I broke on day seven of my son’s life. It didn’t happen when he was born, as traumatic and terrifying as that night had been. It didn’t happen that first night, when the realization of what had taken place those 24 hours before hit me and I collapsed into my own mother’s arms sobbing and praying that God would save my baby. No, the day I shattered was on day seven.
My first born came into this world at 25 weeks gestation after just a few hours of spontaneous and unexplained labor. He was breathing with the support of a ventilator, he ate with the help of a tube and my touch often was too overwhelming for his tiny body to handle. I had known nothing about the things my little man would face. On day three of his life, a head ultrasound showed some fluid in his ventricles. We were told not to worry, it was only Grade I/II. I pulled out my Preemies book and looked up Intraventricular Hemorrhage. I breathed a bit easier when I saw that babies with mild bleeds usually do well and their risk factors are a bit higher than most preemies without bleeds, but the outcome was still optimistic.
On day seven, I received a call. I hadn’t had the chance to hold my son yet. I was barely allowed to touch him or talk to him. He was so tiny and so easily overstimulated. The night before the call, I developed mastitis. When it rains, it pours, they say. I spent the day on the couch in tears. I was sicker than I had ever felt (for those who haven’t had mastitis, imagine being hit by a semi…right in the breast.) This was the first day I wasn’t going to see my baby. I could barely walk to the bathroom or sit up to pump (which was it’s own painful nightmare).
My phone rang mid afternoon, waking me from a nap. There are no words for how it feels to see the NICU number pop up on your phone. It rarely means good things. I answered and my heart sank further when our neonatologist introduced herself. Her voice shook slightly as she told me that the latest head ultrasound came back and Owen’s bleeds had progressed.
“It isn’t good” she said.
I’ll never forget those three words.
I don’t remember anything else about that call. I hung up and fell apart. Before that moment, I believed with my entire heart that my baby would be OK. I knew he would grow and get stronger. I knew he would smile, laugh, walk, talk – everything. There was no part of my brain or heart that could tell me that my baby needed much more than time. He would get there and he would be fine.
In that moment, my current reality shattered. I had read the book. I had looked online. I knew the outcome for tiny babies with bilateral grade IV IVH – and it wasn’t good.
After that call, every bit of confidence that I had keeping me going fell apart. My world shattered. I called my husband and, through uncontrollable sobs, I tried to tell him. He couldn’t understand most of what I had said and had to call the NICU himself to hear the same words that broke me. I’m not sure if they broke him. He never said if they did. He was strong for me. I needed him to be since I had nothing left that day, and many days after.
From then on, I worked to pick up the pieces of my broken reality. Every preemie mother has a moment when they break. It doesn’t last. We pick up the pieces of our shattered optimism and look at our current journey with realistic eyes, with hope, perseverance and strength. We have to.
It’s what keeps us moving, praying, believing and encouraging our babies to keep fighting. It keeps us pumping when we haven’t had more than an ounce in hours. It helps us rejoice in every milestone, no matter how small. It allows us to really see the joy in every moment of our NICU journey, regardless of the fear and diagnoses that may try to overshadow it.
From that moment on, I was a different mother. I knew the odds. I knew the challenges that he may face but he wasn’t alone. We would face those challenges together as a family.
And we did.