As a mother to a former 25 weeker, I often reflect over the past five years. I remember how it felt to be pregnant with Kolin and the happiness that knowing I was carrying him, ushered into my life. My pregnancy was going well until it wasn’t. I see myself being wheeled quickly through the hospital to the operating room to have an emergency c-section under general anesthesia. I recall waking up, scanning the room and being scared to ask the question, “How is my baby?” I remember the NICU fellow wheeling Kolin in to meet me prior to being flown to a bigger hospital. I remember how empty and scared I felt. I remember wondering if my son would live or die. I remember seeing Kolin for the first time after arriving to the NICU, totally surrounded by machines. He looked so small and fragile. I cannot recall all of the tears I shed as I sat by Kolin’s bedside for 183 days, but I do recall how lonely I felt as I sat in the same spot watching baby after baby being discharged. Many of whom had only been there a small fraction of the time we were there. Kolin’s NICU stay was long and daunting and filled with surgeries and procedures. It was heartbreaking and at times, it felt like I was free falling without having anything to catch me. There was no landing pad to provide a soft place for me to land.
I often revisit these moments and the moments that followed, and I wonder how I survived. I wonder how I found the strength to keep going when everything felt so heavy. It felt like I was surrounded by darkness, and I couldn’t see any light. I can see myself sitting in the chair holding Kolin while trying to keep my tears at bay. I only wanted him to see my strength and not my moments of weakness. I only wanted him to see my smiles, not my tears. I can see myself sitting across from his doctors as they told me of the things Kolin would likely never accomplish. I can see myself trying to keep everything together as I performed well baby exams after returning to work while my Kolin was still in the NICU. I recall the internal struggle I felt as I cared for healthy babies who were the same age as Kolin. They and their parents needed me to show up for them. I quickly learned how to push my feelings into a small box to be put away until after the visit was over. I see myself sitting at my desk pumping while on the phone receiving an update from Kolin's nurses. Afterwards, I see myself trying to put myself back together before going in to see my next patient.
I reflect on these moments and wonder if there was anything I could have done differently…. done better. And as I reflect, I can see I was way too hard on myself during this time. There are so many things I wish I could go back to tell her…. the former me who felt like she was carrying the world on her shoulders. The one who was trying to juggle it all: baby in the NICU, working fulltime in a demanding field, and being a wife while managing a household. I would tell her it wasn’t her fault. Kolin being born early was not her fault. I would tell her medicine is a practice and no one can truly predict Kolin’s future ability….no one. I would make her understand that her only job is to give Kolin love, and the best possible life and he would take it from here. Kolin will show you and others exactly what he is capable of doing. And he will amaze you and everyone else in the process. I would tell her; she is stronger than she knows. I would tell her; she is much stronger than she feels. I would do my best to explain to her that the same grace she freely extends to others, she should also extend it to herself. I would do my best to convey to her that although things are looking bleak right now, this will not always be the case. I would let her know that she will find laughter again….and hope. Joy too. I wish I could go back to tell her that although the journey will be long and hard, she and Kolin will find their way into living a beautiful, albeit differently than expected, life.