So about 9 months ago this happened.
Our little girl made her dramatic entrance into the world, 3 months premature, in the summer of 2017.
I choose to believe that even the most extraordinary circumstances in life can teach us a thing or two. And our journey over the past few months has been no different.
What followed her Bollywood-worthy appearance was a 3 month NICU stay where my heart was ripped to shreds over and over and over again. My body staggered from day to day, amazing me time and again with its ability to rise up to the exhausting demands of NICU motherhood.
During this time I was overwhelmed by the fierce courage and steadfast love of my husband who was battling the same waves I was but weathered the storms with much more composure. I was reminded of the value of family who turned up unasked and stood by our side. Of friends who put their own lives on hold to offer us a few moments of comfort. Of colleagues who went out of their way to take up our slack. Of prayer warriors known and unknown who answered the call for spiritual support. I learnt that people can be unwittingly cruel and unbearably kind. I learnt that size doesn’t mean strength, because there is precious little that can match the strength of a NICU baby desperately fighting for her life with every shuddering breath.
I learnt the value of time. Of how a few seconds can stretch to an agonizing eternity as you watch medical personnel swarm to resuscitate your unresponsive baby. Of how minutes, that a team of doctors spends explaining yet another condition that your baby has, can age you by years. Of how an hour spent cuddling your newborn with all the masses of tubes that are keeping her alive can end before you’ve even begun. Of a night of sleeplessness knowing that the doctor’s news the next morning cannot be good. Of the immeasurable value of one more day in the womb which could mean 3 whole days less in an incubator. Of how 72 hours can seem endless as you await the results of yet another battery of tests. And of how in the face of an extended NICU stay, months melt together until you no longer know or care what day of the week it is anymore.
I learnt about the fierce and protective love of mothers – and not just for their own children. My own mother, who, having just been through a major surgery herself, thought nothing of getting back up on her feet against all medical advice to stand with me in my trial. My sister who, despite having just had a baby of her own was more concerned with the well-being of my NICU baby. My aunts who took me and my husband under their wing to do what my mother physically could not. My fellow NICU moms of all ages and races – the language of a mother’s love for her child needs no context, no translation. I have rejoiced with you at milestones as tiny as an hour without a monitor beeping. I have wept with you for everything from pumping struggles to unendurable outcomes.
And most unexpectedly, my own passionate love for the tiny creature that is a little piece of me. A love that had me bleary-eyed in the stillness of many a lonely night; mentally, emotionally and physically drained after a long NICU day and yet pumping every two to three hours because that was the only thing I could do for her back then. That and the prayers. Oh the whispered prayers that flew up from my soul every waking second.
And somehow we found the strength to survive those days. We celebrated the little things – a 20 gram weight gain, the successful completion of a whopping 0.5ml feed, an uneventful report from the duty nurse. It was a long, bumpy road but we emerged into the light of a new day.
I’d like to say I was the epitome of grace under fire. But I know I was not. My face was turned to a God I prayed desperately would heed our prayers. And you know what? We were one of the lucky ones. We did have our share of ups and downs, but NICU life is all relative. As horrific as our 3 month internment may sound to some, there are many who have endured much longer periods of waiting to take their babies home. And some have even had to walk away with their hearts full but hands empty. So yes, after a 3 month NICU stay I can still affirm that we were one of the lucky ones.
It is ironic that we have learnt so much from an infant who was born too soon by this world’s standards. She teaches us daily to never give up. To fight yet another day. That tears are fine but weakness is not. That not getting what you want is sometimes good for you. That sometimes you have to give in and believe that a greater power is in control. That in the pitch black of your darkest night there will be hands to hold you if you just call out. That there can be comfort in turbulence, prayer in pain and faith in fear.
Today marks six months since our warrior, Sabi, came home. Six months of mostly ups with some downs. Our outcomes will be determined in the next year and a half or so. The waiting game continues, but we wait in hope.
As much as I hate clichés, she has filled voids in our hearts that we didn’t even realize existed. And not a day goes by that I am not grateful. Grateful for all the answered prayers. Grateful for unending, undeserved grace. Grateful that we were chosen for this wonder-full, heart wrenching encounter. Grateful that today I am a stronger woman than I was 9 months ago. Grateful that now I can look back at those days and marvel at all the little miracles.
Today, both Sabi and I still bear the visible scars of that tumultuous journey. With time, my physical scars have started to fade. And a part of me is sad to see them go. I wear those battle scars with pride. They are a constant reminder of how far we have come, of how much we have grown. Yes, six months ago today we brought our little miracle home.
Happy homecoming anniversary Sabi!