In honor of NICU Awareness Month, we ’re sharing a NICU survival story that ’s close to our heart. Solly Baby social media guru Jocelyn Forgerson opens up about her firstborn ’s time in the NICU and how the experience shaped her as a mother—then and now.
“Do you want to go see her?” It’s a question that still sits in the pit of my mind five years after I gave birth to my 2-pound, 11-ounce preemie at 32 weeks. I didn’t want to go see her. I actually wanted to do anything but. The reality that I had a baby in the NICU felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders, and I wasn’t ready to stand up and carry it.
It was 10 o’clock at night when I finally agreed to go see her. It had been 12 hours since my emergency C-section, after which they rushed her into the NICU. They had lifted her over the drape just long enough for me to see her tiny malnourished body before they swiftly took her away, before I could even say hello. Preeclampsia had wreaked havoc on us both and seeing her in that millisecond confirmed the diagnosis in my mind.
I vividly remember being rolled into the postnatal care unit as the staff ’s words of congratulations passed through me. I didn’t feel as happy as a congratulations should feel. With empty hands, I didn’t feel like a mother yet. I felt like a person who’d just lost a limb.
My heart was pounding, and the discomfort from my surgery incision made it challenging to find a comfortable position. Still, I summoned the strength to make my way to the NICU for the first time. They wheeled me over to her incubator, and there, on the glass, were the words "GIRL MURRAY." It was a subtle but much-needed reminder: She was mine.
In those precious moments leading up to seeing her, I had envisioned that typical new-parent moment, where you lovingly memorize your baby ’s face—the dimples, the features that reflect both you and your spouse, the things that make the reality of birth sink in. I was prepared for all of that, until I laid eyes on her, and her tiny face was obscured by a tangle of wires.
I had subconsciously brought along a swaddle and her "going home outfit," an outfit I had planned and dreamed about for months. I brought these things for my own comfort, but I knew deep down that the day we'd get to dress her to go home was still a long way off.
I couldn’t see her face. It felt like I entered into an alternate version of the fourth trimester where I still didn’t know my baby. She was untouchable, unimaginable, and in need of more time to grow. I felt like I was still pregnant. I had no idea what she looked like under all the wires and tubes. Holding her seemed like it would hinder her healing, so I convinced myself that I shouldn’t. With what felt like a million wires attached to her, the baby who had grown so familiar in my womb felt suddenly foreign.
After a few days of healing, my care team gave the green light for my discharge. Stepping out of the hospital that night, my heart ached with emptiness. It was supposed to be a moment of joy, leaving the hospital, but I left without my baby in my arms. The realization struck hard: I had a baby in the NICU, and she wasn ’t coming home with me.
All I had to hold onto were her precious stamped footprint and a photo on my iPhone. Those tiny mementos were my lifeline as I spent that night away from her.
So, there I was, from morning to night every day, sitting bedside while our primary nurse taught me how to care for someone so incredibly tiny. There I was, just a couple days postpartum, hobbling slowly back and forth from the Ronald McDonald House in hopes of not triggering any additional pain at my incision site. There I was, in the middle of the night, pumping in the pump room in order to keep up my milk supply. There I was, trying to be the best mom I could possibly be to my baby in the NICU.
My hands are dry and broken from all the vigorous scrubbing, but placing my hands in River’s incubator to wash her was something I felt I needed. Every day. Squirting warm water over her delicate body and gently cleansing her with soap may not have been how I initially imagined giving her baths, but it was a way to hold on to some semblance of normalcy.
Each day brought forth its unique set of challenges. There would be days when she seemed to be thriving, and her doctor believed in her strength. Then, the very next day, she might experience multiple bradycardias, prompting additional tests and prolonging her stay. This rollercoaster of ups and downs took a toll on our spirits, making for an emotionally draining ride.
The smell of the hand soap. The sound and smell of the hand sanitizer. The dinging of the alarms and the nurses immediately running over to the incubator in need of attention. I’ll forever associate these things with that place.
It’s incredible the immediacy with which I can mentally transport myself back, even though five years have passed. The sound of crying babies feels normal for most, but for me, I’m right back in there. I think it will forever feel this way.
Gradually, the NICU team dismantled each support system one by one. First, her CPAP, followed by her IV, then her feeding tube, and finally her Pulse Ox. After so much time, it seemed sudden that she was ready to go home. I was a mix of anxiety and eagerness, excited for the next chapter yet overwhelmed by fear and a tinge of sadness about leaving that place.
On the day we took her home, she weighed just 4 pounds. It might seem small to some, but to us, it was monumental. Those 33 days felt like an entire lifetime, and I emerged from that experience a completely new person.
This past week, five years after being discharged, River and I returned to the very space that healed her to donate Solly Swaddles to the babies and families living through what we once did. A humble gesture of love and support for the families whose lives together are beginning a lot like ours. Being there felt like one chapter closing, and a new one beginning. Everything looked just as we left it, and the comfort in the unchanged, while our baby grew through time, was an unexpected gift that quietly healed me.
If you’re curious, learn more about the benefits of swaddling for NICU babes. Plus, how to (really) help NICU families.