My Gainesville boy Tom Petty said it best:
The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you see one more card
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part
Man, did he have a point.
The most difficult part about Will’s way-too-close brush with mortality was the plain not knowing what would come next. (Ah -- see. “Mortality.” Back to those euphemistic words I took shelter in...) While his condition never deteriorated to that of the lowest of lows, he did have his moments of descent. Oxygen saturation was on a virtual trampoline, bouncing up and down, often with no rhyme, reason or logical explanation, other than the fact that Will didn’t like the position in which he had been placed, and his dropping sats were indication of his displeasure. Too much drama. Just like his mother. Infections were detected and treated. X-rays taken, issues noted, medicine administered.
He began to take breast milk as nourishment, which was a blessing and a curse. Due to my early delivery, my body never really figured out the whole “I’m a Mother!” thing, and pumping breast milk became a mighty challenge. Let’s just say that I was able to provide quality rather than quantity. And that just compounded my already rampant feelings of maternal inadequacy. Other than the fact that I did remember giving birth, there really was no tangible indicator that I was indeed a mother. Save for the feelings in my heart and the yearning of my soul. But that, while important, seemed to be woefully insufficient.
Neurological issues became the topics of the day. Will’s early head trauma and subsequent seizure activity were the focus of many doctors and other medical personnel. He began to have his head tapped, to alleviate the fluid buildup and pressure in the brain. Initially scary, that too just became part of the status quo, the routine, the necessary.
Days turned into weeks. Thanksgiving came and went. Our blessings, though sometimes hard to see, were indeed plentiful. And we did give thanks, for the road traveled thus far, and for traveling mercies provided as we forged ahead.
Will’s condition settled into an ebb and flow, with critical danger seemingly behind us. My husband began to travel again for work, which was another blessing/curse. It was good that Will was indeed stable enough for him to get back on the job, but it left me feeling somewhat alone and vulnerable. I know that it was hard on my husband to leave his family, but this introduction of the real world into our surreal world was a jarring experience for me, as I followed the hospital routine alone, flinching every time the phone rang, listlessly trying to sleep while my mind raced incessantly.
However, with time progressing, so did my opportunities to exercise some small material abilities. I began to change a diaper or two, reaching my hands through little portholes in Will’s isolet. I quickly learned the tricks of changing a boy once Dead-Eye Dick hit me straight in the forehead with a stream of wee-wee. We held hands -- actually, he held my pinky finger. Sheer bliss. And I was able to find him some clothes that weren’t great, but weren’t the doll clothes that other preemies often sported. So handsome.
And then, one nondescript morning, in early December, as I was doing something mundane around the house, the phone rang. It was Will’s day nurse. Telling me that he was having a particularly good morning and asking if I would like to come down and hold him. Talk about a rhetorical question.
The sun instantly shone brighter.
The birds sang just a little sweeter.
The sky was just a little bluer.
The part of me that had withered away began to spring ever-so-slightly back to life.
I was going to hold my baby.
For the very first time.
And the world was, just for a moment, a wondrous place.
My e-mail diary for that day could hardly do justice to my joy and excitement:
Will and I were able to spend real time together today, as I held him for the first time! We are beginning what is called Kangaroo Care – which basically involves a parent holding the baby outside the isolet for a short period of time. Will was placed on the top part of my chest, so we could have skin-to-skin contact. In this position, he was able to snuggle in and get comfortable, as he listened to my breathing and heartbeat – much as he did in utero. This activity has shown to be extremely beneficial to babies, as it helps with their physical and developmental well-being. I believe it’s a toss-up as to who loved our snuggle time more – Will or me… I don’t think I will ever forget that moment when his nurse put him in my arms for the first time. I found myself singing to him as we rocked together, and I discovered that the only songs I could remember all the words to were praise choruses, show tunes, and University of Florida fight songs – Will was treated to a medley of Jesus Loves Me, Before the Parade Passes By, Seasons of Love and We Are The Boys from Old Florida – eclectic, but fantastically representative of his mother.
It had been nearly six weeks since I had given birth.
But on that day, I became a mama.