10 Ways to Find Your Inner Strength on Your NICU Journey

How to stay strong with a preemie in the NICU

If you're a preemie mom, I bet you've heard something like this:

"You're so strong!"

"I don't know how you do it - I could never be so strong."

"I admire how well you're holding up!"

I also bet that you don't always love hearing this. Am I right?

Because you don't feel strong? Because you don't feel brave? Maybe because you actually feel like falling apart. Maybe it's because you don't want to have to be strong and brave as a new mom! 

To the outside world, you look amazingly resilient and brave, but inside you feel something else - inadequate, exhausted, powerless, afraid? The earlier along on your preemie journey, the more frightened and helpless you probably feel.

Personally, I see both in you. I see your worry and fear, your exhaustion and sadness. I see how weak and scared you feel.

But I also see what all those "outsiders" see - I see your strength. I see your bravery. I see incredible power, even when all you may be doing is dragging yourself out of bed to come be with your baby. Even when you're bleary eyed and exhausted. Even when you're crying. 

But if you're not feeling strong at all - if you feel no sense of power within - I want to help you find a way to tap into that strength that really is there. I'm gonna share a few ideas that really work when you need help finding & trusting your power. Because you deserve to feel strong, and you deserve to recognize just how awesome you really are.

Why don't I feel strong at all?

Having a preemie pulls the rug right out from underneath you. It topples all the ideas you had about motherhood, and knocks down many of the dreams you've built up about what it would be like having a baby. 

So it's perfectly understandable that you feel shaken and off-balance. 

It's okay that you don't feel strong right away.

You probably imagined your mama-strength as being the person in charge of your baby - the protector and caretaker. As the person who decides how her baby eats, where her baby sleeps, who gets to hold her baby. And now you don't get to be the one making those decisions. 

So it's natural for your idea of strength and power to be off kilter. 

How to Build Up your Inner Strength when your baby is in the NICU

Personally, I think if you're walking in the doors of the NICU, you're being strong. You don't even have to do any more than that to be showing inner strength. But if you really want to tap into your highest potential, these are some strategies that have helped so many moms just like you:

1. Stay as healthy as you can

I bet you're saying "I know, I know, everybody keeps saying this!!!" Well, it's because it is honestly one of the most important ways for you to stay strong. 

It's impossible to feel emotionally strong when physically you feel weak. When you take care of yourself, you are taking care of the most important person in your baby's life and your baby needs that. So no guilt - take care of yourself. Eat well as much as possible, make rest a priority whenever you can, get fresh air and stay hydrated.

2. Express yourself

You can't feel truly powerful if you feel silenced. You can't feel strong when you believe that your ideas and opinions don't matter. Remember - you are your baby's mother and your opinions and ideas really do matter. So speak up with your baby's nurses & doctors. Even about the little stuff. You'll start to feel stronger as a mother when you know you are being heard.

3. Focus on the positives

Trust me, I do know how hard that can be some days. Some preemie days are just really, really hard. But in every day there are some positives and if you can find a way to remind yourself of this, you'll stay stronger. Think about what went okay today - did your car start? Awesome. Did a friend text to say hello? Wonderful. Did your doctor have even a little bit of good news? Celebrate it. 

4. Use visualization

Take a moment to breathe deeply and then picture this - you are your baby's most important person. Yes, your baby needs nurses and doctors, but everyone knows that babies need their mothers and your baby needs you. It may not feel like it when you're not the primary caregiver, but you are the life giver and you are the guardian. Your are the mama bear, so see yourself in this way. 

Or try this...if you could be any super hero, who would you be? Would you be Super Woman, Spiderman, She-Ra, Zena Warrior Princess? If you could be a super hero right now, what would you do to help protect your baby? Allow yourself to day dream, seeing all the ways you could save the day, and then see if you can't bring a little of that super hero to life when your are with your baby.

5. Keep a journal

Be sure to write down every positive, as well as venting your frustrations and fears. You won't find your strength by suppressing your emotions. You'll find it by being honest and being in touch with yourself. 

Keep a list of absolutely everything positive that's happening so you can turn to that when your spirits need a little lift. 

Need a little help getting started with a journal? Check out last week's post titled The Power of Writing - How to Start a Journal for Your Preemie Journey

6. Try to figure out what stories you're telling yourself right now

Are you just saying over and over in your mind "I can't do anything to help my baby" or "I am such a failure at this?" Those thoughts will not build you up, they'll tear you down. When you catch yourself knocking down your power, try to stop and think of the things you're doing well. Because you and I both know you're doing some amazing things and you deserve to recognize it. Even if it's just showing up every day, or maybe you're trying your best to pump - whatever it is you are doing is good enough and you can be proud of it. 

