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The Guilt I Feel About Being Absent During My Son's Hospital Stay

I am often told my 3-year-old should not be sleeping in my bed with me.

He was born with multiple heart defects and rushed to the NICU where he received around the clock care for the first three days of his life. On day three, he had his first heart surgery and recovered in the PICU, where again, he received around the clock care. My husband and/or a nurse were with him. I visited, when I could, during the day. We knew about our son’s heart defects while I was pregnant — we had a plan. My husband and I were going to split our time at the hospital while the other was home with our 4-year-old daughter. Yet the moment I delivered Carter, that plan went out the window. I lost three times the amount of blood one should while giving birth. I didn’t know how bad it really was — not when doctors were missing a sponge, when I was given several meds, when there was talk I needed a blood transfusion (it was not mandatory and the risks scared me). My focus was only on my need to be there for my son.

That night, another doctor decided to come in and talk to me about the necessary steps for my recovery. He told me I needed the blood transfusion if I wanted to leave the room. “Okay, if I must,” I replied. The doctor walked me through it and helped calm my fears. He said, “Aren’t you giving permission for your son to have surgery?” I told him yes, but his condition was life and death. Mine wasn’t as severe but I absolutely needed it. So over 12 hours later, my blood transfusion began.

When I gave birth to my daughter, I was able to bounce back pretty fast, so I figured it would be the same thing this time. I wrong. To get out of bed, once home, required me to extend all the energy I had. While in the hospital, I was wheeled to my son’s room to see him. Even walking to the bathroom depleted me enough I had to take a nap. Doing the littlest amount of exercise took everything I had. This delivery took so much out of me. The recovery process was completely different. There were times I couldn’t get to the hospital to see my son because I had absolutely no energy. I was spending every two hours pumping and my mom was carting my 4-year-old daughter all over the place since I couldn’t. I was unable to drive.

My son’s big open-heart surgery came when he was 10 days old, a week after his first. I spent the whole day at the hospital. I was there from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. I didn’t rest at all, and therefore I was unable to visit him for the next three days due to debilitating exhaustion. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to, I had no energy left. My husband stayed around the clock at the hospital since I couldn’t go. I felt like the worse mom ever. I mean, who doesn’t visit their son?

Maybe this is why my son needs me to fall asleep. I know this is why I do not force him to go back to his room. If he knows I am here, now, I feel he won’t hate me for not being there then — or he will understand. I see so many moms post and share how much time they spend with their children in the NICU. Even though I know I couldn’t control it, I still feel awful.

This journey has not been easy and I will probably always feel this way. However, the snuggles I receive at night will always be accepted as long as he wants them or needs them.

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