Facebook has told me of this holiday via my sweet sister in law. Joe's sister, Jessica, and her husband Jeremy are parents of four beautiful children: three girls and a boy. Their middle two, the twins, were born at 27 weeks. I was barely pregnant with our first at the time, and visiting Jessica in the hospital that August afternoon was about the scariest thing I ever saw as I was beginning to embrace being pregnant.
Fast forward eleven years, and her twins are perfectly perfect. Willowy and wonderfully smart and athletic, they defied all odds that were shared with them in the NICU for the three months they were there. We experienced just a taste of this family's journey during their first few months: monitors, check ups, missed holidays thanks to colds and flu that would send these tender babes back into the hospital.
After having four healthy, term babies, I figured I was only going to be an aunt of preemies.
So when I found out I was having the twins, I was told I would probably go a little early. Twins are most likely to not go the full 40 weeks, and I was more of a higher risk because I was considered "maternally advanced," aka, old.
However, the NICU was for tiny babies.
The NICU was where my friend Julie worked.
I wasn't high risk. Sure, I was old, but not THAT old. I was in great shape pre-babies, never have had high blood pressure, blah, blah, blah.
Our babies were born at 35 weeks and 4 days, just three days shy of the "out of the woods" area. Mary came out as pink and screaming as a normal baby. She was small, but doing okay, considering her early birth. Caroline, however, was a different story. I'll spare you the gory details, but I will never forget Joe's facial expression or the doctor's tone of voice as they began to work on getting little Caroline out.
She wasn't crying.
That's all I remember.
She wasn't crying.
I asked Joe why she wasn't crying and if something was wrong, and he said words that I will never forget.
"I don't know."
That's all I remember, as I was pretty drugged up and going into shock.
Luckily, my sweet friend, my talented friend, my amazingly gifted friend Julie worked on our girl. Born in respiratory distress, gray and struggling for life, Julie got her breathing. As they wheeled me from recovery to the NICU, she hovered over my face and told me that Caroline had a hard time coming into this world, but that she was going to be taken care of by the best, and would be okay.
And while she and Mary both were taken care of and are fine, Joe's words that completely freaked me out are quite prophetic and appropriate for a NICU parent.
You just don't know.
You don't know what can happen, and you don't want to leave, but you need to. You just don't know, even though you begin to speak the language, listening during rounds for words or tones that are encouraging. You are in a constant state of awareness, despite mental and physical fatigue.
Our nieces were there for three months. There are babies there for longer. We were there for nine days, and while I know we are very fortunate for this short stay, once you've been a NICU parent, you know.
I have read all the post with the National Prematurity Day hashtag. I saw faces of parents in the NICU during our time with the expression of guilt for being exhausted and confused and fear for their child's life. I think that's what has struck me today, seeing all the photos of my friends and folks around who are part of this club. The look on all of our faces in our first pictures is roughly the same: a mix of exhaustion and elation. You just don't know what's really happening, but you're holding it together because it's your kid.
Time spent in the NICU is time that has stood still. Lights are dimmed, so you have a sort-of sense of day and night, until just before dusk and just before dawn. The temperature is so warm, I was wearing tanks and t shirts at times, even though it was October. It's confusing, but you begin to speak the language, Bradys, PICC Lines, catheters, etc. fall into your conversation very easily. A NICU parent deals in feedings and changings, timing each and measuring all. And, in the back of all of our minds, is the dread that news won't be good. Babies will stay sick, or worse. Our family was lucky, and tonight, we should also pray for those who weren't.
Fellow NICU parents, we are a strong group.
We should be celebrated, even if it is just a hashtag and a picture on Facebook. Being in the NICU, even though for a short time, changed me as a mother. I had taken my other four easy births for granted, bringing home each baby with me as I left, not leaving my little ones, driving home with empty car seat bases in the backseat. That's tough. I can still smell the soap and feel the bristles of the brushy sponge we had to use before entering the NICU. However, whenever I drive by our hospital, I can't help but lift up a prayer of thanks to all the people who worked on and with my girls, who are back there saving precious lives every single day, around the clock. How they work 24 hour shifts is beyond me.
Friends, I don't have to tell you that we live in a hard world. Life is difficult. Life is confusing, but life is precious. I am so lucky to have given life to six souls who will hopefully make a mark on this world that will give back to those who helped make their life happen.
Happy World Prematurity Day, fellow preemie moms and dads. You are a part of a special, select group. A club membership given to you without being asked, but you are a part of it nonetheless. Whether you tuck your baby in tonight or pray to her to see her some other day, today is a day to remember, and I celebrate you.