'I was numb all the way through.' A letter to my son who was born at 26 weeks old.

To our beautiful son,

Sometimes life feels really small, just us three in this bubble filled with wonder and pain, joy and grief, safety and PTSD

The ebbs and flows of trauma swirl around us, turning us upside down, tumbling, rolling and moving us against our will. Sometimes, the tide roars in, violent and looming and we are drawn out into the deep, submerged beneath the blue, silent pressure, as we remember everything that you (and we) have been through. 

Every now and then, one of us will stop fighting the waves and gently turn upward, facing the sun, back gliding across the unknown, letting the waves move and carry, as we lay in the contented peace of acceptance. 

This is a story of you and me — of motherhood, fatherhood and parenthood forged in the depths of great trauma but take heart, in every challenge we have faced and every tear that we have shed — there is victory in the telling of our story and courage found even in the littlest of braves.

Watch: How to be a good mum. Post continues after video. 

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Motherhood: How I came to be your mama. 

I didn’t really feel as though I birthed you, my Little Brave. 


I didn’t heave and split, breaking you into the world with all of my might. You were expertly removed from me, neat incisions, numb nether regions and doctors making jokes about Jesus and the tattoo on my hip. I wasn’t greeted by the pain that told my body that something significant had just occurred. 

That came later, it surged around me, when my body first knew that it no longer held you. I welcomed the pain; I needed it to tear through my aching heart. 

The piercing separation anxiety needed the relief that pain can bring, I needed to bleed, to feel that my body did so well to hold you as long as it did and then release you away from me only to save you.

Seven days passed before I first held you. The moment all 600 grams of you were placed upon my chest, my entire body exhaled and I could have just drifted off with you when you almost stopped beating against my heart, you were so tired and safe at last and yet, you are the bravest little fighter and you came back to me, time and time again. 

Through blue lips, collapsed lungs, tubes, wires, transfusions, beeping monitors and month after month of looking at you through the incubator glass, you were so near but also so very far. 

"Mama’s here, mama’s right here," I used to whisper to you over and over again. 

Image: Supplied.


Adrenaline was my friend in these times, it propelled me forward, through the fear closing in around us. It spurred me on and helped me fight when sometimes I just wanted to fall apart, to pull you into me and run away from all the lights and sounds of the neonatal ICU and find a safe place to let go. 

But we held on to find moments of peace in the chaos. We made it home after you spent a whole trimester in the hospital growing bigger and stronger in an incubator instead of in my tummy. But things didn’t slow down, the waves kept coming. 

There were oxygen tubes and machines, medications to administer and more appointments than I could count and no one to help, no nurse to call and the world was locked down due to COVID. Then came surgeries and procedures and your screams of fear and pain and I couldn’t breathe but somehow, I kept moving, singing, pumping, weeping. 


I took you out for walks, the oxygen tank heavy on my back, I can’t remember if I smiled as I held you, as much as you needed me to. It was so cold out there in the blue, I was numb all the way through, still moving, still holding, but my mind was drifting somewhere else. When others stared at you with great sympathy, I felt tears sting my eyes as waves of guilt swept over me again. 

You had only known struggle in your short life, I couldn’t nurture you in the womb and you were taken out too soon. 

My body didn’t do what it was designed to do, and I couldn’t protect you or keep you. I had tried, going to battle against Hyperemesis Gravidarum, Pre-eclampsia and HELLP Syndrome but they won.

They may have conquered my body but I would not let them steal my joy, so we danced in the kitchen and had picnics in the sun, some days we couldn’t leave the house, the water was too deep, so I’d sing to you and somehow, we’d get through and find our breath once more.

Image: Supplied.


I think I nurtured you, but I felt so strung out I’d hear myself yelling and crying, trapped in endless trauma, around and around again. We’d go to the hospital and move through the halls, suddenly, the scent of antiseptic would sting my mind and I was stuck in a painful memory with nowhere to hide. How did I keep moving, talking, existing when my brain kept looping and flashing me back to the terrors in the night?

