The NICU is an intense, emotionally draining drama that is 24/7. Quitting time doesn't come at 6 PM. There is no let down during weekends. You can't say to your sick newborn, "Honey, could you please keep your oxygen saturation levels up over 98% tonight because I'd really like to enjoy a relaxing night out with your Dad?"
The paradox was that I actually took the best self-care after post-childbirth with Tess, than I had with any other baby. I left Tessy's hospital room to eat regular meals at the hospital cafeteria. I showered every morning. I slept in my own bed almost every night in long stretches of uninterrupted sleep.
The difference was that all of these "self-care" items were entirely unselfish. I ate meals, so that I had fuel to keep a vigil by my sick daughter's bedside. I slept in a real bed, so that I kept up my milk supply to fed her after her abdominal surgery. I showered faithfully to prevent my c-section incision from becoming infected, so that I wouldn't lose days of seeing my precious little girl.
This mindset was a dramatic switch from my usual post-partum whine that my husband "OWED" me on Saturdays some serious "me"- time alone for a hot shower, time alone to read Tolstoy, time alone to eat my favorite Cadbury Dairy Milk Chocolate Bars, since my life as the Mother of a newborn was so incredibly hard.
My life as the mother of a newborn in the NICU was incredibly hard, but I lost the selfish belief that my husband "owed" me anything in compensation for my daily struggle. Our daughter Tess was his sick baby, too.
Years ago, I remember hearing a beloved parish priest describe his conversion story. He joined the Josephite Order of Preachers and had to give away all his worldly goods. Father Grant said all he had left when he reached the seminary was $5.00 in change in a 7-11 cup inside his car. "It was so HARD to give up that last $5.00," he said.
I listened to that statement in total confusion. What's big deal about giving up $5.00? It's seminary. It's the priesthood. What's a couple of quarters compared to the glory of Holy Orders?
Sitting on my couch, holding my completely healed baby Tess, I finally got it. I'm not hoarding change in my life, but I am hoarding time. I made the big shift when I became a full time stay-at-home mother five years ago. I handed over most of my life to God's will for me.
But I'm still holding tightly onto selfish "me" time around the edges of my days.
My insistence that I've "earned" those last 5 minutes of "me" each day is making my miserable. If my husband doesn't get the kids down on time and I lose my happy Date Night time, I'm miserable. If I don't get to "catch up" on the chores I think are "must dos", then I'm miserable.
There is a paradox that I learned during the NICU. If I give every single moment away to God- to God's will for my day--then I receive time and energy and money and good cheer back in spades.