I feel like a prison escapee, the one who ran without unlocking my cellmates. Known ones, new ones, all left behind in various stages of medically-induced dishevellment.
Near to our departure another new family appeared, a regular occurrence. Magnetically drawn I watched under the curtain to see a man’s feet in flip-flops pushing a wheelchair, and a mama’s slippers, and an IV pole. They see their incubator-baby for the first time, or maybe the tenth, and are overcome with helplessness, and I hear them cry.
Everything is so relative in there. Fellow parents looked at us and thought Ohmygod, they lost a baby. What we’re facing isn’t so bad. And meanwhile I looked at them and thought Ohmygod her baby has been here three months and they still don’t know if she’ll ever be able to digest food and they’re doing exploratory surgery to put part of her dead intestine in a bag outside of her body and it may not work or Ohmygod it was their first pregnancy and it was triplets and one of them isn’t recovering from heart surgery very well and they look so sad. All leading to What we’re facing isn’t so bad.
The NICU gave us technicolour eyes and ears and hearts. Knowing not just cerebrally but in the fabric of ourselves that this stuff really, truly does happen to people. Flooded with nonstop empathy for those crying out in the world, “Why us?”
I don’t know why. But at least I can say I know how it feels, to feel that way. And that’s something to offer: company.
In this strange space, after the gauntlet, normal is completely redefined. Normal is He’s perfect, aside from the usual: a hole in his heart and a murmur and a couple of hernias that need surgery and high blood pressure and bi-pulmonary lung disease.
He’s ours, and we’re home, and he’s perfect.
You know the crazy thing? My due date was August 4. After all we’ve been through, a lifetime’s worth, I should still be pregnant.
He is a celebrity. People gape in the grocery store as if I’ve just squatted in the parking lot and then come inside to pick up a few post-placental whoopie pies.
“Now THAT’S a newborn!”
I don’t mind explaining because I’m proud to own it. To say actually he’s two months old, and if you think he’s small now you should have seen him when he was born, one-third the size of this.
The more I say it the more competent I feel, the more my feet are righted under me. They’re charmed but a little aghast, intimidated by him. Baby size and the intensity of the parental gauntlet are inversely related, you see. Ben was a quarter of what’s average but ten times the experiential potency.
He is a dream. What else to say? Having a newborn is a vacation compared to the constant chasing and negotiations of even the most beloved and well-behaved two-year-old. Nobody gives you the hairy eyeball in public, and he hampers no one, adorable and portable in his little seat. The nighttime grunting has slowed a bit, and I do get some sleep, and he burps like a frat boy. The car is once again the magical sleep-o-matic, and the laundry never stops. We’ve put off bathing him (too many thumbs between us) and he still smells delicious despite the neck cheese.
Rattled at the prospect of being at home alone with Ben and Evan at the same time, but so proud of both of them. Evan is drawn to Ben like the best friend he knew he was meant to have. He met him with such unbridled joy as if to say about time you got here!
He scrambles to the bassinette for the third time in five minutes, throws his face over the side and shout-whispers, “Bennnn! Izza WAKE-UP TIME!!” as a string of chin-drool waggles from side to side and stretches to schwick on the baby’s cheek.
“I ahhh… BIG BRUDDER!!”
“I ahhh... NICE AN’ QUIET!!”
“I a-kiss a-HEAD!!”
“Ben izza biting a-Mama BOOBEEE!!”
Relating the thrills of Evan, the only true-to-life is exclamation points everywhere. You can hear him, right?