"The NICU moment I will never, ever forget."

Having a baby is tough stuff. Delivering your baby early is a really scary thing. Trust me. I’ve been there. Hoping with every part of your being that everything is going to be OK… It is a feeling incomparable to anything else.

When my water broke seven weeks early, I didn’t know what to expect. Neither did the doctors or nurses. One minute they thought I’d be fine with bed rest for a few weeks, the next they were preparing me for an emergency C – Section. It all happens so fast.

Babies born at 33 weeks aren’t your typical birth story. There was no moment after birth where my son was placed on my chest for happy photos, instead he was rushed away from me to the NICU to a humidicrib.

Hours later, when I’d been sent back to the ward from recovery, I still hadn’t seen my baby. I couldn’t deal with being separated from him. After months of him growing in my tummy, I felt so empty, it felt so strange for him to no longer be there. I actually had a panic attack I was freaking out so much, and the nurses thankfully worked out a way to wheel my bed downstairs to the NICU and squeeze me in there so I could have a moment to see my child, for the very first time.

He was so small, so obviously not fully developed and ready to be out in the world. His little ears were curled like lettuce leaves, his tiny body far too small for any baby clothes. He lay there, tucked away in a humidicrib inside the neonatal intensive care unit, covered in tubes and wires, beeps sounding at every moment from his monitors. At that point, we didn’t know what was going to happen next.

When all your friends and family have had textbook births that went full term with little to no complications, it can be hard to find someone who understands how you feel when your baby is born early, someone who you can relate to. There are so many feelings pulsing through you – you worry was this your fault somehow? Will your baby be alright?

When your baby is covered in tubes and wires, it’s a very scary thing.

Being discharged from the hospital while your baby is still in there, that first shower with a flat, empty, crumpled belly… I cried so many unstoppable tears – it’s all so shocking and unexpected. It can be hard to cope.

With your hormones going wild and your emotions all over the place, childbirth is never an easy experience. The first few days are hard. When your baby is born prematurely, the first weeks and sometimes months are difficult times. Until you have your baby home where they belong, you won’t be able to relax.

You drive back and forth from the hospital daily, sometimes many times a day to spend time with your precious baby. You struggle to express milk, the idea of breastfeeding is no longer a natural process between you and your baby, instead you are hooked up to a milking machine, your breasts twisted and pulled, while listening to the slightly terrifying sounds of the machine. It’s OK to cry.

What it's like taking your baby home from the hospital for the first time. (Post continues after audio.)

In fact, it is really important to talk about how you feel. It is normal to feel sad and confused when your baby is still in the NICU. Months of preparing for the big day have come to a sudden end, yet you’re still waiting for your baby to come home. It doesn’t feel right to be there without them.

Some premature babies have health complications, and some have less intense issues. All premmie babies are fighters. My little man had a feeding tube for the first 22 days of his life, as he hadn’t yet learned the suck and swallow reflex. He weighed 4 pound 4 oz at birth, and his tiny head fit in the palm of my hand. He was ever so small. I was so stressed and worried for him, would he survive? Would he have any long term health problems? These are all uncertainties, the nurses take things by the hour, the minute. You pray that your baby will be alright, you make crazy promises with God so that things will turn out well.

He was ever so small.

I can remember sitting in the NICU one night with my partner just staring at our son, hoping with all my hopes he would be OK. A lady wandered in in a dressing gown, and the nurses went to talk to her in the doorway. After a moment, my partner walked over to them, too. He led the woman back to our son, and told her she could see him if she liked. With tears in her eyes, she said she would. She stood, looking at our son for a long moment, then she thanked us and walked back out. I gave my partner a confused look, who was that? He sat down with me and whispered in my ear that she had just lost her own son, and she really wanted to see a baby.

I had no words. My heart broke for that woman.

I suddenly realised just how lucky I was. Even if this path seemed hard, I didn’t know what hard truly was. I was instantly so grateful that my son was here before me, and I stopped feeling sorry for myself right then and there. I transformed all my worry into hope for our little fighter, who was making steady progress.

At the end of the day that’s all you can do. Hope. Thank the nurses and doctors for their remarkable care. And know that the future will be what it will be, you just have to take one day at a time, and be thankful for each and every minute. Things will be alright, eventually.

The big birthday boy. You’d never believe he was once so very small.

Today, I watched on as my little boy ripped the paper off his birthday presents, one by one. He looked up at me and smiled, so happy and excited that it was his fourth birthday. Little does he know just how lucky he is. Maybe I spoil him a little, but who could blame me? This child is the epitome of hope.

This post was originally published on Totally Motherhood and has been republished with full permission.

Jess Hunt is a freelance writer and mother of two young children, living in country NSW. She writes her thoughts and ideas about parenting on her blog,