Tomorrow is your due date and I have mixed feelings about its arrival. Actually, that’s an enormous understatement. It’s more like my feelings have been thrown in a blender and whizzed around until they are pure nausea. The day we’ve been waiting for is here and I’m in complete turmoil about it.
On the one hand you are definitely getting better. You’re oxygen requirements are getting lower and lower and now sit in the high twenties to early thirties for most of the day. Your reflux and constipation are being managed. You have no retinopathy, your hearing test returned no abnormal results and your physio, OT and speech pathologist are all very positive about your developmental outcomes. We are nearing the end. It’s so close I can almost visualise it. And it’s possible, though I barely dare to believe it, that you may escape this yet completely unscathed. What an absolute miracle that will be – from being told over and over by a dozen or so medical professionals of varying specialities that you would not survive, that even if you did survive by some immense force of strength and determination you would be permanently and catastrophically afflicted. Now to this tiny little bundle who sits serenely in my arms, nestles in and barely even struggles for breath. Barely makes the alarms sound. And looks to be one hundred percent healthy. Or at least heading that way.
From where we have come it is unimaginable.
Still, there is a melancholy I can’t suppress inside. Now that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, now that I can see you under the Christmas tree in a few months with your gleeful brother, now that you are almost well – at least for now – the fear, regrets and guilt have full reign of my scrambling mind. The numbness is dissipating and I am beginning to become aware of a slow painful tingle, warning me of feelings to come. The feelings return in patches. A pang of sadness, a trickle of guilt, a dripping of anger and a flood of regret all flow through me in blotches. A healthy dose of pure dread crashes straight through the middle of me, making its way to my heart intermittently to remind me that all may not be well after all.
The tingles are bigger now than the numbness.
Guilt. I still feel you kicking inside me, despite the three months you have been out here struggling to breathe. 3 months you should have been freely swimming around inside me the way you did when the nurses chased you with a foetal heart monitor. You should be about to be born, perfectly healthy, into the expectant arms of your parents. Your journey should not yet have begun and already you have lived through more than most grown adults. You’ve fought harder, earned your stripes, but you should have been sleeping peacefully waiting for life to begin.
Anger. Why? Why did this happen? It’s not fair – it’s puerile to even think it, but it’s not. Fair would be me having my final appointment with my obstetrician today. Fair would be me holding on to you for a month, a week, a day longer. Fair would be you not getting sick, not having to fight every minute of every hour. It feels like we were targeted. It feels like someone hurt my baby. It feels like I hurt my baby. And it makes me livid.
Sadness. I feel an unexplained sadness for the three months I missed with you. I missed the frivolity of the third trimester, when the hard work is done and the anticipation of a new arrival dominates the family, and spreads like hot chocolate in a warming belly. I miss the quiet moments with just you inside me, imagining who and what you may be. What you might look like, what little quirks you will already have to brandish your growing personality. I miss wondering about who you are.
Worse, I know there are still hurdles to get through, and I know because of that, we’ll miss the most sublime moments that parents feel with their newborn babies.
Fear. The quiet happiness will be replaced by silent fear. The feeling of overwhelming accomplishment literally brought to life will be replaced by a desperate plea that you will grow and develop as other babies do. I’m prepared for all that, though I wish I wasn’t.
In truth, if I’m to be perfectly honest, the real source of the sadness is that tomorrow is meant to be the day.
It should be the equal happiest day of our lives. And I can’t force myself to be happy about it, because what was meant to be won’t be. I’ve let go of some of the guilt, some of the anxiety, some of the sadness. But your impending due date represents a loss, so the regret remains. I’m in limbo – not sure whether to grieve your loss or celebrate your success. Certainly part of me feels you died that day inside of me, when the doctors assured me you would, and we have since been blessed with a miracle in the form of a ball of fighting spirit. Earning every breath. Fighting with every cell. It feels like two separate events, and I’m not sure if I will ever stop grieving for you. Maybe that’s selfish. After all, other mothers lose their babies and mine is still here. These past four months I have had to insulate myself against the sadness, fear, regret. I’ve had to rally against it to survive. And I’m sure I’ve become self-absorbed. I had to be. You have been all I have thought about.
We sat down today with your exit team, all your specialists, to make a plan. It makes me smile to think of you, so tiny, only a couple of kilos and barely the length of my forearm; and yet you command an audience of a dozen highly paid specialists who fight on your behalf. Like your own personal army. You have made them believe in you despite your predicament and I wonder what this says about your developing personality. I can picture a little despot in the making.
We heard phrases from the doctors that fuelled the fear, caused the guilt to resurface, and served as a reminder for the regret and sadness.
“Her odds of avoiding coming back into hospital are ten to one.”
“Extremely premature babies are admitted back into hospital on average twelve times in their first year.”
“You will need a breathing monitor.”
“We want her to come home on oxygen. I’ll set up a training session for you with the gas company.”
“We’ll be closely monitoring her release – two visits with the nurse each week for the first month.”
“You will need a comprehensive list of your specialist appointments for the first few weeks. There will be about two dozen in the first month.”
“You’ll need some fortifier. And to record all her feeds. We’ll be monitoring her weight gain closely.”
“Asthma will be an ongoing concern. You need to be prepared for that. And bronchiolitis.”
“Are you prepared for this Mrs Walther?”
Am I prepared? I have no idea. I am surprisingly confident, or perhaps completely bewildered. I’m certainly overwhelmed, but I have been throughout the entire process. Maybe I’m in denial or maybe I just don’t grasp the enormity of it yet. It feels like a military operation. 1 month out and we are planning your release with precision. So far, the tingles are at bay. I know we’ll land on our feet. Until your respiratory specialist has his say.
“She will almost definitely be back. She is very susceptible to infection. If that happens, we may need to intubate again. If that happens, we may need to make some tough decisions.”
Its typical doctor speak. “Tough decisions.” It’s one of those phrases they tell you because they don’t entirely know what will happen. Because they don’t want you to have high expectations or be caught unaware. It’s designed not to comfort. Not to frighten. (I can attest to the fact that it does). But to dull down the information, average it out so feelings are minimised. Fighting against doctor speak is part of what causes the numbness in the first place. It’s necessary, and I understand it. But I hate it all the same.
For a moment I wondered if in a parallel universe somewhere there is a version of you that was born exactly as you should have been, or one that didn’t make it at all. And then it occurred to me that now, at the penultimate hour, I cannot lose faith. That you are exactly as you are meant to be. That tiny nugget of a thought numbed the tingles again and I feel a calmness. I’ve got this. If you can do it – a tiny baby, a neonate no less – then so can I. I can be your protector, your overseer, your champion.
After the meeting, I was sitting with you, holding you, breathing in your quiet comfort. And there, in that moment, away from the doctors, the nurses, the specialists, the meetings and the talk of development and hospital re-admission – away from the military planning – I remembered something.
I am just a mother. And you are just a newborn baby. Whatever has come before, whatever new will come to pass; that simple truth will be enough to propel us forward. To plod along. To meet the challenges. To thrive, as you have always done. Somehow, when I was holding you in my arms, I remembered, as if a voice in my head told me so, that I have all I need. That everything will be okay.