Thursday, March 3, 2011

Just Another Milestone

Milestones can be really hard. Even with my two living children...

I remember how I felt as Sam approached his first birthday. I began to relive his entire pregnancy. How one morning I woke up and went about my normal day only to realize that I was bleeding. Not just a little spotting, but tons of bright red blood streaming down my leg. Luckily it was the weekend and Boyd was home. He rushed me to the hospital as I began to go into shock.

I had a complete placental previa. I was put on partial bedrest, and after another bleeding episode, on full bedrest. As difficult as those (almost) three months were, I would have given anything for a few more weeks. I wasn't prepared to have a 30-weeker with severe health problems.

This was our second NICU experience. The first time around was unexpected and therefore traumatic. This time we saw it coming and learned to embrace the experience. I fell in love with Sam's nurses, doctors, and therapists. We became genuine friends. Even after Sam came home, I found myself wondering how they were doing (and wishing they were still around for the midnight feedings).

As Sam's first birthday approached, I found myself wanting to be back at the place where it all began. I made a phone call and joined the Parent Volunteers at our NICU. This group of women brought Sam and all the other NICU babies presents once a week. They had all had a baby (or, like me, two) who had spent time in the NICU. They knew how we felt and were there to talk us through everything. I felt that perhaps becoming a volunteer as well would help me come to terms with all we'd been through.

The first time I entered the fifth floor, smelled that sterile smell, and heard those beeping monitors I nearly had a panic attack. How could it be that I loved and hated this place all at the same time? How could it hold such tender, sacred memories, and yet be the place that haunted my memories? After gathering gifts together we went "out on the floor" to take them to the babies' bedsides. The first bed you can see after entering the NICU door was Halle's. The one next to it, Sam's. Upon seeing them I did have a complete breakdown and began to bawl. It would take several weeks of volunteering before I could finally go out on the floor.

Now skip ahead another year. Sam is approaching 2-years-old. This time I am handling the milestone much better. I love volunteering at the NICU and am even a part of an enormous fundraiser held each year for the NICU and pediatrics. After a silent auction and dinner, a presentation about the NICU is put on. The room goes dark and suddenly a movie screen lights up with pictures of impossibly tiny babies. They are so sick, and just when all hope seems lost, the baby miraculously recovers. He goes home, perhaps with oxygen and monitors and maybe even with some lasting effects, but he is home with his family all the same. I watch this movie and I begin to sob. A fellow volunteer, and friend, puts her arms around me.

"I want another baby so badly," I tell her. "I know our chances of ending up in the NICU again are high, but I would do the whole NICU experience again if it meant we could have another beautiful baby in our home." She nodded knowingly.

A month later I found out I was pregnant.

Skip ahead one more year. Sam is going to be three this month. The big NICU fundraiser is once more upon us (tomorrow, in fact). I haven't been to the NICU since a week before Luke's death. I can't go anymore. I can't stand the smell of that hospital. I can't stand to go to the fifth floor where the NICU and labor and delivery are situated. My last experience at L & D was a true nightmare. And the NICU is a place I yearn to be - watching my little boy breathing peacefully, even if while on a ventilator. I'm afraid I would covet all those adorable babies. (Let it be known that, while others may look at preemies as scrawny and baby bird-like, I have never known anything other than a preemie. Not only have I never experienced a full-term pregnancy, but I've been around the NICU so much that I am always shocked when I see a full-term baby. 7 pound babies look ridiculously large to me - the NICU has seriously warped me in so many ways.) I think I would be jealous of all the parents with babies in the NICU. I know no one wants their baby there, but at least it means they have a baby.

I've been invited to volunteer at the fundraiser. Lori, the head of the parent volunteers, is very understanding. She knows I can't even drive past the hospital without bawling, but she also knows I miss the support of the friends I have made there. And so she cautiously invited me to come. I gave her an emphatic "yes", but now I am scared.

Scared of the emotions I will feel when that video presentation comes on and the memories that it holds of one year earlier.

Scared of seeing Heather, the bereavement specialist. She is getting an award this year, which she so deserves because of all the support she has given others. I just wish I wasn't one of those people she has supported.

Scared of seeing Halle and Sam's nurses there and feeling an ache in my heart, wishing they had gotten to meet Luke as well.

Sometimes I wonder if I am masochistic. A gluten for punishment. But most of all, I wish that I didn't even have the chance to go to the fundraiser this year. I should be tied down to home and a nursing baby boy with shocking blue eyes and the cutest button nose.

Just another milestone I have to live through.

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