Legacy Photo and Design
My life forever changed in October. I have since thought about that fall day, and the 16 days that followed, with the deepest gratitude and appreciation for those who were in it.
We were so excited for the arrival of our baby boy. As a mom of two little girls, I was eager to learn about the adventures of being a boy mom. The big sisters were over the moon at the thought of having a baby brother. My husband, a college baseball player, would finally have the baby boy he had waited for. It was the week of the World Series and his eyes filled with tears when I told him he would get to spend this World Series night rocking his baby boy.
The moment our precious baby boy arrived, we immediately knew something wasn’t right. You hear stories about how people seem to be in the right place at the right time in the situations when you need them most. Our delivery and NICU experiences were a series of events in which exactly who we needed was where we needed them to be. I have always been a firm believer that there is no such thing as coincidence.
We were only able to hold him for a few minutes before the NICU staff wheeled him away. There was no time to take his measurements or smile for a family picture. This was not the way it was supposed to go. He was born full term and I had no complications during my pregnancy. When I was wheeled into our Level III NICU, I was overwhelmed with a fear that I had never known. I looked around this unfamiliar place, a place I never wanted to find myself. I had no idea the way our lives were about to be forever changed by the staff in that NICU.
His little bracelet said “Baby Boy Klapperich”, as did the computer screen with his monitor. I wanted to scream that he has a name; he has a real name, and I wanted the permanence of a name. While it didn’t change on the computer screens for days, the nurses called him by name and it meant so much to me. It would take a couple of days for the team to diagnose what was causing our sweet boy such difficulty breathing. In the meantime, he was intubated and had two chest tubes and umbilical lines. We could not hold him or even change his diaper in that first week, but we were thankful to slip a finger under his little hand in between labs and x-rays and echocardiograms. The nurses treated us as his most important people, even though we felt helpless and could do nothing but stand next to his warmer. They would ask for our input, even though we all knew they were the experts. Their equipment and staff were keeping our baby alive, but they still treated us as his parents. They asked us to write the names of his family on a card that was next to his warmer. One night my husband wrote, “See the ball, hit the ball.” This was a line his late Legion baseball coach always said and these words seemed to change the momentum for us.
My post delivery room was across the hall from both the NICU and the nursery. I remember just standing in the doorway, looking at the two doorways facing me, thinking how different this all would be if he could’ve entered the world breathing without difficulty. He would’ve been wheeled into the door on the left, the nursery door, after his bath and the nurses would’ve told me to get some rest. My biggest decision would’ve been which adorable outfit to dress him in for the trip home and his sisters would’ve been on cloud nine as they held him. My reality, however, was the door on the right to the neonatal intensive care waiting room. I would be educated in the thorough scrubbing in process and I would be lucky if my little girls would be able to even see the baby they had been so eager to meet. I would spend the next 16 days in a giant room with no windows, where you lose track of time and spend your hours watching numbers rise and fall, initially not knowing what any of it means. Your scattered thoughts are interrupted by the constant beeping. I would pray as I never had before.
I often heard stories about how exceptional NICU nurses are. It is something so many of us know but hope to never experience firsthand. As a pediatric speech-language pathologist, many of my patients have been NICU grads. I often nod along as parents tell me about their NICU experiences, but I never truly understood. These nurses and physicians have dedicated their lives to saving the tiniest and most fragile of lives – and they have a way of taking care of the parents, too. There are no words to explain the miracles they perform minute to minute. The other crucial part of our baby’s journey was who was on the outside of the NICU, cheering on my little 8-pound boy with gorgeous dark hair. I never could have prepared myself for the outpouring of love, kindness and prayers from friends and even strangers. While the NICU nurses and physicians were saving him behind those doors, countless others were on the outside, too.
