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Fourteen years ago, a little boy was born. He was tiny, too small, and too early. He had almost-white, blond hair. His skin was so red, as he hadn’t had time to grow all the epidermal layers. Instead of laughter and joy in the delivery room, there was silence and fear. The mother’s heart ached, believing the worst when not one doctor or nurse bothered to tell her if she had a son or a daughter. She waited anxiously to hear a cry, which came just before the ventilator tube was pushed down her son’s throat….the smallest of cries, but still audible. She saw an impossibly small foot wave around on the warming table across the room. And then her too-small, too-soon son was whisked away to a room on another floor where he would be stabilized and prepared to move to a NICU at another hospital.

That mother spent over three months sitting by her son’s isolette and eventually,  his open crib in the NICU. She stared at him for hours on the days she couldn’t hold him. She watched him turn gray too many times to count. She slowly learned to mother a medically fragile infant, changing diapers while moving tubes and wires out of the way, figuring out his personality, his signs of distress, his cry, what made him happy and comfortable. She wept, prayed and cried by his bedside. Mostly, she wished she could take his place, take it all away from him. She promised him she would be there, good or bad. She left him every night to the care of doctors, nurses, machines. and monitors. She hated leaving. She felt so guilty leaving. She slept with the phone right next to her hand, sure the call would come from the hospital something had gone wrong. She held him through eye exams. She waited anxiously for ultrasound and x-ray results, blood draws and transfusions.  She watched as slowly, lines were removed and disappeared from his daily life. She learned to count in cc’s and milliliters rather than ounces. She celebrated every gram gained, anguished over any lost. She lived for the moments she could hold him, skin-to-skin, and watch his heart rate and oxygen levels settle. She longed, every day, to be a “real” mom, to take her son home. She cried nightly by his empty crib in his empty room in their empty house.

And then one day, 93 days after his birth, she and her husband brought their precious son home. She pushed those fears and memories down in her heart. She put away the things that reminded her of their time in the NICU. And then one day, years later, there was a song that took her instantly back to those days, months of sitting next to his bedside. She had to pull over to the side of the road as an ugly cry took over her vision. That was was Permanent by David Cook. Just the words, “Is there someway for me to take his place,” “I wish I could make it go away,” “I’m permanent,” “Is this the moment where I look you in the eye, Forgive my promise that you’ll never see me cry”……they just said it. They said so much of what she felt during those months, and even the years that followed when he had to work so hard to catch up.

That boy is fourteen years old today. She stares at this boy, who is nearly as tall as she, and struggles to match him with that too-small, too-soon baby. She cries over his achievements, so grateful for his life. She loves that he still allows her to hug him. She prays with all her heart he will never in any way remember any of those 93 days.

Happy Birthday my Big Man. It’s a blessing to watch you grow up.

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