As I mentioned in my previous post, in addition to throwing a birthday party for Theo and Emmett a few weeks ago, I also decided to take Emmett back to the NICU on his actual birthday for the first time to visit. The days and weeks leading up to his birthday were very emotional for me, as I mentally relived everything we had been through, continued to question myself for not picking up on signs that something was off sooner, and also just marveled at how far he’s come. It’s so cliche, but time really does go by so fast, and it seems impossible that it’s been two years since he came into our lives.
It felt like being on autopilot as I pulled into the familar parking garage, walked through the hospital lobby, down the long hall past the maternity ward, up the elevators to the fourth floor, and buzzed through security into the NICU. Only this time instead of lugging a breastpump or an overnight bag, I was holding a 23 lb toddler and a box of donuts for the doctors and nurses. Surreal doesn’t even begin to describe the experience.
I was able to visit with six different nurses who had cared for us during this time, as well as Dr. L, who had initially been one of my least favorite doctors but eventually became one of my favorites. He has a very frank demeanor that can come off a little cold at first, but you eventually learn what a big heart he has. I have no doubt he’s seen his share of heartbreaking situations, and I can only imagine there are just certain things you have to do to compartmentalize such an emotional profession. Dr. L was the neonatologist who had prepared us for the fact Emmett could need a g-tube — and then the next day E finally started eating. I made sure to tell Dr. L what a good eater Emmett is now! I shed some tears talking to everyone and it felt like visiting with old friends or family. Emmett clung to me the whole time, as he usually does in unfamiliar situations, but one of the nurses coaxed a high five out of him before we left.
A few days later, I went in for my first volunteer shift in the NICU. You may recall, this process has been almost a year in the making, but I finally got all the paperwork, vaccinations and hospital clearance I needed to start. To be honest, I’m kind of glad I got to do E’s birthday visit first, because that visit was just for us, whereas my focus was on the current NICU families when I was there volunteering. It was still surreal to see our old room, hear the familar beeps and alarms, scrub in at the wash station and smell the hospital soap, but I wasn’t as affected by the visit as I thought I’d be. At least I didn’t feel like it at the time, though I didn’t sleep well that night and had dreams about the NICU all night. Nothing bad; just those those fitful tedious dreams where you feel like you’re stuck in a loop. I go back again for another shift in a couple weeks and it will be interesting to see whether I become more desensitized as time goes on.
I’ll wrap this up with a repost of what I had written on Facebook and Instagram on Emmett’s birthday, along with the photo I shared from our NICU visit:
Today, Emmett is two. And today I struggle to balance polar emotions: overwhelming love and pride for our little fighter, mixed with crippling guilt and trauma. May 18 is the day he was born, but it’s also the day we nearly lost him.
I’ve never been one to hold onto any romanticized ideas around pregnancy or “the perfect birth” (let’s face it, childbirth is messy, undignified and hurts like hell). Yet today I’m still mourning the fact that we missed the entire third trimester, and I was cheated out of that beautiful moment the doctor places your newborn baby on you. Instead, my baby was immediately whisked away to be resuscitated and wasn’t even stable enough to be held for five days.
Today, for the first time since Emmett was discharged, we returned to the NICU — the most beautiful and horrible place I’ve ever been. A place we were imprisoned for more than three months, but where I fell in love with my baby and he grew and thrived in the care of angels on earth. It was both surreal and healing to go back and proudly show off what a beautiful, vibrant little boy Emmett is today.
Happy birthday to our miracle baby. For all you’ve put us through, our lives are so blessed because of you.