In honor of this past Mother’s Day, let’s talk about all things Momma.

I’m a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) nurse.

In many ways, the NICU is where we effectively crush the idealized image any expectant mother might have visualized in her mind.

Lying on the floor, littered among the wet blankets and strewn papers from the bustle of admission, lies the birth plan so carefully crafted while her babe lay still nestled in her womb.

As my hands lie that small wet body on the warmer, I swiftly move the sphere of control from her shaking hands into my own; a frightening world filled with the scream of monitors, the whirl of ventilators, and tubes…..so very many tubes….

And when she has been deemed stable enough to move from the delivery room, she is rolled in on a stretcher for her first glimpse of her beloved baby caught in a tangle of wires and tubes and lights.

The tears come.

And then the guilt.

My own son came into this world in the most perfect way. He never thought to burden me with morning sickness or heartburn or acne. I tittered and cooed at his marathon hiccups and he adored long, lazy, walks that would lull his earnest kicks to sleep. I would sing to him the same husky lullaby my mother sang to me and lay quietly in the afternoon sun counting his barrel rolls. He continued his first born ambition by gracing me with a seamless delivery and when they laid him on my chest, blinking and squinting, through a pinched face, I thought my heart would explode.

My job affords me a singular gratitude that many new mothers might take for granted. I know how easily things can go wrong at any given moment. I reveled in his seeming perfection; counted his toes and fingers out loud and smiled when he summoned me with a lusty squall from his fully developed lungs.

The tears came.

And then the guilt.

Guilt?

All mothers experience it.

It’s simply the innate desire to do right by this tiny fragile being that you have brought into this big wide world.

I was blown away by the power and the fury of making decisions that, in the context of my child, seemed monumental.

How long should I breastfeed? Is he getting enough milk? Should he have BPA free bottles, toys? When should he start solids? Should I make my own organic baby food? Should I use cloth diapers? Does he have the right developmental toys? Should he have screen time? Is he hitting his developmental milestones? Should I try to teach him sign language?

And on and on and on….

Hours and hours of research dedicated to all of the above and more; questions begetting questions begetting questions….

And the capitalist market and Pinterest and Facebook feeding into the comparative parenting machine, fanning the hot and heavy fires of maternal guilt.

My salvation came in the form of my daughter two years later.

The joyful, exhausting, juggling act of an energetic two year old toddler and a newborn daughter threw a biting deluge upon the fires of doubt and indecision.

I suddenly started to understand the simplicity of my own childhood and began to slowly let go of the guilt of expectation. Over planning gave way to puddle splashing, earthworm saving walks around the neighborhood; coloring in a pool of afternoon sunlight and blanket forts in the middle of the living room.

Now that’s not to say that you won’t find me occasionally scouring Pinterest for the perfect school Valentine’s card; the results of which might show up on the next list of Pintrosities. But I believe I have my eye on the right ball now; not one of the ones I’m trying to juggle in the air but rather the one I’m tossing back and forth into the laughing arms of my child.

And for my NICU Momma, the one that is asking, “What did I do wrong?” “Why is this happening?” “Why me, why my baby?”

I press her shaking hands into mine and wipe away those frightened tears; I hug her exhausted shoulders and whisper to her that she didn’t do anything wrong. As we peer together through the plastic, I try to turn her gaze away from the medical paraphernalia to point out the sweetness of those tiny toes or shiny button eyes searching for the one that sang those husky lullabies.

I want to shelter her; protect her from the riptide of guilt that threatens to pull her under. But I cannot. Only she can learn the delicate dance between expectation and reality. Only she can define what it looks like to be a mother to her child; so I simply say:

“Congratulations, you’re a momma now….”

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