My first Mother’s Day our baby M was on day 50 of his NICU stay. There I was a new mama, but each night I left the hospital and came home to an empty crib. Mother’s Day turned out to be a major turning point. It was M’s first day outside an isolate and most of his wires removed.
Here is what I found when I arrived for my first Mother’s Day.
I learned a lot the those long two months. A lot about being a wife, mother, parent, and friend. Mostly about a mother’s role. Flash back 32 years. I was born a healthy and welcome addition to a family of three older brothers. Shortly after, I contracted Meningitis. As a tiny infant I spent a month in the hospital. My mom had three boys at home, my father was working, but my mom managed to be with me each day. She nurtured me back to health.
Thirty-two years later, it was my turn. Time to sacrifice. Time to love unconditionally. Time to worry and stress. Time to pray. Time to love. And time to put a tiny being first. I did it. For more than 12 hours a day, all 57 days. Not a day was missed. When we could not get all our snuggle time in, my parents stepped in to read, sing, and love on the little guy. My mom showed me the way.
Happy Mother’s Day Mom! Thank you for loving our family unconditionally and being by our side every step! You were my rock when I was hurt and showed me how to be the same. Thank you.
**Side note. I wrote this in July and just realized that I never published it. Oops.
Parenting is a difficult road. A long road. At times, a bumpy road.
Parenting is a lot of learning, about oneself. I learned more about myself and my husband during our two preemie experiences than I thought humanly possible. Going through those emotional, difficult times taught me about inner strength, spousal support and bonding, intense motherly instinct, and truly putting this tiny being first.
Our oldest was born at 30 weeks weighing 3.33 pounds and 16 1/2 inches long. He spent 57 days in Bronson’s NICU. During that time, he endured 2 surgeries, an ilestomy, and countless uphill battles. After 2 weeks, my husband returned to work. As hard as it was on me not having him there, it was harder on him to miss small milestones or medical setbacks. My daily routine was to pump every 3 hours, around the clock. Yes that produced a substantial milk supply. So much so that we filled 3 freezers full and had to donate a large amount, 800 ounces, to Bronson’s milk bank. Yes, I was a milk machine. But that was just a tiny part of M’s care.
Each morning I would leave the house at 7:00. Arriving at the hospital at shift change, sometimes I was able to get a nightly report. I stayed and participated in my son’s care until 2:00. I read stories and sang to him. Working along side the nurses, I took his temperature, changed his diaper, learned to care for his ostomy bag, listened to the beeps and whistles, but most importantly bonded with our son. Since he was not in my tummy to be nurtured, I wanted to do everything in my power to mother him. I did not take the “free childcare” that some families do. Unfortunately, some families must return to work while the little one stays. How sad that our healthcare system and government cannot provide extended parental time off. This preemie time is a fragile life and parental involvement is crucial to a preemies’ long term health. That is another story for another time.
In the afternoon, I would meet my husband at home and together we would head back. My husband would spend the evening in kangaroo care, reading Brown Bear, Brown Bear, attending to our son’s needs, but mostly getting papa time. Some nights we left at shift change, other nights after a quick dinner, we returned for a little more M time. As a gift my mom gave me a diary for this time. That preemie time was the best spiritual and soul-searching journey. Life is truly about more than just us.
M came home healthy, content, and kept teaching us valuable lessons.
2 and 1/2 years later, despite weekly injections, numerous medications, 5 weeks of bedrest and countless ultrasounds, we welcomed our 35 weeker, a girl. She weighed in at 5 pounds 13 ounces and spent 1 week in the special care nursery at Borgess. The wonderful hospital allowed me to stay in a room, provided meals, and supported our desire to nurture miss E. Due to our presence in her care, the staff blessed us with bringing her home earlier than expected.
Thankfully our third arrived without incidence and we were able to enjoy an amazing, stressfree birth. We say that our first was our miracle, our second our pleasant surprise, and number 3, our little shocker.
Being a preemie parent taught me incredible patience, ability to accept life’s path, and most importantly learn that parenting is a wonderful journey. I would never want another parent to experience a premature baby, but for me, I would not go back and say “I wish it never happened”. Learning the power of a preemie taught us immeasurable parenting skills.
