Sunday, May 4, 2008

Count Your Many Blessings --- Life

Although we face trials, as does everyone, we have many things for which to be thankful. This is the first of what I intend to be regular entries about our blessings.

When the babies were born last year, I was overwhelmed with gratitude and relief at their lives. They (especially Sophia) had come so close to returning to their creator, that when they made it past their first hurdle of survival, it was easy to look at them and recognize the miracles that they were.

Even as time passed in the NICU, however, life crept into that miracle and I found myself forgetting a little. Gratitude left one day as I overheard a couple in the pod across the room. I learned that this couple lived in the same town I did. Their baby was unexpectedly born a few weeks too early, and they were devastated to have him in the NICU. My babies had been there for weeks, and I was yearning for some socialization, as much of my time had been spent alone with my babies, curtains drawn, “kangarooing” (holding the baby skin-to-skin, which is supposed to be good for preemies). I wanted to say “hello” to them, commiserate with them, and provide sympathy for each other, as some of our circumstances were similar. Instead, in their grief, they never made eye contact with me. One day, as they both wore sweatshirts of the college from which I graduated, I heard them complain to a nurse, “We live so far away! It takes at least an hour to drive here and an hour to drive home. Our baby has been here so looooong. When can we take him home? We have a two-year-old who has to stay with grandma when we come here, and he doesn’t know what is going on, and it is so difficult for him. My husband has to work, and can’t come quite everyday.” These people’s baby was in the NICU for less than five days.

I soon realized that this couple deserved my sympathy, as having a baby in the hospital is difficult whether it is for one day or one hundred days. However, before I came to this realization, I mourned my own. I lived just as far away. I had three other children, including one not yet two years old, who were lucky to stay with grandma, yet also were having a difficult time. My husband had just opened a new business (it opened the day before the babies were born, while I was in the hospital) and so was working two jobs. I had to work once a week so he could visit the hospital at all. My babies had been there for weeks, and would remain for many more weeks.

Not too many weeks passed before I was given a strong reminder of how grateful I should be. The entry to the NICU has a washing station, and everyone who enters spends three minutes scrubbing hands and arms. In my new need for contact with other parents, I greeted a couple washing next to me and asked about their baby. It turned out to be a mom and her brother, and she had a beautiful but sad smile as she told me that her daughter had been born a few weeks too early, but just needed to grow and eat and was doing well. They finished their washing before mine, so I was surprised to see that their baby was in the same room we were. I nodded and waved as I passed their pod on the way to see April and Sophia.

Either later that day or another, they approached me and asked whether they could see my babies (privacy is a big issue in the NICU, so people must ask permission to approach another pod). Glad for the opportunity, I smiled and welcomed them. The woman commented that she had heard from a nurse that I had twins. She admired them and told me they were beautiful. Then, I heard her softly comment about her twins. Realizing that this was emotional for her, I thought that perhaps she had had twins a few years beforehand that did not make it. I gently asked, “Twins?” Then, tears freely falling, she told me that her baby who was across the room had been a twin. Her sister died shortly before she was born. I put my arm around her and struggled for words of comfort. Here were my twins, right in front of her. Life is not always fair. This woman taught me much about gratitude, because, aside from that and another encounter, all I ever heard her talk about was how much she loved her surviving daughter, how well she was doing, and how much she looked forward to taking her home. Her daughter was beautiful, with the perfect color of soft, reddish hair. This woman who had faced such a major trial was optimistic about her baby and their future together.

I think that baby and her mother were there for two or three weeks. I wanted to give her something to let her know I was thinking about her. I struggled from the time we first met until nearly the time she left to think of something suitable. I finally settled on a beautiful journal, in which she could write her thoughts, or notes to her daughter, or whatever she chose. I wasn’t sure this was the perfect gift, but a friend had done that for me when I first entered the hospital, and I appreciated it greatly. A day or two before they were scheduled to leave, I approached the woman and her baby. She rose and met me in the middle of the room. “I have something for you,” she said to me. Surprised, I answered, “I have something for you too.” What she gave me will forever be a reminder to me to be grateful for April’s and Sophia’s lives. “My brother gave these to me at my baby shower,” she explained, tears wetting her cheeks. Her gift is pictured below. Cute onesies that were meant for her twin daughters had been generously, unselfishly, and lovingly passed on to mine. I am eternally grateful for April’s and Sophia’s lives.

(Photos, top to bottom: 1. April & Sophia today, 2. April, top, & Sophia - 8 days old -- 1st picture together, 3. The family, about 3 weeks after babies' births, 4. April & Sophia 1-1/2 months old, 5. April & Sophia today)

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Belated Birthdays

Audrey celebrated a birthday this month. The next day, she asked me if she could have “another birthday.” I told her that she would have another birthday next year, when she turns four. She responded, “No! I want another birthday when I turn three!!” Since then, she repeatedly tells her sisters out-of-the-blue and in a reassuring voice, “I’m going to have another birthday.” Little Princess, I suspect you will have many, many more birthdays…

Speaking of belated birthdays, Jolie had a birthday just after the babies’ birthdays. She had a pajama party. It was great to be able to do something fun for her this year. Last year, she was super excited for her upcoming birthday. She talked about it all the time. The morning of March 2nd, when I left for the doctor’s office to be checked because of my worries, Jolie said to me, “Mommy, don’t forget about my birthday!” It tore at my heartstrings, and I leaned down and promised her, “Jolie, I will never forget about your birthday.” I was worried, though, because I had an ominous feeling that all would not go well at the doctor’s office. Well, all did not go well, and Jolie had her birthday, but it was different than we had planned. It was wonderful to all be at home this year and plan something fun for her.