Along with the divine sonship we receive at baptism comes the gift of the Mother of God as our true Mother.
This afternoon, my best friend brought her second child home after 13 days in the NICU. Her husband and friends have been relieving her and keeping her company for the last two weeks, but for some 20 hours a day she was there, sitting with her little one, holding him and loving him as monitors beeped and nurses came and went.
Kolbe’s lucky. He has some ongoing issues (for which we would appreciate prayers), but his life was never in danger. He has two parents who adore him and a network of friends and family who made it possible for them to be with him nearly every moment.
Not every NICU baby is so lucky. Many of them have much longer stays than Kolbe’s. Some can’t be held even when their parents are there. Most have parents who have to work or recover from C-sections or watch their other children. And while nearly every parent of a NICU baby desperately longs to be able to be with her child, the reality is that a lot of these babies (at this hospital, at least) spend most of their time alone.
Now, NICU nurses are incredible, and I only once heard a baby crying who wasn’t immediately consoled (and that, I’m sure, for an excellent reason). Still, walking the hallway night after night looking into the rooms where these fragile little ones slept alone just about broke my heart.
There were a few whose parents kept vigil every night: a little girl with blood sugar issues whose dad never left her side. A little boy whose mom had been in the hospital on bed rest for a month before giving birth and still hadn’t gone home. A little girl whose mom had come to sit with her daily for two months. A little girl whose grandpa stood in a darkened room beside her bed for hours each night. But most of these babies had mothers far away who longed to hold them but couldn’t, fathers who ached to be there but had other responsibilities that kept them away.
As I passed their rooms, I prayed for them—the babies and their parents. But I began to wonder if maybe the reason they didn’t cry more was something more than attentive nurses. Maybe they weren’t as alone as I thought. Maybe when their mothers couldn’t be there, their Mother came in a special way, to soothe them and speak words of comfort, to pat them and sing to them and do all the sweet things parents do to speak love to their babies.
Maybe, too, she was with their parents in a special way, consoling them in their guilt and anxiety and loneliness and fear. Maybe she was easing the burden they carried, telling them (whether they knew it or not) that their babies weren’t alone.
I hope she was. I hope she is. That’s my prayer, not just for NICU babies and NICU parents, but for every one of us who feels alone, everyone who feels guilty and anxious and lonely and afraid—that is, for everyone. I pray that in your loneliness, your Mother holds you and speaks to you and reminds you that whatever your struggle, you are never alone.
When you were baptized into the family of God, you became the true child of the King of the universe; along with that divine sonship comes the gift of the Mother of God as your true Mother. Whatever your relationship with your earthly mother, you have a Mother in heaven who holds you close, a Mother who loves you every bit as much as she loves those sweet NICU babies.
Say a prayer today to Our Lady of the NICU, asking her to be near to all who are lonely, especially the tiny NICU warriors and their amazing parents. And praise God for the doctors and nurses who work so hard to help those babies go home.