It started September 6th….the memories of a Fall fifteen years ago. Every year, that is the beginning of my journey back through the inception of our journey, the good and the bad. But that season is coming to an end. December 25th will mark not only Christmas Day, but homecoming anniversary day for our micro-preemie.
When you have a micro, you don’t look too far out. You survive the day at hand, praying your baby keeps breathing. You can’t see past the alarm currently ringing, the weight he’s gained or lost that day, the milestone that should be occurring, the fact he’s still supposed to be inside of you. But as the days pass, and he keeps breathing, the brain bleed fades away on its own, hearing tests are passed, vision tests are passed, he grows, he eats…..you begin to think of coming home. You dream of him coming home. You were told, in a haze, at the beginning to expect, if all goes well, he will come home around his due date, December 29th. You begin to pray you’ll have your son home with you, in his crib in his room rather than a plastic box in a NICU, before the new year begins.
Christmas lights go up around the neighborhood. It hits you the holidays are coming. You’ve been living in the hospital or NICU for three months. The world has continued on without you. Christmas music plays everywhere you go. You find yourself in a grocery store aisle, staring at frozen turkeys, wondering if you can just have a hall pass on holidays this year. Your focus is so far away from everything but your fragile, fighting, beautiful boy. Christmas cards arrive. You hope everyone understands why you won’t be getting any cards out this year. Between pumping every three hours, the 45-minute drive to and from the NICU each day, the long hours spent by his bedside – who has time to write out cards?
He’ll come home on the sixteenth. You can’t believe it. Finally. But you wait with baited breath. And on the sixteenth, when you walk into the NICU, you see the look on the nurse’s face, see the oxygen strapped back to your baby’s face, and you know the wait will continue. A week later, the doctor asks, “How do you feel about Christmas?” Me, “I usually like Christmas”, wondering why the heck he’s asking your opinion on a holiday. Then he gently corrects you, “No, how do you feel about taking him home on Christmas?” “Really?” “Really.”
Christmas Eve candlelight service….you are as anxious as you ever were as a child. Will tomorrow never come? The mommas around you quietly shushing their babies nearly breaks you. The darkness hides your fear that tomorrow will bring yet another delay, your fear he will never come home. The singing of Silent Night has you completely undone, tears flowing unchecked down your face. Why did we come tonight? We should have stayed home. This is too much.
And then Christmas morning….you arrive at the NICU. There are papers to sign. The doctor has to do his final rounds on your child. They need to make sure you know how to take care of your still-tiny, medically fragile child. You finally take off the last monitor, put him in his First Christmas outfit, gather up the cart-full of things that have collected over the last 93 days, strap him into his carseat, and walk out the doors, all the time believing you’re in a dream and someone will stop you, tell you they were joking and you can’t really take him home. But then you’re outside the hospital, putting his carseat into your car, and driving away.
Christmas changed for me that year, as it does with any new parent. But I find myself emotional over the smallest things because it marked an end, and a new beginning for us. We brought our boy home after a very long wait. He had already survived so much. Now Christmas music reminds me of the fear, the disappointment, and the extreme joy before and at his homecoming. We don’t celebrate that anniversary on Christmas, but it’s always there in my heart, in the back of my mind. It was the end, and it was a beginning.