A few weeks back, Ryley’s writing-of-the-week for school had to be about the greatest, non-material gift he’d ever received. I’ll admit, he did a little sucking up and wrote about me helping him with his writing project. 🙂 When we started working on it, I knew exactly what I would write had it been my assignment. I’ve received many non-material gifts in my life. All three of my children are very special gifts. Being Michael’s wife is a gift (even on the days I don’t like him a whole lot). Health is a gift. The love of my family is a gift. My education was a big gift. But there is one thing to which nothing else quite compares.
When Ryley was born, getting out of the NICU wasn’t something I could even begin to think about. It was so far away in those early days. My goodness – he couldn’t even breath on his own. His very life depended upon all those machines, his doctor, his many nurses. The days were long, the nights longer. The doctor told us from the start not to even expect a possibility of release until his original due date, and that only if things went well. His due date was still three months off. We would spend at least three months (barring the unspeakable happening) traveling an hour each direction to see our son. I couldn’t wrap my brain around a day sitting by that isolette much less three months full of those days. But then the NICU became home. It was safe there. Ryley, after a month, became stable. We were in a routine. My friends were his nurses. But we were living in a bubble. After two months, as safe as it was, I desperately wanted to be a real family, in our own home, all under one roof. I was tired of visiting my baby, tired of being a part-time quasi-mommy.
Ryley was scheduled to come home December 16th. He had been doing so well. He was off all oxygen support. He was eating well, having finally mastered breathing while sucking on his bottle. He had his car seat test. His room at home was ready for him. We walked in on the 16th, and when I saw his primary waiting for me, I knew something was wrong. He’d had a brady (stopped breathing and his heart rate dropped) during the night. He was back on oxygen and they couldn’t figure out why. He was not coming home that day. We found out the next day he had a cold. We would have to wait it out. He recovered quickly and was back off the oxygen again in a few days. His doctor asked me, “How about Christmas?” I said, “What about it?” not realizing he was talking about Ryley’s release. He quickly pulled me into the loop. Christmas….my son would come home on Christmas.
I couldn’t sleep Christmas Eve. It was worse than being a kid waiting for Santa. And I was terrified we were going to walk into that hospital on Christmas morning to find it had happened again, and we would have to wait longer to bring him home. But no…..he was ready. Until we got him into the car and drove away, I was sure they were going to tell us this was a joke and he had to stay. I was afraid he was never going to be released. It was the most surreal feeling to hold my baby in my arms without any wires attached, place him in a car seat and finally drive home from that hospital knowing we didn’t have to go back.
There is video, and lots of pictures of that day. I sat there on our couch holding him. I didn’t have to put him down if I didn’t want to. There were no machines beeping. I didn’t have to take his temperature every time I changed his diaper. I didn’t have to check any charts for his weight gain/loss. I didn’t have to leave for anyone doing rounds nor for a shift change. He was all mine, and he was home.
We don’t hold a celebration of his homecoming anniversary on Christmas each year. There is too much going on. I do hold a quiet moment of my own though and remember. We take a picture of him by the three every Christmas in his “Ryley Grows Up” t-shirt so we can show just how much he’s grown. Some years I cry. Some years I am just so happy I could burst. Christmas is a miraculous day anyways. His homecoming adds icing to the cake. It is and always will be the greatest gift I’ve ever received.