The girls had their NICU (Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit) Clinic check up today. Towards the end of our appointment the doctor asked if I’ve seen NICU’s new extension, and if not, would I like to?

The question caught me off guard a bit. Yes I knew about it but no, I’ve not seen it yet. I answered honestly and said I’m not sure if I’m ready to go back in there yet, I admit that I don’t know if I could handle seeing the incubator beds again right now. It all still feels quite fresh in my memory, I can get emotional looking at photos from that time.

We chat some more and I share that simply coming to the hospital can be a bit of a trigger for me and sometimes causes mild anxiety. I tell her we have a bag of premmie and 00000 size baby clothes to donate too but we’ve not dropped them in yet, perhaps due to the apprehension.

I was told about side entrances to the hospital to eliminate retracing the same steps and that someone could walk me through NICU for support when I’m ready – apparently that’s all quite normal. I tell them that I remember really clearly, a Mum being walked around the ward with her ten or eleven year old daughter. She was emotional, the daughter in disbelief that she was ever as small as some of the babies there that day.

The nurse later told me that many parents remark that the smell of NICU is something that transports them straight back to when they were there, watching over their babes. I get that. Hospitals always have a smell, but NICU? NICU has a special smell. The smell of alcohol rub on the hands of medical staff and the parents that apply it constantly. The sterile bleach smell because everything is so pristinely and religiously cleaned, again by staff AND parents.

I’m not ready to go back there and that’s okay. I will one day because, as the doctor explained, it does sometimes help with a certain closure and I believe it would benefit me. I think NICU parents are some of the strongest I’ve ever seen, living their lives with such uncertainties and contradiction. You hate the fact you have to go there but it’s also a safe space, one with routine but also unknowns. Your baby (or babies) is there so there is a certain excitement and joy too. It’s somewhere that has a strange combination of sadness and happiness, grief and relief. You have to gather strength within yourself that you never knew existed because you have no choice but to be vulnerable. At times you feel like an open wound on public display.

One day, I might be like that lady I saw, with two ten year old red headed girls following me around as I show them where they slept, where they had their first bath and where, everyday for the first five weeks of their life, I told them I loved them. K x

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