I am blessed. No matter what life has in store for our Wee Warrior Princess, we are blessed.
You see lots of things in the NICU. Sad things. Things that make your heart sink to your toes. Moments you don’t want to think about, let alone repeat. Ugly, terrifying things.
Then there are joyous moments, don’t get me wrong. Moments such as when a baby gets to go home for the first time
. I’m not jealous. Those babies and their families paid their dues. I know our turn will come eventually. For now, I know my granddaughter is in the best possible place, receiving the best possible care.
You also see beautiful moments. Such as when a baby gets her first bottle. Or when a grandparent gets to hold their grandchild for the first time. Or when a baby gets to go home. You also get to watch the love between a mother and father.
Two days ago, I witnessed something that made me glad to be human. It also tore at my heart and brought back a flood of memories. Things have certainly changed since last I was here, back in the late 80’s. Malea is in the same hospital where her mamma and her auntie had their open-heart surgeries when they were babies. It was the best hospital then, and it still is. Better even. The technology has changed, but the heart of the NICU has not. Their goal back then was to get babies better and back to their families. It holds true today.
Back in the 80’s (when I was very young and not nearly as worldly and experienced as I am now lol) we were dirt-stinkin’ poor. Didn’t have two nickels to rub together. I do not jest or exaggerate when I say I often had to add two cans of water to a 29 cent can of chicken soup in order to make it stretch. We were that kind of poor.
My daughter Emilee was 13 days old in 1987 and in congestive heart-failure the first time I walked into OSF Hospital. She’d been flown in by helicopter from our local hospital. She was my first baby. I didn’t know a damned thing about hearts let alone heart failure and infants. I was a first time mom. I felt like a failure, like I’d done something wrong. I now know I wasn’t a failure and her condition was not my fault.
Had it not been for a very kind and observant social worker, I would not have eaten while I was here. She gave me a voucher so that I could get one meal from the cafeteria per day. If memory serves me correctly, I had the choice of a grilled cheese, a hamburger, or peanut butter sandwich, chips, and a drink. I would save my cup to fill with water from the water fountains the rest of the day. I was so thankful for that one meal a day. I was here alone, scared, and didn’t have a clue what to do or expect. But I survived. Those difficult and terrifying times can either make you or break you. I refused to be defeatist or down. My baby needed me.
Fast forward to today. NICU parents can order one meal/tray per meal per day. So three squares a day. They have everything from steak to baked ziti, 6 different kinds of salads, soups, desserts… it’s a pretty nice spread.
There is a young couple here. And by young, I’m guessing they’re not much past 19 or 20. Sweet, adorable couple with a baby in one of these NICU neighborhoods. You could tell mamma had given birth recently because she had that way of walking we can all recognize. The walk that says ‘ouch’.
I was in the NICU family dining room two days ago and there they were, this sweet young couple. There was one tray set on the table in front of them. What I witnessed restored my faith in humanity and in our youth. The dad, this very young-looking kid, he was doing everything he could to make the mother of his child comfortable. They had one tray to share. He made certain she ate first. He was up and down, getting her ice, napkins, whatever she needed. I watched, quietly observing as my heart melted. There was one cup of soup. She wanted crackers, he didn’t. But he insisted she put the crackers in. They spoke Spanish, so I couldn’t understand most of what they said, only the part about no crackers in the soup. She would take a few bites of the chicken and mashed potatoes, then pretend she was full. He knew better.
It was their eyes that spoke more than words ever could. The way they looked at one another. Adoration, devotion, love. Even at such a young age. This young man kept encouraging this beautiful new mom to eat, to drink. Each time he said something, she would look up at him and smile, take another bite, then push the food toward him. He would refuse until she had eaten. It went on like that until the tray was empty. If they continue on this path of adoration and love, they could conquer the world and survive anything.
I am so blessed. Blessed in that I have some experience with sick babies. Everything from open-heart surgeries, to kidney surgeries, to epilepsy, one emergency appendectomy and a tonsillectomy. This is not my first rodeo and I’m sure it won’t be my last.
But this time around, I’m not so penniless that I can’t buy lunch. I am blessed in that I can make sure mamma, daddy and baby have everything they need. Not only are they being covered in prayer, we have their backs. They have a huge pool of wonderful family members who love them and are there for them, any time of day or night. They have each other. They love each other, mamma and daddy. With a love that strong, they can handle anything that comes their way. I firmly believe that.
I want to help those moms and dads who aren’t as blessed financially as we are. I spoke with two lovely social workers today. I’ll soon be working on helping with fundraisers for the NICU. I’ll finally be able to give back in ways I never would have thought possible 29 years ago. I’ll be able to help all the mms who are like I was; terrified and penniless. No mom or dad should have to endure days, weeks or even months in the NICU on an empty stomach, without a buck for a coke or a cup of coffee
I am blessed.