Thursday, May 14, 2015

To the Mom in the NICU: You Are Enough

To the brand new mother in the NICU, the one who refuses to leave her premature baby’s side:

I have sat where you sit. I have feared the things you fear. I have felt the pain you feel.

I have held my own three-pound miracle, and marveled at the soft blond hair covering his body, as if his guardian angel’s wings had shed downy golden feathers on him, keeping him warm. Keeping him safe.

And I have asked myself, Why couldn’t I keep him safe?

Why wasn’t my body the loving, nurturing environment he needed?

Why wasn’t I enough?

I know the guilt. I know that you feel like you’ve failed him in this harsh world, a world he’s not even supposed to have entered yet.

You should have done more. Should have given more. Should have been more.

But let me tell you something: There is nothing more than love.

Nothing more you can do for him than love. Nothing more you can give to him than love. Nothing more you can be for him than love.

He knows your love, and that is more than enough.

He feels it.

He feels it in the way you cradle his fragile body close to your chest, and in the warmth of your skin enveloping him like the quintessential security blanket. He feels it in your heart, pressed against his, beating out a private “I love you” in an intimate Morse code that only the two of you understand.

He feels it in the tip of your finger, the only part of your hand that fits inside his precious, wrinkled fist. He feels more love in that one finger than some children feel in a lifetime.

He feels it in the soft trembling of your body as it quivers with silent shakes of wonder, hope, and gratitude.

He smells it.

He smells it in the faint staleness of unwashed hair, unbrushed teeth, and unlaundered clothing, byproducts of your refusal to part with him any longer than absolutely necessary.

He smells it in the soured breastmilk crusted on the front of your shirt, and in the pungent odor of cafeteria food that's seeped into your skin.

He smells it in the Purell you rub into your hands every time you hope to touch him, and in the iodine residue that has permanently settled into the cracks of your knuckles, a souvenir from the scrub room you frequent on a daily basis.

He hears it.

He hears it in the hushed voice that reads to him while he lies in his incubator, and in the songs that are whispered softly into his ear as you cradle him in your arms. He hears Christmas carols, because you don’t know any lullabies yet.

He hears it in the gentle creak of the rocking chair, and in the muffled sound your lips make as they trace the path between his cheek and the crown of his head, marveling in the softness they find there.

He hears it over the whirring of the CPAP machine, when you whisper to him so that no one else can hear, reminding him—begging him—to keep breathing.

He hears it in the rhythmic snores and deep breaths of your slumber—when exhaustion finally gets the best of you—and in the waking silences you spend in meditation and prayer.

He tastes it.

He tastes it on your skin, as you trace the cupid’s bow of his upper lip with your little finger, and in the waxy layer of Vaseline you apply so tenderly to the cracked, flaky skin you find there.

He tastes it in the plastic coating of the tiny tube that transports your breastmilk to his underdeveloped belly, and in the traces of day-old coffee when you gingerly touch your lips to his.

He tastes it in the salty tears that spill from your eyes and land on the delicate red skin of his cheeks, anointing him with a mother’s everlasting devotion.

He sees it.

He sees it in the lines carving themselves into your face, spanning like map routes, recounting the journey of how you came to be here—together—in this moment, but showing no indication of where you’re going. They point towards uncharted territory that you’ll discover together.

He sees it in the disappointed way you bite your lip when the nurse tells you it’s “not a good day” to remove him from his incubator, and in the way your hands instinctively press against your chest, reflecting your desire to hold him there.

He sees it in the dark circles that hang from your eyes like weights, willing them to close, and in the determination in the pupils that peek out, forcing them to remain open. He sees it in your stubbornness, your fear to miss even a single moment of the beautiful life you created.

He sees it in the way you see him, as if there is nothing else you can—or will ever need to—see.

You brought him into this world, and he became yours. You love him. He knows.

And you are enough.


And to my own NICU warriors:

From our first week in the NICU together... our last... 

..and every day since...'ve had my heart.

I hope I've earned yours.

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