Nobody registers for preemie clothes.
Well, at least I didn’t.
When you’re pregnant, you hope for the best: A happy, healthy baby born at full term or close to it. You roam store aisles with that registry scanner thingie, gleefully fawning over the regular baby clothes. At your baby shower, your loved ones give you adorable newborn sized clothing in hopes that all will go to plan.
Even carrying twins, knowing they’d probably arrive a tad smaller and maybe a couple weeks earlier, I still never thought I’d need outfits so tiny a doll could wear them. (Maybe in a way, in hindsight, I didn’t want to jinx things by buying any just in case.)
So when you end up delivering unexpectedly early, and find yourself living between your hospital bed and the NICU... the last thing on your mind or within your abilities is shopping.
I delivered my twin girls two months early on May 13th, 2018 — Mother’s Day. They were just over three and a half pounds, covered in wires, tubes, stickers and bulky breathing equipment, wearing only preemie diapers and hospital hats in their heated isolettes.
Most new moms excitedly plan “going home” outfits for when they get discharged with a healthy term baby, usually two or three days later. Three days after my delivery, on May 16th, those outfits were sitting untouched in my packed hospital bag, far too big for my itty-bitty girls, and there were no discharge plans. Instead, I shuffled wearily down the short hall from my hospital room to the NICU, still hunched over in pain recovering from surgery. It was a trip I’d already made dozens of times, but this time was different. I stood between my girls’ isolettes and burst into tears.
The nurses had dressed them. It was the very first time I’d seen them in clothes: colorful little preemie onesies that someone, at some point, had donated to the NICU. Polly wore a pretty floral print onesie; Violet’s had giraffes and elephants and a sweet little bow.
I cried not just in gratitude, but because for the first time in our scary, emotional journey, my little girls suddenly looked like... my little *girls*. My eyes were no longer drawn to the tubes and wires, but to the delicate lace and flowers on their tiny sleeves, adorning their fragile little arms. My daughters’ arms.
Oh my gosh, my *daughters*. I could finally say that!
I’ll never forget that feeling. And it may seem silly to you, that something as seemingly insignificant as simple clothing could stir such emotions. But I think other NICU moms would understand. Unlike most “normal” delivery stories, I never got that moment at birth or in the hours after. Nobody placed them on my chest or in my arms in pink hats celebrating their little girl-ness. We didn’t snuggle and bask in the afterglow. Instead, they were rushed back to the resuscitation room for oxygen as they struggled to breathe outside the womb. I was sewn up and wheeled back into a recovery room to immediately start pumping instead of nursing. And 28 long hours would pass before I could even hold my babies for the first time.
Looking back, I was so scared in those first few days that I almost couldn’t let myself feel joy yet... until that moment.
I’ve saved those first outfits, chosen by our NICU nurses, donated by someone I’ll never know. Maybe one day my girls can dress their little dolls in them, and I’ll tell them this story.
But as for the rest of our preemie clothes, which no longer fit my growing girls... (praise God!)....
...we brought them to the NICU, in one of those annoyingly flimsy Patient Belongings hospital bags I would use to shuffle the girls’ laundry back and forth during our 45 day NICU stay. This time, that bag wouldn’t be coming back home.
We donated those tiny little girl clothes for other preemie babies to come... and for another scared NICU mom to feel that glimmer of hope:
...that even under those lights, behind that plastic, on monitors and pumps...
...even though you may at times feel like a confused, helpless bystander as a whirlwind of doctors and nurses take over her care...
...you’re still her momma, and she’s still your baby girl. And even though this scary time is not what you planned or hoped for, it doesn’t have to rob you of the joy that every new mom should feel.
Your baby girl is here. And she is beautiful. You can celebrate that. And I know it seems impossible at the beginning, but you ARE going to get through this... together.
If you’d like to donate clothes or blankets, contact your local NICU to see what their current needs are! I can assure you it means so much to the families of the tiniest patients.