Photo: Courtesy of Alicia McAuley
There are no pictures of my son on the day that he was born.
There are some photos from that day, sure—of me, hooked up to fetal monitors, giving a thumbs up; of my smiling husband, sitting in a hospital chair, waiting for my contractions to (finally) begin—but none of the little boy who changed my life forever.
When my water broke 35 weeks into my pregnancy, I was more than a little shocked. I’d done everything “right” all the way along; I didn’t eat any of the “forbidden” foods, I took my prenatal vitamins and tried to keep my weight gain in check. I took birthing classes, toured the hospital, signed up for a breastfeeding clinic, and even talked to experts for a story about how to get more sleep during pregnancy. It turns out, though, that babies have their own timeline, and we’re just along for the ride.
And so, my sweet baby boy, Bennett, made his grand entrance into the world a month and a day ahead of his expected due date. I held him for only a moment, felt his weight and warmth on my chest while I gently stroked his head, and then watched him leave with a team of experts and my husband, bound for the NICU.
When our birthing class instructor pointed out the NICU on our tour of the hospital, I admit that I didn’t give it much thought. Not because it wasn’t an important place, but because I never imagined that we would end up there. After a pregnancy that had been so “normal,” so easy, even, I fully expected his delivery to be the same. But there I was, shortly after his birth, being wheeled toward the NICU to see my son.
I will never forget the moment that we passed through the NICU doors and I saw my tiny baby in his isolette, hooked up to a cluster of tubes and wires and machines. I felt helpless, and afraid. I wanted desperately to hold him, to comfort him, to make everything okay. Instead, I whispered to my husband that I needed to go back into the hallway to get some air. The doors had barely closed before I slumped over, sobbing, running through what I could have done to bring this on, feeling like I’d failed as his mother already.
Back in my hospital room, the tears kept coming. My amazing nurse, Michelle—who was by my side along with my husband through my whole delivery—came to give me some paperwork and help prepare me to move to another room. When she saw me crying, she crouched next to me, put a hand on my arm to comfort me and said: “I know this all seems so awful right now, but one day, when he’s two, and he’s running around your house tearing everything apart, this will all be a distant memory. And then he’ll start kindergarten, and on that day you’ll cry like this all over again.”
It’s the kind of thing that you can’t fully appreciate in the moment, but those words have played over in my mind countless times since the day we brought Bennett home from the NICU. With each doctor’s appointment and NICU follow-up, each month that passes and each new milestone that he achieves. One day. One day, it seems so far away. And then, one day, it’s not.
Now, here we are, on the eve of Bennett’s second birthday. In total, he spent eight days in the NICU—just a fraction of the time that some families will spend there, but the longest eight days of our lives, nonetheless. And the truth is that the memory isn’t that distant—not yet. I can still remember the smell of the NICU, the sound of monitors beeping in the middle of the night, the tiny cries of tiny babies, and the sight of my precious babe hooked up to those wires and machines. But I also remember the obstetrician, the paediatrician, and the team of healthcare experts who played such a vital role on the day that Bennett was born. I remember the names of all of the incredible nurses who helped us along the way, who took such amazing care of our son during the first days of his life, who made us feel stronger and more sure of ourselves as new parents. They will forever be an important part of our family’s story. And I remember the outpouring of love and support that we received from family, friends, and fellow NICU parents. Words do not exist that could convey the depth of our gratitude to each of these individuals.
What has become more distant, though, is the image of that scared new mom, sobbing in the hallway. Those feelings of failure, of helplessness, fear and uncertainty have been edged out by awe, and joy, and an overwhelming love that I never imagined possible. With each belly laugh and mischievous smile, each drool-y kiss and “I love you, Mommy,” I move closer and closer to that “one day.”
And as for that first day of kindergarten, you can bet that my camera—and my Kleenex—will be ready.