Mom Talk: Finding Friends In The NICU

Written by

Natalia Woolley

10:00 am
04/20/18

ASHLEY KOCH, PHOTOGRAPHED BY SARAH HEBENSTREIT

We’re back with another round of “Mom Talk”, where we invite some incredible mothers, from all walks of life, to share their personal experiences and journeys through motherhood, whether it be struggles, triumphs, or anything in-between—nothing’s off limits when it comes to topics. This week, Natalia Woolley recounts the unexpected friendship that blossomed with a mother she met in her hospital’s neonatal unit. -JKM

We met at the pumping room reserved for mothers with babies in the hospital’s neonatal unit. Her son was born just four days before my own, but already she seemed to be a much wiser mother compared to the sobbing mess I was. I now understand that when you have a baby in the NICU, every additional hour feels like an eternity, and that test of patience and faith surely contributes to a large level of personal growth. She was pumping in a nearby chair and I could not stop crying, lost amongst pump parts and the painful realization that I would have to leave my newborn son behind at the tender age of three days. We sat there, exposed and vulnerable, trying to make small talk to avoid the awkward air of the moment and the uncertainty of our futures.

We met again the following day, and she told me her birth story and the path she walked to get to the room we currently shared. I told her my own experiences in motherhood; I told her that I was afraid my son would be born during my Masters graduation ceremony (much to our relief, he arrived two days later). And, I shared with her that although my son was born a little over 37 weeks, he had to spend a week in the NICU due to an infection and jaundice.

We soon realized our sons shared the same NICU nurses and bonded over which were our favorite ones. She taught me so many important lessons in our time together; things like how to leave the pump running for a few minutes after each session to get rid of the water in the tubings. The lessons may have seemed small, but at the time, they were so vital to me. And, over the course of that week, our routine pumping room conversations gave me a sense of normalcy and comfort. During that time, we also discovered that we actually had so much in common. We lived near each other and both married men seven years older than us. I am Brazilian, and her husband is half-Brazilian. Her married name is even the same as my maiden name! It felt as though destiny placed us there, in those moments of uncertainty, to be friends.

My son was discharged after seven days, but we kept in touch via text messages. Her son was also discharged two weeks later. Soon after, we arranged our first play date. Both babies spent the afternoon swaddled and napping, while we exchanged war stories about sleep deprivation, breastfeeding, and everything else that comes along with newfound motherhood. Although those conversations are typical for any new mom, we both shared an unspoken and deep gratitude for the chance to even have our babies, especially after those first challenging weeks.

Together, we have conquered a big part of our birth traumas. Last year, we went back to the hospital to mark one year of our sons’ births and to tell ourselves that we were not afraid anymore. We had a cookie in the cafeteria, and I left feeling a strange sensation of both light and strong—a feeling that’s hard to put into words unless you’ve walked a similar path.

During these past two years, my relationship with the mother I met one day in the NICU has blossomed into a wonderful, lasting friendship. We have had countless play dates, attended music and soccer classes side-by-side, and our husbands even surf together. And, although I would never wish the circumstance in which we met upon anyone, I do hope others can find the same solace I found during those hard times. Her friendship was the silver lining in those hard, early days. And, it’s one that I know will endure much longer than the painful memories.

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