Empty arms, my own flesh and blood silently screaming but always just out of reach. And somehow you, little you, kept growing and changing, you’d do something new and I’d be drawn back into moments of relief and wonder. 

Sometimes I watched from afar, I didn’t mean to, but I distanced myself from you and your dada, I withdrew into silent spaces, I needed to sit alone, not to do anything, just for a night. 

Then, I’d come back to you and hold you closer, I felt the joy of you and the fear of being tethered to the trauma that just kept on going. I didn’t know then but a lot of what I was experiencing was postpartum 


PTSD. Some didn’t understand and comfort was hard to find, I was a new mother alone in a post-traumatic, pandemic-stricken medical world and I was drowning. 

Fatherhood: Your Dada’s story.

It was Valentine’s Day, 2020 when I raced to the hospital after my final day of work before our big move to start our family in a new city but our plans disintegrated quickly. 

I was greeted by grave faces and your brave mama who had been holding it together until my arms wrapped around her and she let go. She had tried so hard to be a good home for you, to nurture you and keep you safe but her body had struggled from day one. She was so sick, she couldn’t stand up for weeks, months even, she had to stop working too. 

No glowing, growing bump, baby showers, shopping for tiny clothes together or celebratory cigars for me. I watched on, feeling helpless as she lost weight and struggled, needing IV after IV, the only thing helping her through was the dreams she had about you. She was holding hope in her sleep like a golden thread connected to you and she would not let go. Doctors said her life was more important than yours but I knew she’d always choose you. She was sent home when she shouldn’t have been, time and time again, important things were missed and I started wringing my hands, too many things I just didn’t understand.

As she lay on the operating table, so weak, her organs inflamed and shutting down, your heartbeat fading, weakened now, I grinned as she made the room full of doctors and nurses laugh, she always finds the humour in the grim, it’s one of my favourite things about her. 


Image: Supplied.

I joked with the student doctor in honour of his first micro-preemie encounter, that he could be the godfather and the anesthetist told your laughing mother to keep still. 

I watched on as she was sliced open and pulled apart, they had to dig for you, you were so small. 


Your mama started to drift away, they helped her come back they found your tiny foot and when I first saw you, I breathed again. You were the most beautiful thing I had ever seen but silence closed in. I held your mama's hand, her grip whitening her knuckles, and then finally, you let out your roar, just like your mama told you to and we both breathed once more. 

I watched on as you were tended to, wires, tubes, lights, a plastic bag wrapped around you. Your mama was calling out, you were wheeled past her, she couldn’t reach you but she called out, "Mama’s here, Mama’s right here." 

I didn’t know where to stand, I couldn’t hold you or her and then, we had to leave her alone, that was the plan, I would go with you, you needed to know you were not alone, your mama reminded me to use my voice, so I did. 

"Dada’s here, dada’s right here."

Sometimes, it feels like this strange dream, we were there with you, we held you as much as we could, read you stories, fed you through tubes. We watched on as you writhed around in pain, needles piercing your small arms, blood transfusions, infections, collapsed lungs and the silent crying of intubation. 

Whenever you heard my voice, your little eyebrows shot up, even though your eyes were fused shut, you knew me. Sometimes, your mama wasn’t allowed near, she got sick and had to stay away, the pandemic changed the game, we weren’t allowed to see you together or if one of us felt unwell. She was keeping you safe by staying away, even though it broke her in two. 


Image: Supplied.

Every day I stayed with you, every night I found her on the motel room floor, weeping, praying, then she’d fall asleep, she’d dream she was holding you and wake up screaming, searching for you but finding empty arms. 

Eventually, I had to leave you too. I had to work, to provide, to keep going because life keeps moving outside of NICU. That’s one of the strangest parts, your body outside, moving through the world but your heart suspended in the quiet of the NICU and you’re meant to be the man and just push through. 


