Warning: This is a raw narration of the preemie experience. It contains descriptions that may be triggering for some.
You're not prepared. They try to warn you - scare you even, with words like complications, and possible outcomes, and percentage of You wish you could shake it off and throw it to the ground, stomping out it's existence with angry words "be gone! you have no power over me."time this happens. There is a whole dictionary of words, lists of medical procedures, worksheets of warnings. They tell you all this information thinking they are helping, but they're not. They mean well, but there's no way to take all that to heart and still feel okay with the little life growing inside you each day.
Then, everything, everything you ever thought about babies and hospitals, about births that will turn into joyous birthday celebrations, and about life as a family stops. It ceases to exist, and you are left with your entire world shrunk down to a six by eight foot area of one big room. In this small piece of rented real estate, your baby lays in a box while you squeeze yourself into the leftover space not occupied by machines and monitors. When a stranger comes to touch your child and care for her because you can't, you have to move out of the way.
You are no longer placing daddy's hand on your tummy while she kicks or turns somersaults that only you can feel from the inside. Now there are strange hands placing themselves in that box. You have lost the intimate, private relationship and connection with your baby. She is no longer inside you. She is no longer attached to you. She is no longer being kept safe, and warm, and growing by your body. You are empty.
They talk about the NICU being a roller coaster. You quickly find it is true when there are wondrous celebrations as machines are taken away and create space for you, and sinking despair when one needs to come back. The analogy is not entirely accurate, though. Roller coasters are fun and thrilling. We choose to get on them and hold our arms in the air to intensify the feelings that scare and entertain us for a few seconds of free fall. Someone has put you on it and strapped you in. You throw your hands in the air out of frustration, and cover your face to hide the tears.
hen, finally, gratefully and with great relief, you get to go home and just be a normal family. But it's not normal. It's sleeping in the nursery on a broken recliner because you are afraid they might forget that they learned how to breath. It's measuring formula in calories instead of bottles. It's remembering meds, and food, and baths, and more meds, and doctor visits, and nurse visits, and specialty visits, and cognitive tests, and expensive shots so they can continue to breath if they get sick.
And you can't. Not yet. You can't breath, you must stay vigilant and protect against the whole world who wants to enter your babies' space out of love for babies, and love for family, and the whole cuteness of it all. You can't let them in. She is quarantined from germs and viruses that full term babies could withstand. There are wipes, and foams, and gels, all meant to kill these bastards, but you still clench when anyone comes too close, or asks to hold or touch. All you can think of is the viruses they could carry that could bring death to your child's fragile immune system. An immune system that isn't built enough to defend against these things yet. You must be the barrier between your baby and the world, and they hate you for it.
The consequences of innocent gestures are beyond most people's comprehension, but they can't be beyond yours. You wish you could shake it off and throw it to the ground, stomping out it's existence with angry words "be gone! you have no power over me." But they do. They have a terrifying power that rears their head in every public appearance away from the safe space you've created at home. The one next to Kleenex, sanitizer, wipes and freshly washed hands and clothes.
Yet, the world goes on with its turning, and eventually your world starts to grow. As you emerge, however, you realize you've missed the walks in the park, and the trips to the malls. You've been so diligent about avoiding all the places where ever humans might get too close and upset the fragile balance between protection and madness. You had no mommy and me classes. You had no coffee play dates. You had limited family gatherings. Your baby has been existing for months, are more like the tree that falls in the forest.
Eventually, as time passes the seemingly impossible starts to happen. You lose a stat here, and forget a fact there. Things that you thought would be burned in your brain forever start to fade. Never totally gone, but softer somehow. You manage to get through the first birthday, which was the day your world collapsed around you rather than the joyous day your baby was born.
Even that feeling fades with time, and each time you are asked how you did "it", you are less and less taken aback each time. I did it because I had to. There was no other path we could have gone down, and I did. They did. Dad did. WE did.
It happened. We were there. We made it. We carry the physical scars from my daughter's surgeries, and the emotional scars in our hearts. We are never totally free of the sight of the wires, the smell of antiseptics, the feeling of holding something so fragile you swear you are going to break it, and the sounds of the shrill beeps of the monitors. You are never free from the place where your babies lived, but others went there to die. You try to remind yourself that you were one of they lucky ones, but it rings hollow. Your luck came at a great price. One you would wish on no one.
Eclectic crochet fanatic & designer. Mpls, Sci Fi, God, JRTs, girls-6,6,3 & hubs=love. firstname.lastname@example.org