Two years ago today, my baby daughter cried the moment she entered the world, just as I prayed she would. I was flooded with relief. I hardly got to see her as the NICU team whisked her across the hall to evaluate her. As we had planned ahead of time, Hubs left my room immediately and stayed right by her side, running back every couple of minutes with brief status reports: "She looks fine!" or "She’s on oxygen, but she’s breathing great!" Before they took her to the NICU, they brought her to my bed and let me hold her for a few seconds. She was tiny, but she was clearly very strong and very healthy. She was taken to the NICU, and I didn’t get to see her again for several hours, while they checked her status more fully and started her IV antibiotics (since my water had been broken so long). She was a remarkable 5 lbs 13 oz at only 34 weeks gestation (and yes, my due date was correct). We rejoiced!
I could write pages about our experience in the NICU. If you’ve ever been in one, you understand.
The first time I went in, hours after Corrie’s birth, my husband was pushing me in a wheelchair. He had been in there once already, right after her birth, and he walked me through the rigid security and hand-washing protocol. He did his best to prepare me for that room, but there was no way he could.
Our NICU was a large room, full of the tiniest little humans I’d ever seen. What first struck me was the sound of it. There was a constant, dull whoosh of ventilators and other machines, as well as an unending chorus of beeps from hundreds of monitors. But for a room full of babies, there was remarkably little crying. Most of them simply weren’t strong enough.
Our daughter had been placed in the area reserved for the sickest babies, as all "newcomers" were, until they could be fully evaluated. It was profoundly sobering to see her in such an environment. The nurse had coached us that a preemie’s gentle system tolerated a firm touch better than a "tickly" one; so with my hand solidly on her tiny head I wept, suddenly overcome with guilt that my body pushed her out too soon.
Our Corrie proved to a spunky little thing, blowing the lid off every expectation. Within a day of her arrival in the NICU, she was moved to the level for the healthiest babies. She nursed–ever so slowly, but surely–when she was only 18 hours old, and she never required a feeding tube. Except for the first few minutes after birth, she breathed room air the entire time. She was so feisty that she pulled out five IV tubes in four days, until they finally had to insert one into the top of her head. It was heartbreaking and funny at the same time, as I whispered to her it was the first of many princess caps she would wear. She squirmed and cried and kicked in her isolette, cheered on (I imagined) by the photograph of her big brothers taped to the inside of her little bed.
The hardest part was leaving her at the hospital each night. I knew how well she was cared for, but, irrationally every instinct in my body wanted to hide her under my coat and sneak her home with us. Every night I sang a blessing over her: "May the Lord bless you and keep you, May He be gracious unto you…"
She was doing SO well. We overwhelmingly grateful for this, but this was mixed with a bittersweet guilt as we got to know the other families. We met parents who had been heroically existing in the strange NICU no-man’s-land for weeks, even months. I saw mothers sitting day after day beside their babies’ incubators, unable to touch them. Twice during our stay, the other parents and I were quickly shuffled out of the room when a baby "coded". And I will never, as long as I live, forget the look on the face of the mother who described to me how her baby’s organs were gradually shutting down. She spoke as matter-of-factly as if she were describing what she had for lunch that day–her eyes were dull with shock, exhaustion and grief. How I prayed for her, for all of them.
After five brief days (not the two or three weeks for which we had been prepared), Corrie was ready to go home. I couldn’t bring myself to make eye contact with the other mothers as I left, inwardly rejoicing and weeping in the same moment. But how we celebrated on our way home! Her brothers would finally be able to meet her. One of my favorite family photographs (above right, taken by my mother) showed our boys sitting in the front yard, eagerly waiting for Hubs and me to bring her home. What a day!
And what days we’ve had since!. It is hard for me to believe that the tiny and fragile little baby she was is the same feisty two year old that I see today. She is a saucy little bundle of spunk, with her blonde pigtails and dimples. She dances with abandon to my Abba CD, and she pulls the dog’s hair at every opportunity. She faithfully carries a Winnie the Pooh spoon around in her sparkly purple purse, and she sings "Ginkle Ginkle Ta-Ta-Ta" (Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star) at the top of her lungs. She runs happily to the door when she sees her brothers get off the school bus, and she has been known to raid my make-up drawer on more than one occasion. She is a girly and stubborn and delightful ray of sunshine in our house, an unexpected blessing none of us could have known how much we needed.
Happy birthday, my sweet girl–we’re so glad you happened.