A NICU Mom, 3 years later

Max's first smile; July 2, 2008

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This time of year is always a weird one for me, thinking back to 2008, specifically. I was a mom, but didn't feel like I'd come by it legitimately.

I'd never felt a painful kick to a rib, gained those final-weeks stretch marks, or even felt a contraction.

My baby was finishing his gestation, spent his entire third trimester, outside of my body, in a plastic box, being kept alive by machines and highly trained medical professionals. I helped, with kangaroo care and the occasional diaper or bottle, but I felt like I was faking it.

In the days after Max was born, before I had even come completely back to earth, one of my first recollections was feeling like they (my family) were trying to keep me calm by telling me that my baby was real. I thought my sister had printed the photo at my bedside off the internet, I didn't believe I'd really been pregnant. (If you aren't familiar with it, here is Max's birth story)

Months later, right around this time 3 years ago, I still didn't feel real. I knew Max existed, I had my mental faculties back, but I was only a 9-5 mom. Jamie and I joked that not many people get to go see a movie 2 weeks after their baby is born, but it's because we couldn't do anything for him in the NICU.

Those are our wedding rings he's holding

We visited every day, but when you can't even *touch* your child as much as you want, sitting staring into a plastic box isn't healthy. For me, for Jamie, for Max, for anyone. Obsessively counting, watching his chest rise and fall. Staring at the numbers on the overhead monitor to make sure they don't veer off in the wrong direction, too high or too low.

So, I managed. I went back to work when he was 2 weeks old, and yes, I had a c-section. We live 40 miles from the hospital where Max was, and the hospital was (is) just around the corner from my office. By going back to work, I could go feed him in the morning before work, and twice during the day. Then I'd go back to the hospital after work, until Jamie called from the BART station. I'd zip over to pick him up, go back to see Max some more, and then we'd drive home together.

Rinse and repeat.

For three months, that was the extent of my mothering. Of our parenting.

I'm not going to say our nights were any less sleepless than any new parents, but ours were for other reasons… tossing and turning, processing the day's rounds, unable to sleep for fear of getting a phone call from someone in the NICU.

For 91 days, we lived in parenting limbo. There were days we didn't know if he'd ever come home. There were days I sat with my back to his isolette, unable to look at him through the cloud of guilt I felt over not being able to carry him to term. Endless hours of searching online (I know, a horrible idea) reading statistics and medical definitions until my eyes crossed. I went to the lovely shower my sister threw us, oohed and aahed over the generous gifts, but I always felt like I was faking.

I have spent so much of time waiting for a doctor to tell me I can go home, this was the absolute last thing I wanted to pass on to my child. Waiting, waiting, waiting. Updating my blog, trying to make even the less-than-good news sound upbeat and positive. Taking pictures I didn't want to, because I knew in the back of my mind that I'd want them someday. That I owed at least that to Max.

Every day that passed, as my due date came and went, I went along with what my life had become. The 3 times daily walk/jog from my office to the hospital, waiting in the BART parking lot for Jamie's train to come in, scrubbing before entering the NICU, waiting, waiting, waiting.

My rational mind knew that someday it would all be a distant memory, that he'd come home eventually. That those 91 days would only be a minor speedbump in the journey of his life. But when I was in it? Everything took twice as long, in my mind. Every day dragged, every weekend seemed like a week. Time slowed.

Until July 16, 2008, when it sped up. To real time and even faster. We brought Max home to start our lives together, and the clock hasn't slowed down since.

As we put Max in the car for the very first time, in front of the hospital that had been his home and nearly ours for the previous 3 months, “Hey Jude” played on the radio, and we just knew.

Everything would be OK.

Our first night at home as a family.

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15 Comments

  1. I was glad I knew you as a teen and I'm proud to know you now. You have tackled so many life challenges. And with courage, you share them with us. Thank you.

  2. I have no words….my fingers don't know what to write….but my heart is full – and breaking at the same time. I'm so so so happy for your happy ending.

  3. L, thank you for sharing your beautiful life story! You are such a beautiful and wonderfully strong woman and mom!

  4. That is an amazing story. I have the utmost respect for NICU mums. I can't even imagine having to live through that. I am so glad your son is well and thriving.

  5. What a great post. Max has a great mom. There's something to be said for looking back on a tough time and being able to see the reality well enough to articulate it like you have.

  6. Oh Lizz, what beautiful heart wrenching photos.
    your story is a unique one with a happy ending.
    I so love reading it and your updates on Max and your family.
    Lovely.

  7. I wasn't able to do anything for either of you. I didn't even know what to say to possible comfort you. I am however thrilled that things have turned out the way they have; and that apparently this is without a doubt a mini "Jamie".
    There's a couple living in the same building as my mom who had the same thing happen with twins. I remember talking to the father and I was able to see the concern in his face. I told him your story and it seemed to help a bit. I think he really took it to heart. For the record, they now have two healthy baby boys. I just wanted to let you know that I passed your story on to comfort others in a similar situation; for what its worth.

    Dev

  8. Oh, this has me teary and smiling at the same time…wow, what a story.

    And now? I would be that busy little boy is keeping you busy 24/7!

    Thank you for sharing Max's story.

  9. What a post! What a beginning … its good to know its all up from there on out … and The Wild Things – priceless!!!

  10. Oh my gosh, I didn't realize you had a NICU baby. I can't even imagine – that must have been so hard. But look at you now!

  11. i hadnt read this, and am so glad i paged back through your blog to find it! what a story, and so glad you can advocate and give courage to NICU moms after this season in your life.

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