Next week, my youngest daughter is turning five; a milestone at one time I thought she may never reach. What a surprise it was when I found out that I was pregnant with her. My husband and I were delighted and we both expected that I would have a normal, uneventful pregnancy just like my first two. But then the bleeding started in the fourth month. I was sure I was going to lose her the first time it happened. I stood in the ER soberly knowing there was nothing they could do for me if I was going to miscarry, but it wasn’t to be. The doctor who performed the ultrasound pointed to her beating heart on the screen and my husband and I became cautiously hopeful once again.
How desperately I wanted her to be mine. She would be my third daughter, and I’d always wanted four girls. I couldn’t lose her. In the womb, she lived in blissful ignorance through months of my hemorrhaging and flirting with death. Finally, I was put on hospital bedrest and she and I were alone to fight to the finish line together. Seven weeks after being admitted, the doctors feared for my life and hers and insisted on delivering her via emergency c-section. And so it was. My husband was out of town as were my parents, and once again, she and I faced this challenge alone.
When she emerged from my belly, eight weeks early and a fraction of the size she should have been, the doctors declared that the placenta had been hanging on “by a thread”. Praise God she was delivered just in time! There are no coincidences. After recuperating from the surgery for a few hours, I was wheeled in to the NICU to see her and be briefed on her condition. It was a surreal moment to see her lying in a tangled nest of wires. Those wires recorded every beat of her heart and every breath she took…and didn’t take. The monitors surrounding her isolette reassured and terrified me all at once.
She was too small and too fragile for me to hold, but oh, how I longed to embrace her. She must have been so scared. I certainly was. Miraculously, several days later she was strong enough for me to snuggle and nestle close to my body. She was back where she was supposed to be. I felt a twinge of hope. My husband was terrified to hold someone as small and as fragile as she was, but he couldn’t resist her for long. And her sisters, so young and innocent and unsure, were happy and sad and everything in between as they surveyed her through the protective glass. They didn’t understand and neither did I.
After I’d been discharged from the hospital, I’d never felt so lost and isolated. I was haunted by having to leave my baby in the hands of the nurses and doctors of the NICU. I was tortured by having to pump breast milk around the clock. I even felt a bit of resentment for my healthy kids at home and all the needs they still had. But none of those feelings could touch the guilt. The guilt that grew from thinking I could have done something more to prevent her early birth. The guilt I experienced from being scared to bond with a baby who may or may not survive. And the guilt that consumed me because I was absolutely disgusted by the women that I saw going home with their fat, healthy full-term babies as I walked back into the hospital every day.
Our daily trips to the NICU to visit my daughter were draining and exhausting and I wouldn’t have missed them for the world. We were a family and she was one of our own. We loved her the only way we could in her circumstance. More negative emotions followed me unexpectedly into the NICU. Like the jealousy I felt towards the nurses who cared for my baby around the clock. And the surprising bitterness I felt for them when they would tell me it’s time to put MY baby back in the isolette where she’d spend the next X amount of hours or days or weeks not being held and hugged and kissed and told she’s loved. The entire ordeal was completely unnatural and surreal.
Then, thirty days after her birthday, the doctors finally released her to me. I was terrified. They must have made a mistake, I thought. I had no idea how to care for a four-pound human being. When I brought her through the front door that very first time, I felt so helpless and alone. How could I possibly be the kind of mother someone like her needed? Surely I would fail her. But I didn’t. I was vigilant. I was earnest and by the grace of God she grew and outgrew all the conditions that are part of the preemie package deal.
Time rolls along despite what happens in our lives. Birthdays come and go. Shoes are outgrown and the seasons change as they always have. Small, fragile, tired preemies get fat and eager like any other baby and the normalcy you’ve craved for so long creeps up like the morning sun. Milestones are met and as much relief as pride fills your heart as you stare at this living miracle before you. And so here we are…five years later. Looking back on my rough pregnancy and her early birth isn’t easy. I don’t want to feel or remember what I’ve pushed so far down in my mind and heart just to get through it all. When I do reflect, I weep. I shed tears of joy, relief, pride, love, and the ever-present, never-failing hope from God Himself! My premature daughter is now almost five years old. She’s also walking, talking, laughing, singing, hugging, kissing, playing, praying, twirling, dancing, growing proof that God exists and loves me beyond my understanding.