About a week ago, I was looking through the stats on this blog and I saw that someone had posted a link here from their blog. Naturally, curiously, I went over there to investigate, and what I found was a blog post directed at me. She had twisted my words from an earlier post and claimed that I felt jealousy and ill-will towards any parent in the NICU whose baby was born bigger or healthier than mine was, and she suggested I have a bit more compassion to those around me, because according to her, everyone has a story that would break your heart.
Don’t I know that. One hundred and twenty days and counting, of making small talk with strangers and listening to everyone’s story. Keri, I’ve heard your story nearly word for word about a dozen times. I’ve also heard about prolapsed cords, and about preeclampsia, and placental abruptions and PPROM. I’ve heard the one about the drunk hit-and-run at 24 weeks, resulting in a spontaneous delivery on the bathroom floor at home a week later. I’ve heard about babes being born with perforated bowels, or with bowels born on the outside of the body completely. I’ve talked to mums whose babes were born with Downs or with Trisomy 13—some diagnosed, some not—and mums whose babes had brain or heart abnormalities that could never have been diagnosed in utero. From heath nuts to junkies to unwed teenage mothers, from home oxygen to home nurses to never coming home at all, I’ve seen and heard more about pregnancy gone wrong than most could even imagine.
And you know what? I’m tired of hearing all the stories.
We’re four months into a six or seven month stay, and lucky for us—unfortunately for the other family—we’ll never win the gold medal for oldest baby in the NICU. But we’re also a far cry from the terrifying days of PICC lines and blood transfusions and Where do we go from here? conversations with the doctors. We’re done with the bewilderment and the absolute fright of never knowing what tomorrow will bring. We know now with 100% certainty that we will bring Nyana home one day, and the biggest question remaining is whether or not she will develop cerebral palsy. While I recognize the fear in the eyes of nearly every new parent I’ve been seeing lately, I am so grateful that the scared girl in the lunch room is no longer me.
Ever since we were moved to the south nursery with our private room, I’ve been feeling somewhat out of the loop, without being positioned at the centre of the activity in the critical care nursery. Can you believe just last week I met a girl in the locker room—she’s taken over the locker right beside mine and has had a 23-weeker (yes, 23 weeks. 23 +5) in the NICU for nine weeks already! How have I not seen her before?
Despite being exhausted by every new story I hear, I’ve been making a conscious effort to make my face known around the nursery, talking to parents and giving them the same advice some of the veterans gave me when I was still fresh. Even though I’m tired of hearing stories of despair and frustration and nervousness, I know that I need to make myself available to the new faces who are taking those first terrifying steps down what is sure to be a long and bumpy road. It’s funny that I’m finding the biggest piece of advice I need to give is “don’t get hung up on dates, you’re on your baby’s time now”. I don’t know how many people I ignored in September and October and November when they told me this. I finally believe it now.
So to you, who thought it fit to call me out for feeling perfectly normal emotions while I navigate the NICU, I’ll pretend to tell you what I’d like to tell you if I didn’t know my granddad reads this. Of course everyone has a story. Yours is tragic and sad and beautiful in the end. Mine is long and slogging and beautiful in the end. Some of us have happy endings and some don’t. Don’t think for a second that just because I am one of the lucky ones to walk away from the NICU with a happy ending—albeit battered and beaten and worn from the battle—that I’m not aware of the heartache and loss that happens within these walls. And just because I’ve never had to say goodbye to a child doesn’t mean I am any less entitled to my feelings of frustration and trepidation, either as I feel them in the moment, or as I choose to document them for my daughter here in this blog. To try to tell me what I should feel, or how I should behave, or how I should express my emotions, is absolutely out of line.
So, yes, everyone has a story that could break your heart. It’s not just you.