I’ve lost all of my street cred. In a former life, I would like to think of myself as somewhat of a badass. I used to see my mom tear up at happy occasions and was honestly perplexed. Come on, I know watching your youngest child graduate college is a proud moment, but tears? I didn’t get it.
I get it now, and becoming a mother has totally knocked me down a few steps on the badass ladder. Truth be told, I cry at my desk a few times a week while perusing the internet. I had to feign a sneezing attack when I cried at not one, but two Super Bowl commercials last weekend. Just now, I lost it while reading another mother’s account of living with her autistic child. I didn’t cry out of pity for this mom or her young boy (who, coincidentally is named Jack), I cried because I was so moved by her strength; her ability to handle her “new normal”- this crazy new frustrating and confusing situation she had found herself thrown in. She amazed me.
We received so many heartfelt messages and kind words from friends and family when my youngest child Jack, was in the NICU. One consistent thing that almost everyone said to me was “You are so strong.” This shocked me. I didn’t feel strong at all.
I felt like I was falling apart at the seams. My world was crumbling around me and I was living in the twilight zone. Jack was the one who was strong; he deserved the kudos, not me. He actually deserved a medal for enduring what he was going through: hooked up to a million monitors and wires, with a breathing tube down his throat and being pricked constantly with needles throughout the day. I was just a bystander- watching it all happen. I cried a lot in his private NICU room. I cried for Jack, for myself and husband, and for my sweet baby Ben, who was at home. I was pretty sure I was causing him some sort of permanent damage by leaving him for so long while I was recovering in the hospital and visiting his new baby brother. Was this what it was like to have more than one kid? Always feeling like you were abandoning one in order to give attention to the other?
I cried when I walked into Jack’s room and looked down at my little baby and saw three new bald spots from where they had shaved his head overnight, trying to insert a new IV line- all which inevitably fell out hours later. I cried when they told me for the third day in a row that it would be yet another day before I would maybe be able to hold my new baby for the first time. I cried because I didn’t even really know what my baby looked like! He had so many wires and tape on his face, and his tiny face was so swollen from constantly being pricked and prodded. No, I was not strong. I was a cry baby.
I knew something was wrong right there in the operating room when Jack was born. He was not pink, but rather a pale shade of grey and was having a hard time breathing. I saw the look on my husband’s face as I peaked at him from behind the curtain I was laying behind, as he watched the nurses attempt to get some more oxygen into him by using a manual air pump. Jeff was able to get a picture or two of Jack, so I didn’t realize the severity of the situation because no one was really saying much. I heard a weak little cry and knew he was alive and figured he just needed a little help. It wasn’t until an hour later, back in my own room, when I asked the nurse if I would see him soon, or what his weight and height stats were. She confided that they actually hadn’t weighed him yet and she was unsure. They hadn’t weighed him yet?? He was on an air ventilator and having some issues- they were monitoring him. I thought I was going to throw up.
Jack was born at 8:25am on a beautiful Thursday morning. I didn’t see him for the first time until he was wheeled into my room nine hours later. He was housed in what looked like a gigantic clear coffin, already intubated and had tubes everywhere, including a breathing and feeding tube. He was sedated. They already had him in the huge traveling container that they roll onto the ambulance to transfer babies and he was on his way to another hospital to be admitted into the NICU. Unfortunately, this was not the first time we had said goodbye to a new baby in this ghastly contraption. Ben had been wheeled into my room in a similar fashion only 13 months earlier. I felt like it was deja vu. I was once again watching my baby leave me, while I stayed behind, awaiting my transfer to the new hospital. I was only able to reach my hand into the viewing container and touch Jack’s tiny fingers before they rushed him out.
It was four long days before the doctors felt Jack was stable enough for me to hold him. He still was intubated and pretty out of it. His oxygen levels weren’t good and he was fighting to breathe, requiring a lot of assistance. His heartbeat was a little irregular and the monitors that were connected to his tiny little body were constantly beeping that something was wrong. I nervously pulled the chair next to his crib and watched as two nurses assisted in picking him up, arranging his cords and placing his warm body on my chest. Within moments of our skin touching, the room went quiet. The monitors calmed down and we were stunned to see that all of his vitals immediately leveled out. He had needed me. I needed him. I felt like I had waited years for this moment. I closed my eyes and soaked him in. And then I cried.
Jack had Respiratory Distress Disorder and Pneumonia- his lungs wouldn’t fully expand, causing fast breathing and he was unable to get the oxygen he needed- He also had a small infection in his lungs. He returned home with us two weeks later, 100% recovered.