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By Tricia Rife | May 7, 2014

NICU-induced exhaustion

Just like all new moms, I am exhausted. If you are a mother, you know what I’m talking about. You’ve been there or perhaps you’re there right now. Sleepless nights, multiple feedings, mounds of laundry, and numerous diaper changes become the norm, defining a young mother’s new life.

Yet I wish these things were true of me. I wish I heard my baby boy’s cry in the middle of the night. I wish I were dragging myself out of bed to feed him every three hours.

Instead, my tired, dragging body makes its way up to the 4th floor each day at the local children’s hospital 20 minutes from our home. I’ve visited the neonatal intensive care unit every day since February 13, the day after my son, Andrew, was born 9 1/2 weeks premature with an unconnected esophagus. In fact, if I’m honest, my exhaustion began weeks before my son’s birth, when my water broke unexpectedly at 27 weeks of pregnancy and forced me into bed rest on January 19.

Since his birth, exhaustion has stemmed from Andrew having two major surgeries in his first five weeks of life to repair his perforated stomach and unconnected esophagus. Or it stems from holding his then-3-lb. body, gingerly cradling him on my chest and trying to keep him warm. Or from hearing monitors beep incessantly during his first few weeks of life, signifying seconds of no breathing or a slow heart rate. Or from administering numerous tests and procedures to find out what else is happening in my son’s tiny body. Or from setbacks in his progress that make us feel like we’ve taken one step forward and five steps back.Exhaustion most deeply hits when I attempt to keep worry at bay every day, wondering what the day will hold for my son.

Exhaustion comes from working four days a week and making the same drive to the hospital after being at the office just so I can cuddle and talk to my son for two hours before my husband and I head home to eat dinner way too late, whether it be takeout, frozen pizza, or a meal made by a generous friend. Exhaustion comes from doing laundry or cleaning toilets or vacuuming floors or organizing Andrew’s nursery. Exhaustion comes from rushing around on my days off, trying to do housework, shop for groceries, or run errands quickly because I’m anxious to see Andrew and spend as much time with him in the confines of his NICU room.

Exhaustion comes from crying every day since January 19, whether tears of joy and thankfulness or sadness and discouragement. Or from not getting enough sleep because I feel like I’m going 50 different directions. These days, exhaustion also stems from wondering when we will say good-bye to the hospital and introduce Andrew to his room, his home, and his cousins, who aren’t allowed on the NICU.

Yes, my life feels like it’s defined by exhaustion. And yet in 2014, I’ve recognized a deep intimacy in knowing Jesus than ever before in my 34 years. I have been forced to choose joy, focus on the positive, celebrate Andrew’s milestones, and deepen my prayer life. I’ve been forced, as though I’m white water rafting in raging currents, to trust God with Andrew’s life every moment of every day. Romans 12:12 has become my personal mantra: “Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying”.

On those days when hope is hard to grasp, Psalm 61:1-2 is fitting: “Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” Often times, in my purest moments of exhaustion, I ask Jesus to carry me, because there is no way I can easily take another step on my own.

This season of exhaustion will end–and a new one will begin once Andrew comes home. (A season of exhaustion I eagerly anticipate and will embrace!) Andrew is currently 11 weeks old and weighs more than 7 pounds. Before he can go home, doctors are examining a couple more issues as our preemie grows bigger each day. I trusted God with our son yesterday, I trust God today, and I will trust God tomorrow–no matter how exhausted I get in the process.

Tricia Rife is an assistant editor in Communication and Administration for The Wesleyan Church. Blog originally posted at AnnesleyWriters.com.