Back and forth from one city to another, life was a blur, we were passing ships instead of doting parents. Then one day, you were well enough to fly to our new city, a new hospital, new rules and more overwhelm and unknowns but we rode the waves and you finally made it home. 

Then, we were hit by a violent storm, I was in a work accident and fell 5 metres from a tree and somehow, I cheated death too but with a fractured back I was out of action, unable to help as much as I wanted to. 

I was always just watching, everything moved past me, flashes of light, even when I closed my eyes, my dreams were filled with shrill beeping, the sounds of monitors alarming, doctors murmuring, your tiny roar breaking the silence as plastic bags were wrapped around you and I’d hear your mama’s voice calling out from the corridors somewhere in the back of my dreams but I wake in a cold sweat before she reached me. As my heart raced, I’d check your breath again and try to slow mine.

I felt powerless, all I could do was watch from the sidelines as your mama swam the next leg solo. 

I’ve never known a stronger woman – your mama is my hero and so are you. She remembered everything the doctors told her, all the instructions for medications, doses, times, solutions, appointments, procedures, therapies and she was always with you, even when you shrieked as your eyes were held open with forceps as the doctor dug behind them to treat your retinopathy of prematurity so that you could see the wonders of the world (ROP). 


She held you and sang, she held her weeping in until you were safe and sound asleep, then she cried into the sink, took a breath and brought you back home to me, recovering slowly, wading through the pain. After those big days in the hospital when you were asleep in your crib, she wept into my chest. I held her but struggled to find any words, knowing the pain you went through over and over again, pushed me under, I was lost at sea with empty arms too.


Three years on and we are still here, each of us cheating death, treading water, getting stronger. Even when we get tired and just want to sink to the ocean floor, we give each other permission to sink and rest and then, we help each other back up to face the waves together. Our bubble is small, but it isn’t empty, it is filled with victory stories that beat the odds, it swirls with joy and sorrow and they have become great friends.  

Little Brave – you are the moonlight striking the ocean, you are hilarious and caring, wise and kind, intuitive and wild. You have the farthest to swim and yet, you continue to boldly face the day, with eyes like mine and hands like your Dada’s. You are bound to see right to the heart of others and will always find the funny side of life. You will walk in gentle kindness and always lend a hand to others in need. 

Image: Supplied.


You know pain and feel for others deeply, you are gold forged in the fire, the peace that makes no sense.

There is much healing to be found in the deep places of pain and grief. Of allowing yourself to sit beneath the water and process the trauma in your own time, own way and in safe places. We are still healing, still learning and growing, giving one another grace to sink or float, to rage or cry, to rest or run. 

And from the very first dream of you and each new day, you – our mighty Little Brave – fill our lives to overflow with a joy that cannot be shaken, a fight that won’t be snuffed out and a roar that tells our story of storms and waves and how we saw victory and overcame, and so, we float. 

We are forever in awe of who you are, keep roaring and dancing our Little Brave.


Mama and Dada.

One in three Australian women describe their birth to be traumatic and up to 15 per cent of birthing parents experience postpartum PTSD in the first 6 months following the birth. It can affect birthing parents, partners and healthcare professionals – anyone involved in the birth. Symptoms of birth-related trauma and postpartum PTSD are varied and often mis-diagnosed. If you think you might be experiencing symptoms of birth-related trauma and/or postpartum PTSD, speak to your health professional. You can also access resources and support from Australasian Birth Trauma Association.

This Birth Trauma Awareness Week, Erica is taking part in the BIG Step Challenge raising funds for the Australasian Birth Trauma Association to continue their work supporting families, like her own, impacted by birth-related trauma. You can donate here

Erica is a freelance writer and editor who shares poetically charged micro journaling pieces on her healing journey through childhood trauma, birth trauma and postpartum PTSD on her blog, She also shares on navigating her adult ADHD diagnosis as a writer for Additude Magazine and is happiest when she is dancing in the kitchen with her warrior husband Glenn and miracle baby, Chester Brave.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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