A few months ago, I received an invitation in the mail. As I read it, I was flooded with sadness. Invitations generally are not supposed to invoke sadness, especially invitations to reunions.
I set the invitation aside and contemplated whether or not I should attend. I knew that in my heart I really wanted to go, but at the same time, the thought of attending just overwhelmed me with anxiety and sadness.
I called my mom and asked her if she wanted to be my date for the event, as always, she agreed. She thought it was wonderful that the NICU was hosting a reunion. She thought it would be great to see all the doctors and nurses that saved my children’s lives when they were born. Of course she was right! It would be nice to see everyone and show off how big the children have gotten despite their scary start, but I was sad that I couldn’t share her excitement and joy.
I am incredibly grateful and indebted to the all the doctors and nurses that cared for me and my children. There is nothing that I can ever do or say to repay them for giving me my children’s lives. I still send Christmas cards to the NICU and am still in contact with 2 very special nurses. But I don’t like to think about those dark, dark days. I guess this is why I haven’t really kept up with this blog.
Having spent so much time in the NICU left me traumatized. I don’t want to put too many more words into trying to describe my experience, so I will only use one: traumatizing.
The morning of the reunion I prepared my mom and told her that I was going to try to keep it together, but I knew that it would not be easy.
Walking into the event hall I already felt the lump forming in my throat. I scanned the room and found the doctor who performed the emergency chest tube insertion on my son who was 3 days old and weighed a little over 3 lbs. at the time. My son’s lung developed a small hole, and the doctor had to make an incision into his chest and insert a tube to suction out the air being forced into his small body by the C-PAP machine.
So much time had passed since I had last seen this man. Thirteen years ago this doctor saved my son’s life. I walked up to him and began to cry. And I could not stop crying. I could not even speak. The doctor has no idea who I am, or my son’s name. All he could gather was this woman (me) walking up to him, crying, and trying to stammer out “Thank you.” and hugging him. There is so much I had wanted to say, and so much that I could not.
Thankfully, my son was able to speak for me and introduce our family. I looked over to my mom, but she was crying too.
I was just very emotionally overwhelmed by the number of people in that room who were alive because of the doctors and nurses who saved their lives. I was overwhelmed by the number of parents who are also hurting due to the losses they endured, and yet, so eternally grateful for their beautiful children that are alive thanks to these doctors and nurses.
I came across a woman who was proudly sharing her pictures of her baby in the NICU with the various doctors and nurses. She assumed that I had pictures as well. I firmly told her that I did not.
I do not regret my decision of not haven taken any pictures of my children while they were in the NICU. In fact, I refused to allow anyone to take pictures. It was awful enough to witness my babies being attached to machines and IV’s and heart monitors and blood pressure cuffs and PIC lines and a chest tube. NO! This was not something I wanted to record. Or remember.
I had only 2 pictures of my children in the NICU. They were taken by the NICU staff. They are blurry Polaroids and they are enough of a memory for me.
It wasn’t until about 2 years after they were born that my dad was having trouble with his computer and he asked me backup his computer and photos. Lo and behold, I came across several pictures of my children in the NICU. I was shocked and angry!!
My sister, who was pregnant at the time, had snuck into the NICU and had taken pictures of them. She defended her actions and told me that she did it because she thought that maybe some day I might change my mind and she wouldn’t want me to regret not having these pictures. She felt that maybe the children should know how their lives started. It is a part of who they are. I still do not agree, but I did save the pictures.
I have a special album set aside with just those NICU pictures. That album is not viewed very often, but it is there if they ever want to see those pictures. My children have very typical baby albums, it’s just that they begin when the twins were 2 months old, which is when my son came home from the hospital.
Try as I might to forget those dark days, they have left an indelible mark in me. I tucked all the pain of watching my children struggle to breathe into the deep recesses of my heart and mind.
I have new heartaches that we contend with on a very regular basis. I have shifted my energy and focus on my children’s growth and development. I have been navigating the rough seas of their accumulations of diseases, syndromes and illnesses. I have been dedicated to following up with each specialist and follow the regimen of medications, supplements and therapies. I celebrate their milestones and try to not relive the past. But it does have a funny way of sneaking up on you.
While it was a wonderful opportunity to try to say thank you to very special people, I don’t think that I will be attending anymore NICU reunions. There are just something things I want to experience once. NICU stays and NICU reunions are on the top of my list.