In 50 days, we will walk for our ninth time in the March of Dimes March for Babies. This is our ninth year of fundraising efforts. Why? We could do nothing. We could just donate money to the foundation to say thank you for Ryley’s life. I mean, he’s 12 years old. He is well past his prematurity and those early years full of so much fear. He is perfectly normal and healthy, in almost every way. What he deals with, many “normal” kids deal with. So why do we bother?
It takes time and effort. It takes humility to ask friends and family year after year to support *our* cause. It takes so much energy and motivation. Sometimes I wonder how many years we can continue on. But as soon as I think back on those sixteen days prior to Ryley’s birth, the 93 days in the NICU, and the years of guilt, fear, pain, doubt, and worry, I know I cannot give up. I have to do this. I have to make sense of his too-soon birth. I have to make something good out of something bad. I have to do what I can to hopefully someday keep any parent from going through what we went through.
A dozen years later, I can still remember the smell of the hand-washing soap we had to use before entering the NICU. For months after Ryley’s release, I would reach with my foot for the pedal to turn the water on at any sink. Even now, the sounds of heart monitors and ventilators will give me chills and send my own heart rate into overdrive. I can still find myself searching for scars on my precious boy’s arms, legs, hands, feet, and face from all the tubes he had attached to him. I can also look at a photo of a brand new preemie in the NICU and honestly say how beautiful he or she is, despite the too-thin skin, the tubes, the tape, the wires. I still feel fear whenever a friend or family member tells me she is pregnant – I know too much of what can go wrong and I will pray fervently, holding my breath mentally and emotionally until I hear that friend or family member has delivered her baby safely and full-term. I get on my soapbox when women say they are “done” being pregnant and want their baby to come at 35, 36, or 37 weeks.
I am not the person I was before Ryley was born. Prematurity stole that from me too. Because we have lost so much, we choose to give so much. Would that any of our efforts would take this journey out of the realm of possibility for anyone else. And so once again, we will walk. Once again, we will put on our Team Roo t-shirts, get up at 5:30am, drive half an hour, and stand and walk in the cold morning air. Once again, we will send emails and post statuses on Facebook requesting donations to the cause. Once again, we will welcome people into our home for the poker tournament to benefit the March of Dimes. Once again, we will tell Ryley’s story, wear our guilt, grief, and pain on our sleeves. We have to, because saying thank you and writing a check every year simply isn’t enough.