(as published by The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2...)
As I write this, there are 107 days until my daughter graduates from college. So will nearly two million other young adults. But, for me, this number of days holds so much significance. Because it is the same number of days that my daughter spent in the neonatal intensive care unit before she came home. What once seemed impossible is not only possible, it’s real.
One hundred and seven days. Over 9 million seconds, 154,000 minutes. Staggering numbers for a child born at 24 and a half weeks, 715 grams. It seems it’s been a numbers game since the day she was born. The question I have asked since that first of those 107 days: will the numbers add up to a life well lived?
The odds were against her. The issues, from possible brain bleeds to cerebral palsy, blindness, learning disabilities. The percentages of micro-preemies that don’t survive. The number of children needing lifetime medical care and support. Numbers after numbers stacked against us, against her.
There was constant discussion of the numbers. Watching monitors, examining charts, the daily onslaught of medical statistics. The ongoing shifting levels in oxygen, lipids, fluid intakes, a virtual statistical algorithm that never seemed to add up in our favor, her favor. How do you calculate the future?
In 107 days, she will graduate from college.
More than 21 years ago, would I have ever thought to entertain that notion, say those words? I put my faith in miracles and modern medicine, believing we could beat the odds. Beat them into submission. Every minute an eternity, every second one more hurdle. Decisions at every corner of the NICU. How much to fight and when to give in. To never give in.
Scores of doctors and nurses, rehabilitation therapists and physician assistants moving in and out of her life day in, day out. Committed and concerned, they could buoy your beliefs and deflate your dreams in a single morning. A catastrophic brain bleed mistakenly diagnosed. Heart medicine to close a valve not what the doctor ordered so surgery at five weeks. A rollercoaster ride with seemingly no end.
And then there is that moment when she doesn’t wake up for days after surgery. When you pin a doctor against a wall at 2 a.m. pouring out your anger, frustration, fears and hopes in a single invective that rails against the possible dying of the light. Exhausted physically, emotionally, financially with seemingly nothing more to give. And it all seems bleak and barren and broken. When dreams seem to dissolve and dissipate.
But suddenly, when the seconds, minutes and days seem like a blur, she opens her eyes. And you see the resolve, the tenacity and the will in someone not yet weighing two pounds. Who is a featherweight champ fighting a heavyweight fight. Who is ready. Who is ready for something bigger than we ever could have imagined.
And the seconds, minutes and hours move faster and faster as this tiny person leads you toward home. As she tips the seesaw in her direction. As she opens her tired eyes and transforms those tiny incremental numbers into something solid, something tangible. As the numbers add up and one man, one woman and one child become a family of three.
And then 107 days later, one day before her actual due date, frightened and excited husband and wife will cautiously take that one step from that NICU toward the elevator, down to the lobby and out the hospital doors. With a child bundled in blankets of joy and love as she makes the journey home with her parents at the wheel.
In 107 days, she will graduate from college, and we will watch our 21-year old daughter walk across the stage, clutching her diploma and beginning the next stage of this remarkable life. Over 9 million seconds and 154,000 minutes from now. With no limitations, only the expectations she has for herself.
Four years of liberal arts learning about the world and herself will have led to the first of many milestone moments. The strength incubated in those 107 days in that NICU isolette has prepared her for new chapters, new worlds.
But this time, as we watch those 107 days fade into the past, and we prepare for that final ride from campus to home, she will be in the driver’s seat. The open road within her sight and the infinite expanse of the universe awaiting the next 107 days, months and hopefully years of her life.