We received hundreds of texts, calls, messages. Most we were never able to return, or even acknowledge, as we spent our days sitting next to his warmer with our phones rarely out. One of his first visitors was a dear family friend who knew how desperately he needed to be prayed over – and she knew we needed it, too. Shortly after, our church arrived with prayer shawls. Those 16 days would continue to be full of hundreds of people doing so much for us. Whether it was friends offering to take my girls trick-or-treating, dropping off coffee and restaurant gift cards, or cleaning my house – we were surrounded in love and strength. One of my best friends waited for my phone calls from 1,200 miles away on the nights I would go home with an empty car seat. I could do nothing, but cry, and she just listened and prayed. My mom brought us lunch and dinner every single day. She sat next to the crib when I felt I needed to be at school drop offs and pick-ups. My in-laws came every night after work, to remind their only grandson just how much he was loved and the big plans we had in store for his future. Once we could finally hold him, the grandparents didn’t want to put him down. My daughters’ teachers surrounded my girls with support and love, going above and beyond for us. College friends sent me messages from all over the country. Countless friends told us they added us to prayer lists in their churches. My business partner dropped everything for me, taking on most of my caseload in addition to her own, without hesitation. My closest friends were literally there at a moment's notice for whatever I needed. Then there was my tribe of NICU mom friends. The moms who had been there. Some had short stays and some had babies they never got to take home. Their courage - and their comfort – gave me a strength I didn’t know I had. So many friends and even acquaintances were reaching out to me to tell me of their NICU journeys. I kept wondering, “What kind of friend was I to them when they were in my shoes? Why didn’t I do more for them?” I didn’t understand it before. That’s why.
I’ll never forget my dear friend (and most favorite photographer), Amy, surprising me to come take pictures for me. I knew she had lost a baby girl at birth and I admired her greatly for doing this for me. I asked her how her heart could continue to beat when it’s broken. She replied, “Years later I can say that the broken parts are where the light comes in.” I won’t forget those words. What a privilege it is to have so many friends who keep letting the light in.
Legacy Photo and Design
I couldn’t imagine how these pictures would turn out, as he was still hooked up to several cords. The moment she sent me the images, I cried. I didn’t see machines or cords or hear the constant beeping, I just saw my beautiful baby boy. It was the first time in his life I was able to look past the equipment and just see him. A few hours later, the neonatologist told me that he was ready to send us home. I let out a sob, that startled me as much as it did him. He smiled as he asked if I had misunderstood, and I said I understood and that these were the happiest of tears.
During our stay, it was clear to see that not all babies and not all families had the support system we had. I decided in those 16 days that when this would someday be a distant memory, I would be sure we always gave back the way we were given so much. I promised that our swings and equipment would be donated to the NICU. I promised that those onesies that were waiting in his nursery, in which he would quickly outgrow, would be donated back here for the babies who don’t have much to go home with. I vowed that I wouldn’t forget the birthdays of my friends’ babies and children who were in heaven. I made a promise that from that day forward, I would do more. I will be there, really be there, when my friends need it. I will pick up dinner or be a hand to hold in a waiting room. I will help raise money for our exceptional NICU and the organizations that support it. I will donate whatever I can to those who need it most. I will be there for whoever needs it – the way they were for us. There is something so powerful and so wonderful about the simplest of gestures that can have an impact years beyond that second in time. Even just taking a few minutes out of a busy day to let someone know you said a prayer for their child can be a moment they will forever remember. Our days in the NICU left a thumbprint I can’t forget, and honestly, I don’t want to forget. I can’t imagine living in that world where I was before, the world of taking for granted 2:00 a.m. feedings or hearing cries from the back seat.
Countless people went above and beyond for our baby and our family. They demonstrated a compassion like I had never seen. I don’t know how to thank them for the ultimate gift they gave us. I only know how to pay it forward. During those long, terrifying days, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Why did this happen to us? Why are we here?” A friend, and former NICU mom, dropped off a card for me with words I will never forget. “Being the parent of a NICU baby means you’re extra special. After all, God doesn’t just pick anybody to witness a miracle.” It was us because we were meant to hold the hands of those who will someday need it – and what a privilege it is to be there to offer a hand. To those who are brave enough to let their light shine through their brokenness, thank you.