N. I. C. U. Four unassuming letters that put together hold a lot of weight. 

Experiencing a NICU stay for any reason is traumatic. 6 day. 6 weeks. 6 months. The time frame doesn’t matter. It still shakes you. And, even after it ends, it still likes to creep up from time to time and remind you of what you lost, what you grieved.

My only daughter was born 6 weeks early because my water had ruptured. As someone who walked through a 31-day stay in the NICU, I have been on the side of helplessness. The side of vulnerability and need. 

Oftentimes it’s hard to know how to help families walking through this reality.

Do I send flowers?
Should I visit after birth?
Should I cook a meal or send a gift card? 

I wanted to offer a few “do’s and don’ts” for anyone wondering how they can be helpful during such a painful season. 

Before I share, please keep these things in mind:

  • Every mom is different.

  • Every reason for a NICU stay is different.

  • Every hospital is different.

  • Every birth experience is different.

  • And, every baby is different.

I can only speak from my own experience, and from what I’ve learned from others who walked alongside us.


DON’T ask when they’re going home. 
Just don’t. This is probably the most-asked question, yet it’s the one parents have the least ability to answer. A NICU stay is a rollercoaster experience. It’s a two-steps-forward-one-step-back kind of process. Good news one day doesn’t necessarily mean one step closer to going home. 

DO ask for updates from the doctor. 
While this journey includes many unknowns, doctors make their rounds daily and update the patients’ charts. These reports include any changes they will make and a progress report of sorts. Fielding questions about a discharge timeframe can be a painful reminder that you still don’t know when you will be able to bring your baby home. Instead, consider asking about updates from their neonatologists, nurses and PT/OT therapists. 


DON’T tell them everything will be okay. 
This is really the last thing any NICU parent wants to hear. A comment like this, while meant to encourage and lift spirits, can do the exact opposite. NICU parents are grieving the loss of all they had expected and imagined surrounding the birth of their child. And, truthfully, in that moment, not much feels “okay.” 

DO sit with them in their pain.
When we walk through difficult seasons, we feel so out of control. Sometimes what we actually need is for someone to come alongside us and say, “Wow, this must be really hard.” Encouraging words are wonderful and needed. But, there is something truly beautiful about meeting someone in their pain and letting them know that you see them. 


DON’T show up unannounced. 
Days spent in the NICU are long, and hard, and emotional. Some days are better than others. If a nurse notifies a family that they have an unexpected visitor in the lobby, they may be perfectly fine and ready to chat. But they may not. The baby might be eating or fussy. The mother might be pumping or emotional. If they’re lucky, they may be trying to breastfeed or having skin-to-skin time. 

DO ask before you visit. 
Sending a quick text or making a phone call to ask about a good time to visit goes a long way. The parents know their baby’s schedule, as well as the hospital visiting hours. They’ll be able to let you know when it’s a good time to visit. And, don’t be surprised if you get a last-minute text saying “today isn’t a good day.” Good days can turn into not-good days in an instant. Be understanding and ready to reschedule. 


DON’T say, “Let me know if you need anything.” 
At first read, this may seem like more of a “do” than a “don’t.” I think this is something we’ve gotten used to saying a lot–I am guilty of saying this, too. And, while we mean well when we say it, how often do we actually get reached out to? Not a lot, right? Truthfully, NICU families are in endless need. As someone who walked through this, I had to learn to be incredibly vulnerable in asking for help and in taking up friends and family on their offers. But, the most helpful reach-outs were from people who asked about helping in a tangible way.

DO serve them in specific and tangible way.
Purchase a gift card to a restaurant close to the hospital. Offer to cut their grass, or better yet, just go do it. Tell them you’d like to bring them a meal and ask which night works best. Ask if there’s anything you can pick up for them from the drug store. When you’re in the NICU, life is far from normal. So, normal and simple tasks get put on the back burner. It’s a lot harder to find time for laundry and lawn care. It’s more difficult to grocery shop and cook. Reaching out to help in a specific way is truly appreciated.

Having a baby stay in the NICU is something that never would have crossed our minds, until it became our reality. We were thrown into it with no time to plan or prepare (not that you can ever really prepare for that).

I hope this article sheds a little light into life in the NICU and what might be helpful to a family walking this incredibly difficult journey.




I let out a sigh of exhaustion as we rock back and forth.

The toys are picked up. The laundry is put away. The final daylight is creeping through the blinds.

The silence is loud as she drinks the last drop of her bottle and nestles in my arms.

This is when my best thinking happens – a great idea, a new recipe to try, something I’m thankful for. Unfortunately, it’s also when my worst thinking happens.

And, not “worst” like bad. More like destructive or harmful.

As the day closes, I feel my mind trying to get the best of me. We rocked and my thoughts turned toward my body. One thought led to another, as they do, and I continued down the path of self-critiquing.

Swollen fingers.
Tired eyes.
Softer stomach.
Weaker arms.

I was on a roll.

Negative Thoughts: 1
Ashley: 0

I glanced down at my daughter who had her tiny fingers wrapped around mine.

Sometimes our negative thoughts consume us for hours, days, weeks, or longer. But those little fingers grasping mine stopped me in my tracks.

To her, my swollen fingers poke her belly and tickle her back. They push her on the swing and play “this little piggy.”

To her, my tired eyes gaze into hers each night, letting her know she’s safe to fall asleep. They meet hers each morning and remind her that “mommy always comes back.”

