You never think it’s gonna be you. Until it’s you.
My daughter was born two weeks ago, and what should’ve been a moment of absolute happiness turned into confusion, concern, worry, and fear as, within an hour of being born, she was admitted into the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). That was the moment life changed, the moment everything we thought was normal went out the window, and we began living the unexpected life.
I don’t mean to give a blow-by-blow of what our intensive care life has been since baby E was born; to be honest I don’t think I could, both because so much has happened over the last fourteen days, and because I don’t know I have the stamina to relive it all. As a nurse, I marvel that such a tiny person has already gone through so much in her first two weeks of life; as a father, I am ripped to pieces every time I see her connected to numerous cables, lines, and tubes. Through it all, I hold myself together for her sake, for my wife’s sake, for my older daughter’s sake.
For fourteen days we have had two homes, always longing for the other while living in the one. Our days meld into one another as we move almost automatically in a cycle of home-hospital-home-hospital. Whenever we are in one place we long for the good only found in the other one: if we’re at the hospital we wish we were all home, and when we’re home we wish we were all with our baby. We find we live more in a point in time—those few exhausted moments we get to spend with our baby daughter—than at a place. And yet, with a toddler who doesn’t quite understand what’s going on and still needs mommy and daddy’s attention, care, and love, we endeavor to make home more than just the challenge we face, make it the strength that pushes us all through the storm.
Some days are hard, some days are harder, and some days just aren’t. On the good days we celebrate the progress while keeping the reality of it all in the back of our mind; on the bad days, we cry, a lot, wonder what happened, struggle to understand what’s going on, wish we could make our baby better; on the terrible days, when we walk into the cardiac ICU and see our baby girl connected to two rows of IV lines, monitors all around beeping, and tubes controlling vital life functions, we cry so much that we wonder how we’ll even take another step, let alone continue living the NICU life. But continue on we have, because our daughters need us, because we need each other, because giving up is not an option.
As a nurse I see people living through the worst-case scenarios all the time. Sometimes I get to be there (if not the one to tell them) when their life changes forever, when they get the news that turns their world upside down. When it happened to me, to us, it was like watching a movie, like it was happening to someone else with my same name and life. I was outside myself looking at me receive each gut-punching news update, and wondering, how do you deal with that? To be honest, I still don’t know how to deal with it all. I still sometimes feel like it’s all happening to someone else, like I’m watching a movie. Sometimes I still feel incredulous that this is us going through this ordeal. And by sometimes I mean a lot more often than I care to admit to myself or anyone else.
I miss my baby. I’ve always believed that childbirth is an outright miracle, but even so I never gave it a second thought. It just happens. We were blessed with a wonderful daughter almost three years ago that gives us bushels of joy, and we simply took the whole process for granted. Each moment we’ve been able to have some semblance of normalcy with baby E has been so precious, especially because we have no idea when the next time we’ll have such a time will be. Hopefully soon this will all be a memory, and we’ll get to hold our baby whenever we want to.
I know full well that I’m rambling. I make no apologies for it. I made it through this post paragraph by paragraph, much as I’m making it through life at the moment. I write it all because it helps me to get it out, because it’s been bottled up since that first moment when we were told, “Your baby’s going to the NICU.” I never, in my wildest nightmares, though this would be us, but here we are, and there’s nothing to do but face it head on. My baby is fighting to live, and we are here to give her every bit of help and support we can, be it our presence, the outstanding medical care she’s getting, prayers and good wishes from a veritable army of family, friends, and acquaintances, or little songs sung by her overwhelmed older sister who nevertheless continually talks about her sissy.
The truth is that every life is an unexpected life when we stop to really think about it. Tough and challenging as mine is at the moment, I am thankful for my unexpected life that brought us our little warrior, our tough baby girl, our bundle of joy.