Permission to Parent: Why I Celebrate My Son’s Homecoming

It’s perhaps unfair to say my birth didn’t go to “plan,” because, aside from a piece of paper with our pediatrician’s name and my husband’s pager number, I didn’t have a plan.

I didn’t view the birth of my child as that cliched “best moment of my life” that so many others before me have prepared for. I failed to see what was “best” about laying naked on a hospital bed, spewing bodily fluids in front of my husband’s colleagues.

But I wasn’t prepared for how difficult those first eight days would be because, even without a “birth plan,” I was more wrapped up in the vision of a “normal” childbirth than I expected, not in terms of avoiding a C-section or delivering without painkillers, but in terms of the basic steps: go into labor, go to the hospital, deliver baby, take baby home.


I wasn’t ready for go to regular checkup, go to triage, get admitted, get induced, deliver baby, go home alone.

Not the mom

When I took my first one-floor elevator trip from the labor floor to the NICU, I dressed in the skinny maternity jeans, green rain boots, and stolen-from-husband sweater I’d worn to my last appointment. What I wasn’t wearing, due to a nursing mixup, was the bracelet that allowed me into the NICU.

I had just peeked into the incubator to see my tiny baby sleeping in a tangle of wires when a nurse came into the room to escort me out of it: “You’re not a parent.” My immediate breakdown suggested that maybe I was a parent, which was when the nursing staff figured out the mixup and sent me back upstairs for a new bracelet.

I felt a tiny bit better about that experience later that day, when, once I was finally sitting and holding my baby, a nurse coming on shift did a double-take and said “Wow, are you the mom?” Apparently, my outfit and overall appearance were particularly impressive for a woman who’d given birth 8 hours ago. Small victory.

Permission to parent

Although I now had the bracelet to prove I was the mom, my experience of the NICU largely felt like seeking permission. When all of the parents upstairs just got to snuggle their babies into carseats and take them home, we had the “flight plan,” a poster detailing all of the responsibilities parents can take over as their babies’ health improves.

The chart, a version of which is used in many hospitals, is written from the baby’s perspective (“my basic care,” “feeding me,” and “comforting me”), and covers issues from admission to discharge. Each of the chart’s pastel clouds has checkboxes for “parents learning” and “parents ready,” along with a line for a nurse to initial and date upon satisfactory completion.

I’m sure the chart is designed to help parents visualize their children’s progress. It’s certainly a well-intentioned piece of graphic design aimed to help parents of sick babies do something. But for me, the chart was less “flight plan” than “report card.” I felt like I had to prove I was not just a parent, but a good parent, when all of the other parents upstairs just got to take their babies home.

Perhaps that’s why it’s at this moment – 8:32 pm, in my own bathrobe on my own couch holding the baby I’d just been allowed to bring home – that I first felt like a parent.

parent homecoming

I’m sitting on a couch yet to be soiled with spit up or peanut butter crackers, in front of the jogging stroller assembled but not yet used, with hair in the messy top bun that I promise will not become my go-to look in the coming years, enjoying the champagne we intended to drink in my delivery room 8 days earlier.

We of course celebrate my son’s birthday every year. But that day is for him. Eight days later, I take a few minutes to look at this picture and celebrate me and the day I became a parent.


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  • Thank you for this. I had the same experience twice (well, not the bracelet mix up) but I too celebrate the days both my girls came home from the NICU. Without second I had that bag packed so early and it went everywhere with me as my first was just that: a regular appointment, go to triage, go to antepartum, deliver preterm baby. All of the box checking did make us feel like we had to prove we could be good caregivers and that the babies had to be little champs as well.

  • This hit me straight in the feels. I read it with my one month old son asleep in my arms, and it brought me back to the NICU, the hardest 9 days of my life. Besides being terrified that your baby will be OK, there was a confusing gray area. What am I responsible for? Does the nurse do that or do I? It drained my confidence as a new mom. It also affected my poor baby. Instead of expecting snuggles when being picked up or unswaddled, he expected needles, thermometers, changing of leeds, or some kind of test (ultrasound, EEG, EKG, you name it). I felt like a fiercely protective mom with no power, wanting to do everything and feeling like I was doing nothing. My moment of peace didn’t happen on day one at home. But we were HOME. No more wires, no more tests, no more monitors, no more alarms. Finally, we could just be a family and figure out our new normal. A few days in, I was calming the baby in the rocking chair, both cats at my feet, and my husband curled up exhausted but happy on the nursery area rug. That was my moment.

  • Thank you so much for this beautiful article. My son too was a NICU baby, for the first 4 days he was on bipap, oxygen and IV fluids and couldn’t eat by mouth. It was definitely not how I saw our first days going and it’s hard because I feel weird even saying he was in the NICU because he wasn’t really “sick” and just needed a bit more respiratory support. I didn’t even get to hold him until he was 2 days old. We have one single photo of the 3 of us in the hospital and it makes me so sad. I got dishcharged a day before him and that was the hardest drive of my life leaving without our baby. That moment we took him home and we’re able to finally care for him ourselves finally made us feel like he was really ours

  • So beautiful. Thank you for sharing your story. I just had a baby in May and she had to stay in the hospital for a few extra days, luckily not in the NICU though. But it was so hard to see the nurses caring for the baby and me not being allowed to do everything that a parent would.

  • Thank you for this. My older son was a week past due, but a dramatic delivery landed him in the NICU for a week and I also experienced the delayed onset of ‘being the parent.’ I remember a NICU nurse telling me that my one day old son didn’t like to be snuggled! What baby doesn’t like to be snuggled?

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