This weekend we hosted a beautiful backyard wedding ceremony. My nephew and his new wife were giddy, smiling youngsters in love. Every wedding is a fresh reminder of what Love is all about. I cherish the vow perspective each wedding entails. Remember your vows?
What I remember and respect the most is “in sickness and in health”. A few years into our marriage, my father-in-law was hospitalized with widespread cancer. The outlook grim. In his final few weeks, I learned to become a rock. As my husband worked and drove 2 1/2 hours each day, I discovered a new inner strength to manage the household, field phone calls, and everything in between. Together we entered each doctor session hand in hand. As doctors talked, note taking became my support. Emotionally spent, the notes helped keep us focused and piece together the time remaining. Our love found a new layer. I do.
Shortly after his passing, we began our infertility journey. Infertility like “in sickness” tore down our spirits, hurt our souls, and was physically exhausting. But as “in health”, we climbed the infertility pit. With each step, each procedure, our love strengthened and our souls began to heal. I do.
“In sickness” also knocked at our door when I gave birth to a premature son. For 57 days, our marriage became second to M’s fragile health. Although our focus was diverted, without each other, those daily, all day hospital trips would have seemed unbearable. In my heart, I know that our love and strength pulled our son and our marriage through those tough months. I do.
Divorce seems to be around each corner, hitting close to home. Love is work. At times, a lot of work, but hard work pays off. My advice to each new couple is remember the I do is “in sickness and in health”. Physical, emotional, spiritual, or financial health. I do.
At my nephew’s recent wedding reception, the DJ slowly cleared the dance floor until one last couple stood. My aunt and uncle. Married for 57 years strong. Wow! As the DJ asked my uncle his name, he struggled to pronounce his name. My aunt, all smiles, held his hand leading him from the sparkly floor as the crowd cheered their wonderful years. That is a testament to “in sickness and in health”.
I want to remember my “I do’s”, hold Art’s hand, and go to sleep next to his cheery face forever. Through every sickness, every heartache, every moment. I do. I do. I do.
Today our 6 year old will have a myringotomy procedure, aka ear tubes. This surgery will be number six. Some not so serious, this is actually his second go around with tubes. Some have been down right scary. Born at 30 weeks, weighing just 3.3 pounds, he came out fighting. At some point we went to bed his first night knowing that he was resting comfortably in the NICU. A few hours later, we were awakened by a pediatric surgeon, a neonatologist, and a neonatal nurse. Our son, who had been breathing on his own, was now on a ventilator and being prepped for surgery. Heading to surgery, we touched his tiny hand, and listened to a surgical laundry list of “it might be…”. Hours later, we see our first born with a name for his maladies, NEC (Necrotizing Enterocolitis). The result was an ileostomy. Subsequent surgeries and 57 days later, home.
My point is not the surgeries, others have undergone more intense, frequent operating procedures, but rather the preparation. Whether it is routine shots, outpatient surgery, or an intense procedure, how the parents act towards these events will inevitably be the child’s reaction. Shots are a part of most childhood visits. Freaking out, telling the child “it’s a big needle”, etc. adds to a child’s anxiety or confusion. Have you been to the pediatrician’s office and seen a parent just as frazzled and upset as the child? I have. I’m not saying that it is always easy, it’s not. But we do our best to stay calm and be the example.
Earlier this year this same child, required surgery after breaking his arm in two locations. While not a serious surgery, it is surgery none the less. When the nurse came to take him back, he said “that’s okay mama, I’ll go”. The nurse later reported that once in the OR, he hopped up on the table and was the epitome of calm. Five at the time and getting this comment, made for a few proud parents. Calmness, serenity now – whatever works to have children relaxed and tranquil in the face of pain. As I am typing this, he keeps asking when we can go have his “ear thingy” so he can eat.
Recently a friend’s son sustained a serious eye injury. The parents shared with the 3rd grader the seriousness of his injuries, but also researched with him others living with one eye. Their openness and honesty, I believe lead to a well-adjusted elementary student living the prime of his childhood without his eye injury slowing him down. (To read more here)
Our children reflect our actions, emotions. Do yourself and your child a favor, remain calm.