I repacked my bag for the third time, stuffing more mesh panties into the outside pocket. I was stalling.
Most women can’t wait to be discharged from the hospital after they give birth. They want to get home and get settled in. They want to be back in familiar surroundings and establish a routine. They want to cuddle with their baby in a bed big enough for their husbands to fit too. They want to start life as a new mom.
Not me. I looked around the room that I had just packed up. Piled neatly on the bed was my duffle bag, three heaping bouquets of congratulatory flowers, a stack of cards, and gift bags galore filled with precious newborn outfits. My husband was on his way to pick me up and take me home. I stared at the door and waited for him with dread. I didn’t want to leave.
A nurse showed up and had me sign off on my baby’s birth certificate. I reread his full name over and over—finally sure that we had given him a strong name that would carry him through life.
I tried to be friendly with the nurse, but I couldn’t hide my devastation. She sensed that I needed words of comfort.
“The good news is that you’ll probably be all healed up by the time the baby comes home,” the nurse said.
That’s when the sobbing began.
I know she meant well. I know she was trying to find the silver lining in an otherwise impossibly shitty situation. Yes, my body would eventually heal from the trauma of birth. But the only way for my heart to heal was to have my baby home with me. Until my preemie was discharged from the NICU, I would remain gutted and heartbroken.
I continued to sob as we exited the labor and delivery ward. By the time we got to the elevator, I was shaking so badly that my husband had to hold me up. I honestly don’t remember how he got me into the car. As we pulled away, I turned around and looked back at the ugly brick building—my baby’s home for an indefinite amount of time.
“This isn’t right,” I said. “He needs me. He needs his mother. I can’t leave him. I can’t.”
“He has the best care possible,” my husband said, his tone soft and reassuring. “We’ll be back to visit tonight. Just a few more hours. You need your rest.”
“I know but what if something happens?” Panic rose in my throat. Every single worst-case scenario played out in my mind on a horrifying loop.
For me, that was probably the hardest part about leaving the hospital without my baby—fear of the unknown. I had to place my trust in complete strangers to care for my baby, my flesh and blood, during the times I couldn’t be there. These people, the doctors and nurses of the NICU, turned out to be real life angels.
I did my best to keep busy when I got home. I had pictured my first days home from the hospital as a blur of feedings, and diaper changes, and so much cuddling. I hadn’t even entertained the idea that I might come home baby-less. It felt incredibly unnatural; I was a mess of hormones, and my maternal instincts wanted nothing more than to care for an infant.
I was lucky, though. I lived only a few miles from the hospital, so I was able to visit my son multiple times a day. But I still had way too many hours of “downtime” when I was supposed to be sleeping and eating and showering. Instead, I pumped like a mad woman, obsessed with being able to nurture my preemie with breast milk even though he was too small to latch. I washed and rewashed doll-sized clothes in Dreft and folded them in perfect little squares.
I wandered through the baby section of Target in such a fragile emotional state that I ended up crying in the diaper aisle at the first sight of a mother pushing her bouncing baby in a shopping cart. And I probably broke some sort of record for most “check-in calls” to the NICU. In short, I did what I needed to do to survive the most difficult time of my entire life.
So that’s the message I want to give to the mom who has to leave the hospital without her baby. Do whatever you need to do to survive.
Your baby will be home before you know it. You got this.
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