(Note: This is one of many posts I wrote during my 27-weeker preemie’s NICU journey that never got published. Some of them felt too raw to share at the time. Now that my son is two and thriving, I’m going back and publishing these for World Prematurity Day. Several posts like this will go live today. Back to ordinarily scheduled programming tomorrow…)
Today, as I sat in my car at the top of the hospital’s parking deck, I felt overwhelmed with emotion. The nightmare that began last summer is almost over, and my son is coming home tomorrow, after 11 weeks in NICU.
I don’t want to cry.
I want his nurse to take a picture of me holding him, without my having a puffy red face and bleeding mascara.
I sit and quietly say a prayer. I thank God for how he has sustained me and my family through this trial, the most frightening and stressful experience of my life. I thank him for all the people who showed up for us that He worked through, and I asked Him to help me be worthy of this blessing.
Statistically speaking, my son shouldn’t be here.
When I began bleeding at 10 weeks gestation, convinced I was miscarrying, we had a 50% chance of losing him. As my bleeding and leaking of amniotic fluid continued, culminating in my water rupturing totally at 21 weeks, fear turned to terror.
At that point, there was a 75% likelihood that I would go into labor within a week, which would have meant certain death for him.
Every emotion that I can name, and sometimes several at once, overwhelmed me.
And now, this frightening, terrifying, sad, angry, amazing experience has drawn to an end.
I will miss the people who cared for my son (and me), but I will not miss this place.
As I walked into the building, the familiar sounds, smells and sensations strike me: the blast of warm air hitting my face as the automatic doors part, the sharp smell of alcohol and sanitizer which, as I reach the floor of the NICU and the elevator doors part, mixes with baby lotion.
This is the last time.
Little did I know, like most moms of preemies, that once baby is home from hospital, the stress and fear are hardly over. We long for the day we can take baby home, having no idea that anxiety and post-traumatic stress will take over where fear and grief left off.
In some ways, things get worse, as now baby’s care is now all up to you. There is no oddly comforting routine of visiting the NICU, secure that professionals who are far smarter than you are keeping your son alive in your absence.
Once home, you now have to worry about baby getting sick. Other people, and their germs, are a threat to your child, who is no longer protected and cocooned by locked doors, handwashing rituals and hospital protocol.
The journey is in some ways just beginning…