Better Living Through Chemistry

750 grams.

One and a half pounds.

Three apples.

Two good size baking potatoes.

A running shoe.

That’s the equivalent of what my baby weighed when he came flying into the world. 750 grams. A whisper can carry more weight than that.

Nearly five years later, the very thought of that seems somewhat unreal. Almost like it was someone else’s experience. Yet still undeniably mine.

To his credit, Will was in fact a long tall drink of water, coming in at 13 inches long. I can say this, because he’s MY child, but he looked like a little plucked chicken. Cute but odd.

I didn’t actually get to see him for several hours after he was born. He was whisked away through a very official, bunker-esque tunnel that connects our children’s hospital with the standard issue one. Bundled up in his isolet, with monitors and poles and bells and whistles, he had an entourage that would rival any presidential motorcade. By the time I was in recovery, I had seen countless visitors who, thanks to the amazing jungle telegraph that spread our news, dropped golf games and childrens’ parties and Home Depot runs to come and offer their love. As I moved from Totally Stoned to Barely Coherent, my husband, parents and a couple of close family friends has already ventured over to see Will. I held court in recovery, and then in my hospital room, the morphine still numbing my body and my mind. My anesthetized cheeriness was a counterpoint to the sobering faces of people who wanted to offer some support, but had no idea how. My pastor, a dear friend, asked me point blank how I was. I was said to have replied “I’m strangely calm about all this.” Again, the morphine speaketh. Better living through chemistry indeed.

Finally, the revolving door of my room slowed down, the phone stopped ringing briefly. And I was given tentative clearance to go see my baby. “Tentative” was all I needed to hear. Wearing two hospital gowns so as not to moon the whole of two entire hospitals, my husband helped me slide into a wheelchair, and off we went to find the mystery tunnel of connection, finding our way to Will’s home away from home -- the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). A daunting unit with a locked security door, we found ourselves in a world so unfamiliar as to be intimidating. Low lights, hushed tones, silent staff, shiny squeeky floors. Babies so tiny that they appeared to be on the verge of breaking under the slightest motion. Machines grinding. IV poles as complex as a family tree. Monitors with flashing lights, chronic beeps and an omnipresent warning system. Rocking chairs. Isolets. Fear. Anxiety. Hope.

Here is where my baby would live for who knew how long. Instead of within me. Without me.

Is it any wonder that I began to cry...

My tears flowed freely as we met with Will’s neonatologist, who kindly tried to explain to us what was going on, what they would be doing for Will, what they were looking for in regards to his progress. My husband, the levelheaded engineer, absorbed it all. I was unable to process a damn thing. Words like ventilator, bilirubin, jaundice, infection were brought up. They meant nothing to me. Oh to have been able to rest in that naiveté.

And then, finally, I saw him. Nestled in between two long tube-like bean bags in a closed dome, complete with portholes, was my baby. My Will. Beneath the IV tubes and monitor leads and ventilator tube and tiny eye mask there was my son. Thrown fresh from the compromised safety of my womb into this mechanical necessity.

I was mesmerized by him, by every feature, by every movement. His little head was covered in black hair. My nose in miniature poked up on top of the vent tube. Tiny fingers moved, shaped as if designed to make beautiful music. And I sat, counting every breath he took, noting every beat of his heart as broadcast by the monitor which documented his every move. My heart filled with joy at the sight of him. My soul resonated with maternal love. My spirit valiantly tried to keep up but was woefully unsuccessful. Its numbness could not be assuaged.

And then it dawned on me. This observation post was as close as I would be able to be to him. Relegated to be on the outside looking in.

I could not hold my child in my arms.

I could not feed him from my breast.

I could not comfort him when he cried.

I was a mother from a distance.

My position had been usurped by hospital personnel, machines and medicine.

As I went back to my hospital room, under the orders of the NICU staff, my eyes spilled over with tears. But I’m still not sure to this day precisely why I was crying or what specifically I was crying for. Could have been for Will. For my husband. For me. For this untenable place that the failure of my body to properly care for my infant son had thrown us all into. Most likely all of the above.

Those were bitter tears -- tears of frustration, of sorrow, of loss, of longing. And I can still see the stains they left on my cheeks to this day.

Welcome to motherhood. Keep your hand inside the car at all times. Make sure your seat belt is securely fastened. Hope you enjoy the ride.

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