September Then and Now: The What Could Have Been, What Was, and What Is.

by Cori Laemmle

Green Day said it best:

“As my memory rests
But never forgets what I lost
Wake me up when September ends.”

Ezra and Rowan were due on September 22, 2020. When they were born four months early, September was the best case scenario for a homecoming. Even now, Septembers still burn like a light left on… slow memories of what September should have been, and what actually happened.

“When would you consider us in the safe zone?” we asked one of the neonatologists about a week into our stay, cautiously hoping for a positive answer, as Ezra had already died.

“When you go home,” he told us… so we waited and counted the days for September to be over, because the end of September was when Rowan would be considered full term based on his adjusted age, and hopefully ready to leave with us. We made it, with five days to spare- Rowan came home on September 25th.

The funny thing about NICU Awareness Month is I didn’t know it existed until after our time in the NICU was almost complete. I was so focused on surviving in the NICU that I didn’t begin to process anything about the boys’ birth, NICU stay, and Ezra’s death until those four months were up, once we were home and “safe.”

It’s just as hard coming home from the NICU as it is being in it. After Rowan came home was when the grief hit the hardest, the flashbacks started, the nightmares woke me up, and the anxiety escalated. It wasn’t until almost a year after homecoming that I was given a PTSD diagnosis.

But while I once waited for September to end, I now wait each year for it to begin. September is a time of reflection; as the NICU awareness posts pop up, the memories come flooding back in full force.

And while I lost so much- the innocence of an uneventful birth, and of course a son- I gained insight into a world where the smallest beings are the strongest, and a community that holds its members up with just as much strength, wherever they are on their journey or their process to heal.

Three years later, the nightmares are lessening, and the dreams I had in the NICU are coming true: zoo trips, play dates, and preschool are now our reality. As September begins to come around each year, I look back to where we were, and become even more thankful for where we are.

So now, wake me up when September is here… because as hard as the whole experience was, I want to remember it all.

About the Author: Cori lives in Fort Wayne with her husband, surviving twin Rowan, and rainbow baby Juniper Joy. She is an advocate for preemies, especially 22 weekers, and is always looking for ways to include their angel twin, Ezra, into their everyday lives. Cori is a Preemie Parent Mentor for Graham’s Foundation, and frequently writes about her experiences with prematurity, infant death, and pregnancy after loss. 

The Noise Turns to Music

by Samantha Rice

We’ll get a puppy and travel. That was our plan after two surgeries for endometriosis and as our 5 year anniversary approached. Little did we know that our best surprise and biggest adventure was right around the corner. 

Other than an early subchorionic hemorrhage, my pregnancy felt amazing, like a dream come true as we fell in love with the active little guy in there. Things began to take a turn around 29 weeks when I started having heavy bleeding and contractions. Monitoring, fluids, steroids, and magnesium sulfate. On the morning of March 11th, we were told that I was next in line for an emergency c-section due to placental abruption. 

Garner was born at 30 weeks and 6 days. As he was being delivered, I watched my husband’s face – his emotion and expression told me that we were all going to be ok. Garner was quickly wrapped up, put on respiratory support and rolled away in an incubator. Over the next few days, we sat next to him just talking and reading, participating in his every 3 hour care routine as much as possible. And I pumped. And pumped. And pumped. Providing milk to put through his feeding tube felt like the only motherly thing I could do. 

The day that I was discharged from the hospital without my baby made up for 32 years of “not being a crier”. I couldn’t tell the difference between the emotional and physical pain because everything just excruciatingly ached. 

On Day 5, we were able to hold our son for the first time. The alarms, the CPAP bubbles, the voices, the racing thoughts…it all disappeared during kangaroo care. Up until that point, I thought wrapping his little hand around my finger through the isolette window was the best feeling in the world. But when Garner was placed on my chest, all of the noise turned to music.

Our 50 day NICU journey encompassed our lowest of lows and highest of highs all at the same time. The tough days were filled with reflux that caused brady episodes, failed room air trials, blood transfusions, painful goodnights, so much confusion and fear. The good days were filled with celebrating milestones, freezer meal dinner dates in the parents lounge, sweet preemie clothes, creating relationships, so much pride and love. 

We couldn’t wait to bring our boy home. Right along with the excitement came the anxiety. Is he breathing? Is he eating enough and gaining weight? Is it safe for him to meet family and friends? So many appointments. As the weeks and months have passed, our confidence has continued to grow. He shows us everyday that we know exactly how to care and advocate for him. 

Today, Garner is 2 years old. He is healthy and happy and so incredibly handsome. His resilience, spirit, strength and curiosity are just a few of his traits that have taught and shaped us. I am humbled and forever grateful that I was chosen to be this preemie’s mama. 

And whenever the world’s noise gets too loud, I pick Garner up and dance to the music. 

About the Author:

Samantha Rice shares her story this month to spread awareness and thank the NICU teams who care for us and our babies. She lives in Richmond, VA with her husband, son, and big puppy. To our fellow preemie parents, – when you can’t see a way through, we are here – you are not alone.

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