Over the past few weeks I have been participating in the gratitude challenge that many people do on Facebook. For those of you unfamiliar, basically you post one thing you are grateful for each day leading up to thanksgiving. I usually pick something that has stuck out to me that particular day in hopes that I’ll also be extra observant of the wonderful things in my life. This year, though, I have struggled with this challenge, not because I don’t have things to be grateful for, but because I have one thing that I am so grateful for, it seems to outshine all the other things I am grateful for from year to year. I am so grateful for my littlest guy and his health that it makes it hard to see past this giant blessing to focus on any of my other blessings. Then one day, as I sat trying to think of something other than the obvious (the baby in my lap) to post about, I realized something I was grateful for that I decided not to post on Facebook for fear of it being misunderstood. I realized, that despite how hard this year has been and how tough having my baby in the hospital struggling for his life was, I am grateful that it happened. I know that sounds strange, but now that he is healthy, I feel like I can say it. I am grateful for our experience in the NICU.
Obviously I never planned for or wanted my baby to be born 9 weeks early, to be in the NICU for 77 days, to have to shove a tube down his nose so he could eat, or to watch him gasping to breath as he lay in the hospital crib for another two weeks over the summer, but all of this did happen and we made it through to the other side. Not all babies do make it through this struggle and some families fall apart, but we survived. Yes, I am grateful for this, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about being grateful for the experience of having a preemie and a sick child and how it changes your perception of the world afterwards. Many people walk around this world living privileged lives and are never truly challenged, so they never have their eyes opened to how precious life and every little moment in it is. These people take things for granted, they miss the special moments in life. Even those of us who have faced challenges, sometimes enough time goes by that the memory of the challenge begins to fade and we can begin to lose sight of what is truly important in life.
For example. The first time I got pregnant I was excited, but I didn’t totally love being pregnant. I began to lose sight of just how precious the miracle that was happening inside my body was, until I lost it toward the end of the first trimester. I was devastated by the loss, but when I become pregnant again, I was sure to enjoy every minute of it, constant morning sickness and all. It was because of that initial loss that I was able to truly bask in my pregnancy and enjoy it, no matter how unenjoyable some parts were. When I had sever morning sickness, I just told myself that it was a good sign, that it meant the baby was still there and growing. Sure, I was terrified right up until I actually held my baby that I would lose him, but I also felt the gift that that pregnancy was. Of course, three pregnancies later and enough time had gone by that I wasn’t so in love with being pregnant anymore. This last pregnancy had hardly started and I was looking forward to it ending. Unfortunately, I got what I wished for, with it ending 9 weeks earlier than it should have. My last night of pregnancy I laid awake, trying to take in all I could of my last hours of being pregnant, mourning the idea of it ending too soon.
Now I am the mom of four boys and life is crazy and busy. It is easy to get lost in the chaos. I was busy when I had only three boys and often felt overwhelmed trying to take care of them and get everything done. I stretched myself too thin trying to be super mom. I’d take on tasks, join committees, plan outings, have a million projects going, all while trying to get all the laundry done. Despite all the things I’d be doing for the kids, I’d often forget to stop and enjoy these things, to actually be present in the moment. Sure, I’d take the kids on special “dates” to get some quality one-on-one time with them, but at the back of my mind a “to do” list a mile long was always going. Baby number four was in danger of being just added to the pack as I continued to move about doing all the things I was doing. Then he came early and my entire world slowed down. Suddenly, my life as I’d been living it completely changed; it wasn’t until all these month later that I’d realize it was a change for the better.
In the NICU, all you have is time. I would sit for hours and hold my baby. I’d focus on him; his tiny frail body, his shallow breaths, his sweet little smell. Some days I miss those endless hours of cuddles. When my littlest guy came home, he was on a feeding tube and a strict feeding schedule, this made it tough to do outings with the boys or start any new projects. Then we had our second stint in the hospital and faced a future filled with hospital stays and surgeries and many missed moments with my older boys. I began to think about all the little events that meant so much that I was going to miss with them. When we received the miracle good news and I was able to bring my baby home healthy, my perception of life as a mom of four boys changed.
Now I am sure to be truly present and take in all the important little events I was so worried about missing with my older boys. I am in the moment, mentally recording birthdays, holidays, “dates”, and traditions I take part in with my boys. I have attempted to prioritize my time. My “to do” lists are more of like weekly suggested goals that get written down on paper in hopes that I will not constantly play the list over and over again in my mind, freeing up my mind to be with my kids. I sign up for a lot less committees and I currently do not run any. I take time each day for cuddles and fun and try to remind myself to slow down and enjoy life.
As for my littlest guy, I am over the moon about him and how healthy he is. He is such a happy baby and his smile is contagious. I am constantly kissing and cuddling him. I smell his sweet baby head ever chance I get. I kiss and zurbert his stomach with every diaper change. I spend large amounts of time just watching him play or sleep and marvel at his existence. And, at least once a day, I try to find a little time to sneak off with him for some quiet cuddles. I rock and nurse him while singing to him some of the songs I sang to him while he was in the NICU. Once he is asleep, I linger longer than necessary, just holding him and enjoying being close to him.
So when I say that I am grateful for our time in the NICU, I’m not talking about being grateful for the nurses and doctors, or that my son survived (though I am clearly thankful for both those things), I mean I am grateful for the actual experience and how it changed my life. I am grateful for the appreciation of life that this experience has given me. I feel like the NICU not only saved my baby’s life, but mine as well.