7. Use a mantra

At times when we feel weak, we can actually start to change our perceptions by repeating the words in our heads that help us feel empowered. Some of the best preemie mom mantras include:

  • I am the very best mother I can be

  • My baby loves me and needs me more than anyone else in the world

  • I am as strong as I can be and that's enough

  • Its okay for me to feel whatever I'm feeling

  • I will get through this, just like I get through everything

  • One day at a time

  • All I need to do is my best - that's good enough

  • My job as a mom may be hard right now, but I'm doing it and that's amazing

  • I trust myself and I trust my baby

  • It will get better

  • Nobody loves my baby more than I do

  • And for those who pray, of course prayer is incredibly comforting (although you already know that! 😉)

8. Find a tribe

The greatest minds of all time understood the power of talking with others who want to help you succeed. And nobody else wants you to succeed more than other preemie moms. These women understand, and they want to help you find the strength you need. So connect with a supporter. 

Hello Preemie is one safe place to find comfort - I am committed to offering positivity and education to help you on your journey. So be sure to join our community on Instagram. You can also ask if your NICU has a support group, or you can reach out for peer-to-peer preemie support from Hand to Hold or NICU Helping Hands. 

9. Ask for Help

Even Superman needs help sometimes. One way to crush yourself is to try to carry a burden alone. So allow yourself to be strong enough for your baby by allowing others to carry some of the load. It absolutely is a sign of strength.

Ask your family for help - maybe they can walk the dog, or pick up your older child from school, or share a meal once a week? Ask your NICU for help - maybe they have gas gift cards to help with the cost of driving to they NICU every day? Maybe they can connect you with a social worker or therapist to talk to?

10. Take It One Milestone At A Time

Don't expect yourself to feel awesome overnight. Expect that this will take some time. Your world has been turned upside down, and strong people don't just slap on a fake smile and have everything magically become fabulous.

Many preemie moms find that taking it one day at a time is too hard - one day may be really hard and you know the next day might be hard too. So some moms prefer to focus on getting to the next milestone - getting off the ventilator, taking a first bottle feeding, moving to an open crib, and so forth.  Be patient as your baby works from one milestone to the next.

Just like training for a marathon, building a new strength happens with daily training. You have permission to take it slow. Just do your best. That's all you have to do.  


    How Some Preemie Moms Sabotage their Inner Strength

    Do you:

    • Refuse to get enough sleep?
    • Stay in the NICU all day without taking any sanity breaks?
    • Have questions that you keep inside, for fear of sounding dumb?
    • Want to tell the nurses something, but you don't because you worry about how they'll respond?
    • Obsess on all the ways you failed your baby by delivering early?
    • Wallow in jealousy and pity over being in this awful situation?
    • Say Yes to things that you really want to say No to? 

    Don't get me wrong - I can totally understand why you might do any of these. But I think you & I can both see that these things are not gonna help you feel strong. So when you catch yourself doing any of them, go easy on yourself. Don't beat yourself up any more, just say "Oops, I am not helping myself here. I'm gonna try something different..." and then move on to something empowering. 

    A preemie mom with inner strength might look like this:

    • She is taking care of herself, even when it means having to step away from the NICU to do so. 
    • She is asking questions every day, so she has the knowledge she needs to understand what is going on with her baby.
    • She is speaking freely with the nurses & doctors, sharing her hopes & dreams, her concerns, her requests. 
    • She is asking for help because nobody should ever go through an experience like this without the help of friends & loved ones. Strong people really do ask for help.
    • She allows others to help her when it is offered.
    • She is free with all of her emotions - she will admit that she's sad, worried, frustrated. She cries when she's sad. Because she's human! And there couldn't be a human who wasn't feeling those emotions with a new preemie. But she also allows joy, hope & love. Because it's okay to be joyful and happy about your amazing baby. It's really great to love and bond in these first weeks & months. 
    • She gets involved with her baby's care. Whether it means placing her hands on her baby and talking quietly to her or pumping milk all day every day or changing diapers, moms are so important to their babies. 
    • She is patient with friends and family who say some pretty insensitive things - she knows they mean well and just don't know what to say.

    What would you add? 

    Here's a chance to show off your strength while helping another mom who may really need to hear your wisdom!