Tuesday, November 17
It’s my first day back at work (Tuesdays I work from home), and it’s a big deal (and it goes well), but it’s not more important than World Prematurity Day.
Not for me, anyway.
I’ve shared a few times, that my son, Briggs was a preemie. He was born two months too soon and weighed only two pounds. We spent the first 61 days of his life in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU), the following five at Boston’s Children’s Hospital following a surgery, and the next fourteen months working with physical therapists and early interventionists to help him get caught up to his peers.
Thankfully, he did catch up, and it will be the thing that I am forever most grateful for.
I’m quick to share the story of the miracle of our son.
What I don’t often talk about is me during that time.
Four years and a heap of intensive therapy later, I still can’t tell you how painful it was to leave my baby in the hospital after my discharge. The hospital (and the insurance companies) will only cover a five day stay for mothers of NICU babies.
Five out of the first 61 days of my son’s life I was granted the unbelievable gift of constantly being (and even sleeping!) in the same building as him. After that, certain truths settled in:
I, in fact, could not live with my child.
I could not hold him whenever I wanted.
I could not nurse. At least not in the beginning.
So, what I did do, were all the things I saw as, “the next best”:
I spent between 12 and 20 hours everyday in the NICU with Briggs.
I pumped from 12 hours after his birth (once I was aware enough to get the pump on) until he was six months old.
And even though, at first I really did not want to, I enrolled him in the NICU Cuddles Program. This program brings in vetted volunteers to cuddle NICU babies when their parents can’t.
I knew the importance of touch. Of gentle, loving, warmth. But, I was stuck in a place of deep self-loathing.
I couldn’t escape the thought that I had somehow (and worse, somehow purposely) caused the preeclampsia (hypertension in pregnant mothers) that forced my son out so early. I was scared – deeply terrified – that this energy would be rooted in my son and that it would result in him always feeling (but never understanding why he felt) unwanted, or neglected, or worst of all, abandoned.
I wanted him so badly – with every messed-up fiber that made me – to KNOW how much he was wanted. I wanted him to know (really KNOW) that his mother would do anything-everything – pump, nurse, bottle-feed, read to him in the incubator, do skin-to-skin, learn infant massage, take the NICU CPR class, switch the black and white picture of the owl to the opposite side of his hospital issued bassinet every 12, then every 6, then every 4 hours, every day, to help strengthen his eyes-I wanted him to know that I would be happy to spend the rest of my life proving to him how completely he is (was, and always would be) wanted.
That’s why, when the NICU team nestled him up against my cheek for a precious moment before rushing him (and his Dad) away, I whispered:
I’m sorry. I’m so, so, sorry.
I think of those words today and it makes me ache for all different reasons. I know why I said sorry then. It was how I authentically felt.
I was sorry because I believed that I had DONE this to him. That I had caused it and that I would spend the rest of my days trying to impossibly rewrite this horribly tragic beginning.
It’s why – even though I knew it was good for him – I resisted signing the paper to enroll him in the Cuddle Program…because I was so scared that if he got what he needed from someone else, it would mean that I had somehow been deficient in giving him what he needed in the first place.
A dear, trusted friend, who also happened to be one of Briggs’s amazing NICU nurses, gently convinced me otherwise.
And today, on World Prematurity Day, I am filled with gratitude for that nurse, and for all the men and women who so loving serve the families that need them the most.
And, while I may not be able to go back in time and make my first words what they were intended to be (I love you) – I can honor my son’s miraculous start by sharing my story and his unbelievable progress.
Love, Baby, Love.