. But I love Clara more.
I know all new mums have their struggles, NICU mum guilt is mine.