Last weekend we went to a NICU reunion at the hospital where Mac was born almost five years ago. The hospital had arranged all sorts of fun activities for the kids: a petting zoo, train, bounce house, balloon artist, photo booth, and of course offered a whole array of kid-friendly food to eat. It resembled a carnival. There were lots of people. The whole lower level of the maternity wing was crawling with NICU graduates all dressed up and looking super cute for the nurses.
After taking a good look around my husband turned to me and said, “It’s become so hip to be premature.”
An interesting statement.
Here we were surrounded by many other families who had unexpectedly, or not, journeyed through the NICU just like us. Each experience different, but probably equally terrifying. We even knew three other families at the reunion apart from our hospital stay, which further underscored the prevalence of prematurity in our little community alone. We’ve done NICU reunions before. Lots of times. This one just felt different to me. I felt like I was supposed to be proud of something terrible. A giant celebration for the day that my brand new baby got whisked away, while I was in a deep sleep and later in a puddle of tears, once I came to and realized what had happened.
Nathan has once again changed my perspective on life, and the beginnings of life, and the expectations I once had of having a baby. Mac was the happy story. The baby that turned out A-okay. Nathan was not. From the very beginning day on May 31st, 2013 neonatologists and nurses told me that this one wasn’t going to be the picture perfect story. A 37-weeker is not supposed to go to the NICU. This one did. He was so little and fragile and couldn’t do things babies are supposed to do at his gestational age, primarily eat.
So here I was at another NICU reunion, trying to celebrate my 34-weeker who did great and thrived, while the other half of my heart was hurting for the one who is still not. I’m learning to live in both of my boys’ stories, similar and different though they are. I was remembering some of those sweet firsts, of my now almost five-year-old, that took place in that hospital on the second floor – my first diaper change, the first time I took his temperature, the first time I nursed him, and especially the first time I got to hold him which happened over 24 hours after he was born. It all happened right there by his bedside, not in mine. It was such a jolting introduction to him, but it’s the only introduction I have. Those memories are truly sweet if I can remember, not just the bad, but the good ones as well.
So maybe it’s not that prematurity is becoming more hip, maybe it’s that we are giving ourselves permission to celebrate a less than ordinary birth story. Because it is a harsh, sobering, sterile beginning to life. The birth day of a NICU baby is often born in grief, not celebration. For the first few days, weeks, and months a preemie is separated from his parents, is poked and prodded by several strangers, fights continually to learn how to eat, and sleeps with a bunch of other babies and monitors beeping throughout the day and night. But the day a preemie leaves the NICU to finally come home, that is a day of true celebration for a new life and new beginning.
I am grateful that we went to celebrate, not Mac being in that NICU, but graduating from it. I needed to reflect on all of the good that’s come from our very first NICU baby, and hopefully one day I’ll feel the same about the second. Look at how big and strong and funny and smart he is. He’s also a terrible eater and smaller than other kids in his class but it’s just part of his story. Now he’s at the age where he’s starting to know the story of his birth more too. He was proud to be at his NICU. He was proud that it was not about Nathan this time. We soaked up all of the fun the hospital offered us that afternoon and afterward my big kid skipped through the parking lot saying, “This is a very fun day!”
Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” – Isaiah 43:18-19
And then this weekend we received an invitation to a PICU/IMC graduate celebration in October. Now I need to figure out how to have a good attitude about my son having spinal surgery. Maybe we’ll just skip that party…
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