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Challenge: NICU Parenting

She is Scouty Rowdy.

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Tonight Scout was having trouble falling asleep. She just couldn’t get comfortable it seemed. I started to sing. I rarely sing to my kids past a certain age, because their ears improve and they start covering my mouth or looking at me with the “what noise is this?” face. Right when I started singing tonight, though, I felt her body relax. It took me back. Back to the first days I met Scout in the NICU. I met her when she was 2 days old. We met two days after she was rushed away from me without a glance, after being born not breathing, white, and limp. “You had another girl” I think someone said. But who is she? I thought.

It is a weird thing to wonder, about your own baby. We didn’t know the sexes of our twins before they were born. We have a video of Sailor being born. An amazing, awe-inspiring video of her birth in the tub and our reactions to finding out she was a girl. Shock! Pure joy! The second revelation, just 30 minutes later, couldn’t have differed more. Things can change so quickly. Life can change so quickly.

I guess that is what I’ve learned this past year. On October 9th, the babies and I were hit in our minivan by an (assumed) drunk driver and slammed into a pole. I didn’t see the car coming, just felt all of the impact. Side airbags punching me, front airbags punching me, glasses breaking on my face, flying then stillness. I heard screaming from the backseat, but only from Scout, who was on the opposite side of the car. Sailor and I were on the side that was hit, and she was silent behind me. As I pieced together the realization that we had crashed and I climbed thru the airbags to get out, it occurred to me what this moment could be. This could be the moment that my life is destroyed. I may open the door behind me and my baby may not be alive anymore. In that one second it took her to hit us, everything could be obliterated. Life over. Everything we need to survive and carry on, ripped away. I couldn’t prevent it, I couldn’t control it. I did nothing wrong and still the worst could happen.

The next night my 6 year old, Boston, asked me to lay with him. I laid with him all night. All I kept thinking was that if I lost a child, nothing would have ever been enough. “I didn’t lay with them enough” “I didn’t kiss them enough” “I didn’t listen to them enough”. I know this. Even if I had laid with them every second of their entire life, it would not have been enough. I cannot imagine the grief of never laying with them again. I won’t pretend to know an iota of the grief of parents who have lost a child. I just know it is impossible.

When I first met Scout, she was two days old. We left the hospital with Sailor and went straight to Children’s Hospital for me to meet Scout. Flip had been already, as had my dad, mom, sisters, Flip’s sisters, and maybe some others. I won’t lie that it crushed me to know my voice wasn’t the first she heard. My finger wasn’t the first she clutched. But I also wanted her to be surrounded by love, so I was glad people that loved her visited her while I was still in the hospital.

The experience was so strange. NICUs have lots of rules. There is a doorbell to ring, wait for response, and let them know who you are and who you are there to see. They have very specific hand washing instructions. Flip talked me through it. Here I am, not recovered from my own all-natural (double) childbirth, hormones got me all over the place, wearing the usual new mommy uniform of husband’s sweatpants and nursing top. I very much felt like I should not be in public. The nice lady in the elevator asking when I was due probably didn’t help. I should be at home, in bed, nursing my babies. This was all wrong! I walked into Scout’s room and she was alone in her incubator. This wasn’t the plan for her first days of life! Cuddles and milk. Cuddles and milk. I had it all in my head! Instead, Scout needed to be “cooled” to prevent brain damage. That meant we could touch her but only on her hands and not very much, to avoid her body warming up. It meant she was on morphine and her face was very swollen, so we couldn’t even tell what she looked like. Here was my baby. But who is she?

I needed to let her know I was there. It is easy for a mom and baby to bond when they can cuddle and touch. We didn’t have that, so I sang. I’m a terrible singer, and it was quite embarrassing as the room was quiet and nurses were in and out. But, I noticed them kind of noticing. They would be very quiet, and kind of smile then scanter away. They gave us our moments. In these moments Scout would look at me and her eyes stole my heart. They radiated love. I don’t have words to describe how lovingly she looked at me.

I still think about her spending her nights alone in the NICU. I’m thankful she was by the window and could look out onto the city. I just feel such guilt that she was alone. Mommy should have been cuddling her. I wanted to, but I also had another baby who needed to nurse hourly, and was not allowed in the NICU. The day we found out that Scout did not have brain damage from her hypoxia was very strange. We walked in while the neurologist was conducting rounds with his students. So, instead of him telling us, we observed him asking his students questions about her MRI images. We introduced ourselves and he asked “is this the first time you’ve come here?” I think Flip held me back. NO MOTHER****** we have been here everyday, sometimes multiple times a day while also taking care of another newborn, nursing AND pumping for Scout, and raising two other children as well! Maybe he hit a nerve?

Scout’s eyes still radiate love. She still captures my heart every single time she smiles. When I sang to her tonight, I felt more at peace than I have since our car accident. Yes, the world is scary and bad things can happen in an instant. But sometimes, those things have silver linings. I finally have a child who is comforted by my terrible singing voice. WINNING.

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