Empty - That is the only word I can use to describe the period that followed my daughter’s expedited exodus from my body and the nineteen emotionally taxing days that followed when she resided a town away in the NICU at Central Maine Medical Center.
The nursing staff, a truly caring group of individuals, did their best to encourage me during her stay, but it in no way filled the void that she had left in my body. I missed her late night dance parties, her midday snoozes, and her “game” of in utero keep away with my husband.
While I had felt a deep connection to her during my pregnancy, I felt strangely disconnected from the tiny human in the incubator - I knew she was mine, but when I held her in my arms, she felt like a stranger, not the person who had share my body for the last thirty four weeks. Nevertheless, I dutifully forced myself to wake up and go to the hospital each day, and I would stay until my body felt too fatigued to remain in an effort to combat the overwhelming guilt I felt over her premature birth and my emotionally distant state.
When she was finally returned permanently to my arms, I was able to bond with her, and as such, I expected the dark cloud that I had felt during her absence to dissipate and, eventually, disappear. It didn't; instead, my traumatic birthing experience lingered like an unwanted houseguest and clouded my ability to truly enjoy the new addition to our family. I was tormented by my need to research and understand my birthing experience, and I felt deep sense of anxiety when I was separated from my daughter. In addition, I was often left in tears when a friend would discuss their birthing experience with me or an acquaintance would post a family photograph on social media featuring their newest addition. Even though my daughter was home, I felt a deep yearning for all of the things I had lost.
During this period, I had a chance encounter with a woman who had also had a traumatic birth, yet unlike me, her story had not ended happily - her daughter had passed away. Speaking to another mother who could empathize with my experience allowed me to express feelings that I felt uncomfortable sharing with other mothers. I subsequently joined a couple of groups online that dealt with traumatic births and extended stays in a NICU, and in reading their stories and sharing my own, I was able to gain perspective and find closure.
I don't allow myself to think about those early days when my arms were empty and my head was full of fear, anxiety, and depression anymore; instead, I replay the an infinite number of beautiful memories I have made with the little lady since she has been home. My life is filled with the light of her sweet smiles, warm embraces, and untroubled laughter - there is no place for darkness.