When my son was born at 33w6d, we had no idea all of the things to come for our family. Preemies are born to one in every ten families in America, and I work in maternity services…you’d think I had some concept of what preemie life would be like. I thought I did. I didn’t have a clue.
Just four days after he was born, after we had been released from the NICU at the hospital where he was born, my son stopped breathing. He had to be rushed to Children’s Hospital of Atlanta, intubated, spinal tapped, and more. Our entire world changed. We were told we would be leaving “in the next month.”
Your body doesn’t get an exemption from postpartum healing when you must care for your sick child. It seems like should, like it would be only fair, but that’s not how the world works.
I decided that I would shirk the common response of denying myself care while I cared for my son, living with him at CHOA. I chose to radicalize my self-care. I had timers set for supplements, I was always stocked with juice for drinking with my placenta capsules, I took immaculate care of my skin. There was no one else to do this for me; my husband had to live with our other son and dogs, while I lived with our baby at CHOA, and we do not have family in the state. Either I took care of me, or no one took care of me.
And I knew I had to be taken care of, because my son needed me. I had to matter to me, because I mattered a whole helluva lot to him.
In a way, it was the most effective way to take control of a situation that was so far out of my hands I couldn’t stand it. In the most helpless and clueless and questioning days of my life, it helped tremendously to prioritize my own needs. To tend to my own body. To buy myself the GOOD tissues, damn it!, and to buy luxurious hand creme (all the hand washing in NICU is extremely drying.) To take my encapsulated placenta with fresh-pressed juice. To cry, a whole whole lot. To watch Netflix while I pumped ounce after ounce after ounce of breastmilk.
Now that I realize that my son’s first impressions of me are that I insist on meeting my own needs so that I can best meet his, I feel incredibly proud of that choice. Setting that tone for parenthood for myself has led me to ask for help, to accept the help I ask for, and to know how to offer it to other people. (That’s why I love being a labor/postpartum doula and placenta encapsulator!) If there’s any lesson in parenting greater than that, I haven’t learned it yet.
Margaret “MMT” McIntyre is a wife, mother of two, and owner of Intown Doula in Atlanta, Georgia. She is a graduate of St. Andrews University and an avid and dedicated soccer fan. When she is not wrangling labor and postpartum doulas in Atlanta, she enjoys baking, traveling with friends, and wearing tiaras in public.