To her, my softer stomach is where she buries bashfully when daddy teases, “I’m gonna get you.”

To her, my weaker arms scoop her up when she crawls toward me and wrap her up in bedtime snuggles.

Negative Thoughts: 0
Ashley: 1

Oh, to see myself through her eyes.

I am safe. I am fun. I am silly. I am strong.

This time, the negative thoughts didn’t win.

It brought me joy to think about all the ways I have used and still use my body for my daughter.

From pregnancy to birth and breastfeeding. From midnight newborn rocks to strolls around our neighborhood. From crawling after her around the house to cuddling her in my lap for story-time.

To the other moms out there who have an ongoing mental list of all the ways their body has changed postpartum, I see you. I am you. And, I encourage you to make a new list. Make a list of things you love about your body. Make a list of all the ways your body works to be a mother. Make a list of all the ways your children see you.

May we see ourselves like the safe, fun, silly and strong moms that our children do.




I saw them there, hanging neatly in a line.

My shorts.

A couple snagged at a Goodwill in college. A few pairs worn on my honeymoon. A pair purchased just before I found out I was pregnant.

They’ve seen festivals and beach vacations, ball games and college classes. But, they haven’t seen much lately.

Every day since giving birth, they are the first thing I see when I walk into my closet and flip on the light.

Some days they cheer me on. “Yay! You are looking good! You’ll get to wear me soon!”

Other days they mock me. “I bet you won’t be able to squeeze into me when you finally try.”

With my due date being early last fall, I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about them for a while. And, thank goodness. By the time I was out of my maternity jeans, it was wintertime.

I’ll worry about those next summer. I’ll lose the baby weight by the time it warms up.

Well, here we are, 9 months postpartum… and it’s warmed up.

A sweet friend invited my husband and I to a baseball game and I found myself standing in my closet, again. Staring up at those shorts.

It’s time. It’s time to try them on. Here goes nothing.

“Go easy on yourself,” I think, “Try on the loose-fitting pair first. That way, when they fit perfectly, you won’t feel so bad.”

One leg. The other leg. So far, so good.

Pulling up. Pulling up. Pulling…

Wait. They’re barely up. And they definitely won’t button.

I was instantly having a conversation with myself–half of me trying to be kind and bestow grace and the other half scolding and shaming.

You just had a baby.
She’s 9 months. You didn’t really “just” have a baby.
Well, those shorts are from college.
Yeah, but you fit in them before the pregnancy.
But, you’ve been working out and eating healthier.
Obviously not enough.

I immediately felt like a failure. Like I wasn’t measuring up to the bar set. You know the one. The one you set that no one else expects you to live up to but yourself? That bar. (I really hate that bar.)

It’s not like I wasn’t warned, though. Countless moms have shared the your-body-will-never-be-the-same news with me, even before giving birth. “It’s not necessarily the number on the scale, but the way your body is shaped,” they would say.

But, of course I couldn’t really comprehend what I had not walked through yet.

There really is a loneliness that comes with postpartum life.

New lifestyle.
New identity.
New schedule.
New insecurities.
New body.

All this newness allows your mind to become a battlefield of what-if’s and a breeding ground of unhelpful thoughts.

Asking yourself if you’re doing this whole motherhood thing the “right way.” Questioning if you chose the “right brand” of baby food or diaper rash cream. And, most of the time, wondering if you’re the only mom who feels “this way.”

I stood there, with my too-small shorts around my legs, trying to make sense of the moment. And trying to figure out a solution. Something, anything, to redeem the situation.

The logical idea of purchasing new shorts came to mind, but I still felt like a failure and wondered if I would ever fit into my old clothes again.

It’s been a couple weeks since the Shorts Incident. (It was a defining moment, therefore it is a proper noun.)

In case you’re curious, I wore jeans to the baseball game and went shopping for a new pair shorts later that week.

Somewhere between feeling humiliated and hopeless, I decided that I don’t have to adopt the goal of “fitting into” all of my old clothes.

I stopped trying to fit myself into a specific pair of shorts and gave myself permission to find a pair of shorts that fit me.

“Just buy the shorts,” I told myself.

And, when I finally slid on the soon-to-be-mine black shorts and looked in the Target fitting-room mirror, I felt better than I had in a long time. It didn’t matter that they were a size up.

Maybe I’ll eventually be able to wear certain pieces that don’t fit me right now. Or, maybe I won’t. Either way, my goal is to be confident in my own skin–my new skin.

My tummy may be softer. My hair might still be falling out. My face might be more dry. My skin might be looser. My body may have stretch marks. But, to be honest, I am so proud of what my body endured from the moment I found out I was pregnant through the postpartum symptoms I still struggle with today. And, of course it gave me the most precious gift of all – my daughter, Charlotte.

This is not to say I don’t plan to focus on fitness and wellness. I do desire to pursue a healthy lifestyle, but that also includes having a healthy mindset. Not stressing over the number on the scale. Not setting unrealistic goals. Not dieting to the point of misery. Not body shaming and comparing myself to others.

We are all on our own journey of self-love.

And, one thing’s for certain, I want Charlotte to grow up with a mom who models what it looks like to have a healthy body image.

Do what you have to do to love yourself where you are. And, don’t be afraid to start slow.

Just unfollow that blogger.
Just put on the swimsuit.
Just try on the bigger size.
Just donate the old clothes.
Just thank your body.
Just buy the shorts.