My son is nearly 15 months old. Some days I look at my busy, clumsy toddler and forget that the NICU ever happened. Other days I remember it like it was yesterday, the memories of our month in the NICU still so vividly alive in my mind.
Where we currently live, I drive by the NICU about two to three times a week. I can’t make that drive without a glance towards the direction of his window. The window that was nearest his bassinet, the window where I looked out onto a cold, wintered and frozen city, wondering when I would leave this hospital with my son instead of empty-armed and empty-hearted as I had so many nights before.
At that window was a deep windowsill where I would set my things while visiting my preemie son, every single day for a month. I would arrive in the morning and stay until the sky had lost all light and it was time to go home.
When I was still healing from my emergency c-section, I depended on my husband, my parents or a nurse to guide my wheelchair throughout the hospital. But once I gained the ability to move around independently I walked those hospital halls mostly alone, always in the same pattern.
Upon arrival it was straight to the NICU floor, my heart bursting at the seams to see my precious boy and get an update from one of the nurses. After a one hour holding session and a possible try at breast feeding, I would make my way to the lactation room to pump, then to the lobby and then to the cafeteria for food. As soon as his next care time rolled around, the routine started over again. It seemed as though life revolved around those care times and the sweet but too short reunions between mom and baby.
I don’t remember a day that I didn’t cry or fight back tears.
It felt as though I had woken up in a different world and was desperately trying to get back to where I belonged. I had done everything “right” before and during my pregnancy and my carefully constructed plan for a natural birth had unraveled at the moment my water broke, eight weeks before the due date.
It didn’t matter that I had been taking prenatal vitamins for nearly a year before I had gotten pregnant. It didn’t matter that I had read everything I could get my hands on regarding pregnancy, birth and babies or the fact that I made my husband read as much as he was willing to take in. Or that we went to Lamaze class, that I went to a breastfeeding class, that I took the time to stay active and eat the right foods during my pregnancy. For some reason, still unknown to our doctors, my son was born two months early.
Regardless of how devastated I was to have lost the opportunity to carry my baby full term and experience a natural birth, I was a mom without her baby. My baby resided in a hospital, receiving more care from hospital staff than his own mother. It was a fact that I walked around with like a knife stuck in my heart, every day that he was there. It even lingered for a while after we went home.
But little by little it went away, replaced by the absolute, joyful truth that I am his mom and no one ever has or ever could replace me.
I felt it go away during night feedings, when it was just the two of us awake in the house, the quiet stillness of our home wrapping us up like a cozy blanket. It faded even more as he grew and was able to smile at me, coo at me or stop fussing as soon as he felt my arms wrap around him.
Rocking him, playing with him, watching him in peaceful sleep, seeing his personality develop and watching him do so many amazing things during his first year of life has definitely closed up a wound and allowed it to heal.
I’ll always wish we could have had a different start, he and I. My heart may sometimes ache for a memory of seeing him take his first breath or the feeling of his warm, squishy body as it was placed on my chest in the moments after his birth.
But every storm brings a rainbow. Every winter brings a spring.
I’m stronger as a woman, wife and mom because of all that we went through. In his short 15 months of life my son has a tremendous impact on me, truly making his momma blossom into something more, something to be proud of and grateful for.
That window will always be there for me. It will always catch my eye and tug at my heart. It will always beckon me to take the exit and visit the nurses working that shift or offer a hug for the momma of the baby in that exact bassinet.
That window takes me back to a time of uncertainty and fear. To sadness and grief. To confusion and loneliness. And because that’s where we were, but not at all where we are now, that window, more than anything else, symbolizes hope.
The hope that you can overcome, you can move forward, you can heal and you can thrive.