My daughter recently turned one, which was super fun! She’s a 28-weeker, and it’s hard to believe how time has flown by. I expected that her birthday would be a great time, and figured we’d reflect back on all the craziness of the last year, but I didn’t expect to be an emotional hot mess leading up to her birthday!
I’m not sure if every preemie mom relives the past, but as her birthday approached, it was almost like I had two brains – one that processed regular life, and one that was 100% dedicated to thinking about the previous year.
The second brain seemed to appear in August, which was when I developed gestational hypertension in 2015. So I’d find myself thinking, “a year ago today, this is when I spent the first night in the hospital,” or “a year ago today we were sent to Antepartum,” or whatever the memory of the day happened to be. It was just so insane to think back and realize exactly how crazy things really were!
As it got closer and closer to her birthday, things got more and more real and I would become emotional at the most random times! Many NICU families mark their baby’s birthday with some kind of thank you donation. Some families buy certain baby products each year, some families cook the dinners that are offered at the Children’s Hospital, others will buy rocking chairs, etc.
My husband and I wanted to do something as a thank you, but we just couldn’t figure out what our “thing” could be! Finally, we decided that we’d give the family of our daughter’s birthday twin (born on the same date & closest to her birth time) a surprise “welcome to the world” gift. We also decided to get a few small personal care gift bags for families of other babies with the same birthday (born at any time of day).
While I was shopping for the items for the small gift bags at CVS, I had slow tears running down my face. I must have looked like a crazy person! Other shoppers probably thought that I was upset that the store didn’t carry my deodorant in trial size, or something! It was the weirdest thing! I couldn’t even really put my finger on what was making me sad – or maybe I was happy, or maybe it was just a relief to be past being in the NICU, who could tell!?!? In reality, I think it was a little of all of those things. I was so happy to be doing something for those families who are just about to start their NICU journey and I hope all of their hospital stories end with a healthy, happy baby heading home to enjoy a bright, full future.
Revisiting the Hospital Was Hard!
The emotions struck again when I visited the level 2 nursery, two days before her birthday. My daughter is a 2017 Charleston March of Dimes ambassador, and we were at the hospital to shoot an interview with one of her doctors for a video about her story. I never in a million years would’ve thought that it would’ve been emotional to visit the level 2 nursery! First, the level 2 nursery is where babies go to “feed and grow,” that floor doesn’t have babies who are super sick like they do on the 8th floor. Second, my daughter has been home for months and months and months. Third, my daughter’s story is an unbelievably happy one! For those reasons, I foolishly thought I’d be able to go back into the nursery and be totally fine. Um, I couldn’t have been more wrong!!!!
As soon as we checked in with the unit receptionist, she walked us over to the side of the nursery where my daughter spent about half of her time. As soon as we walked through the door, I started tearing up. We had to stop at the sink and do the two-minute scrub in, and I was already officially crying! I remembered the billions of times I did that. Every morning, every afternoon, every evening. I saw the moms’ milk freezer bags hanging on the wall and remembered when my bag was on that wall. Everything was flashing back.
I was just starting to pull myself together when her doctor walked through the door and I started crying again! I’ve seen him many times since my daughter has been home and I love him, but something about seeing him IN the nursery struck a chord. I remembered her 2-month birthday when she wasn’t breathing right, and me freaking out and calling him to ask if he’d check on her again (he did, and thankfully she was fine!), and remembered sitting in rounds talking about the treatment plan for the day. The memories flooded my head.
Her doctor started walking down the hall to where we were going to do the video shoot and he took us to the SAME room where my daughter stayed, and led us to the bed next to hers. I. lost. it. For real. I was a blubbering mess! Through my tears I just kept saying “I can’t believe this is so hard.” I was staring at the spot where I sat day after day, week after week. I saw the station I sanitized 5,000 times a day, the storage area where all of her tiny clothes were kept (I still have one of the bins from her stay!). It was just crazy.
Once the interview started, I was fine, but holy cow, there was definitely a physical reaction to walking back into that environment! I must have been delusional not to realize that I was going to have a hard time visiting the nursery (let alone her room) almost a year to the day from her birthday! Thank goodness we weren’t doing the video shoot on the 8th floor! I would’ve been in a puddle before the interview ended!!!
There’s just no telling how things will affect you! I don’t consider myself to be an overly emotional person – although perhaps I should now – but let me tell you, the NICU can still make you cry… even a year later and with an amazingly happy experience!!!