When I was pregnant with our second baby, I had so many visions for what our hospital stay would look like. I loved our time in the hospital with our first baby – a constant flow of excited visitors, cheerful nurses, bright pink gifts and well wishes from everyone we knew. Those couple of days were such a happy blur, and I couldn't wait to repeat them. I imagined our now 3- year-old timidly walking into the room, then running to me and our new baby, already in love with her new brother. I picked out matching necklaces for the two of us, so the baby could give her a gift.

Now, what I didn't plan was going into labor a month early and having a baby in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Our Christmas baby turned out to be a Thanksgiving baby, and all my visions went out the window. Instead of excitedly calling our families to share the news of a new baby boy, I sat in the nursery sobbing while the medical team placed IV's and increased his flow of oxygen. When our families came to visit, I avoided looking them in the eyes, because I knew I wouldn't be able to keep it together. I rattled on about how good he looked and how lucky we were, not wanting to admit I was afraid to even touch my new son.

When the day came for me to leave the hospital, I couldn't quite process the fact that he was not coming home with us. I remember our nurse coming in to discharge me and talking about all the snow that had fallen that morning. I just stared at her, slowly realizing that there was a world outside the hospital, and it had kept moving these past two days. Somehow my entire world had changed, but outside it was just a normal day.

The day we left the hospital, I decided I needed to make a plan in order to survive this. I have always loved lists and goal-setting. I needed to be organized, to feel a sense of control, or I wasn't going to be able to function. I quickly developed three rules for myself and set reminders on my phone so I wouldn't get side-tracked. These three simple rules helped me feel like myself again.

Rule No. 1: Always accept help

At first it felt a little uncomfortable accepting constant help, knowing that I would never be able to repay everyone. Our family and friends came through in a big way, and when we finally gave in and welcomed the help, I felt myself relax a little for the first time.

Friends brought over dinners and new baby clothes. Our families were available to babysit twenty-four hours a day. I even welcomed help from the hospital gift shop volunteer, who helped me pick out St. Nick's gifts for my daughter as I cried.

Rule No. 2: Make sleep the priority

When we came home from the hospital, there was just so much to do. Looking around the house I felt paralyzed. Should I throw in a load of laundry or empty the dishwasher? Write that article I've been working on or unpack our hospital bag? Deciding to make sleep the number one priority saved me a lot of mental energy. I didn't need to make these decisions, because I knew that if I had any free time, it was going to be spent sleeping. No TV, no Facebook, no thinking. When there is a new baby involved, sleep is always the right decision.

Rule No. 3: Plan fun

This was the hardest rule to follow. I didn't want to have fun or feel happy. I had a baby in the hospital, and if I even smiled, I knew that I was somehow being disloyal to him. If I laughed at something our daughter said, did that mean I was forgetting about what our son was going through at that very moment? When my husband suggested going out to pick a Christmas tree, I was horrified.

Slowly, I decided that staying focused on being sad all the time was truly not serving me, and it was definitely not serving our sweet 3-year-old who just wanted time with me. I started keeping a gratitude journal again. I took our daughter downtown to mail her letter to Santa. I decorated the house with Christmas pillows and snowman candy dishes. I infused as much love and joy as I could into everything I did.

So when that happy day came, I was ready. In one short week, I had become a new person, a better wife, a better mom. I gave up control and trusted that we would be taken care of, and we were. As I walked up the steps to our house, cradling our 4 pound 15 ounce miracle, I saw the twinkly lights on our Christmas tree and smiled. Everything was as it should be. We were ready for this new adventure.■

Carrie Madormo lives in Shorewood with her husband and two kids.


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