‘Are you ready to hold your daughter?,’ asked the nurse. I looked at her confused, my broken heart beating quickly.’

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“Those first few seconds of life, you never forget it. The moment you become a parent, it’s engraved in your heart forever. But holding your baby for the first time takes on a new meaning when you’re a preemie parent. And all it takes is one sound, one glance at a photo for the memories to flood back to that fateful day, where your life changed forever.

The constant beeps and alarms hum through the dimly lit room in the neonatal intensive care unit. Wires, tubes, and monitors are juggled between several nurses. In the middle of it all is a tiny, fragile baby, born months before her due date.

In that isolette lies a baby who shouldn’t be alive.

Courtesy of Stacey Skrysak

I never got that dream moment shortly after birth–the picture you see so often with a baby being placed in the mother’s arms. The mother looking longingly at the little human she nurtured inside of her.

Nope. Not me.

My children were born too early, more than 17 weeks premature. In the chaos of a terrifying delivery and near-death experience, my babies were whisked off to the NICU before I even realized they were alive. It was days before I even met them face-to-face and weeks before they looked at me. Their eyes were fused shut, a sign that my babies arrived long before their due date.

One week after my triplets were born, my husband and I sat inside a funeral home. It was eerie and quiet, a depressing place no parent wants to step foot in. We found ourselves flipping through books of caskets and urns, making burial arrangements for our first triplet who passed away just hours after birth.

We arrived back at the NICU numb and in a daze, the reality of child loss finally sinking in. Heartbroken, we pulled up chairs next to our two remaining triplets. Their bodies were frail, their skin translucent, medical machines were the only thing keeping them alive. Our hope was hanging by a thread when our nurse approached me.

‘Are you ready to hold your daughter?,’ asked the nurse.

I looked at her confused, my broken heart beating quickly. Weighing just one pound, my daughter was far too fragile to be held, or so I thought. Most parents would be forced to wait several weeks, even a month before holding a child like ours.

The nurse smiled at me and nodded as I was overcome with emotion. Just hours after planning our daughter’s funeral, I was about to hold my child for the very first time. Within one hour, I went from the depths of despair to an emotional high.

Courtesy of Stacey Skrysak

As the team of nurses carefully moved wires, I sat in a special chair, tears welling up in my eyes. Excitement, fear and anxiety consumed me. I watched as the nurses slowly unhooked the chords and carefully brought my baby girl to me. They gently placed her on my chest and worked quickly to reattach every wire and tube.

As they covered my baby up with a blanket, they leaned me back in the chair, reminding me not to move. Any sudden movement could cause a significant emergency.

Reality quickly sank in. I was finally holding my child, her skin touching mine for the first time outside of the womb. The wires and tubes disappeared as I closed my eyes, the sounds of the machines and alarms pushed out of my mind.

I finally felt like a mother.

You never forget the first time that you held your child. It may not have been exactly how you planned. But for preemie parents, it’s a magical feeling, picture perfect in every way.”

This story was written by Stacey Skrysak, an award winning television journalist based in Illinois, in honor of World Prematurity Day. You can follow her on Facebook. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

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