The other day I decided to bring cookies to the nurses working in labor and delivery and the NICU for Valentines day. I hadn’t initially planned to do this and wasn’t expecting to go back there until next month when I plan to drop off a service project to celebrate my son’s first birthday. Still, I figured it wouldn’t be a big deal, the NICU is a secure ward, so I’d just call call in, someone would come to the door to get the cookies, and I’d leave; no big deal. I was wrong. It was a little bigger of a deal than I had planned on and prepared for.
I’d been back to the hospital exactly once since my son let the NICU and it took a lot of mental preparation to go that once. He was six months and healthy by then, just awaiting a second look to confirm there was no regrowth of his cyst. Driving into the parking garage made me feel claustrophobic, but other than the parking garage, I didn’t go into any other part of the hospital that was connected with memories. It wasn’t long after that that I stopped feeling tense anytime I drove in the direction of the hospital. I still got occasional pangs of painful memories if a certain song came on the radio and the weather was just so as I drove near the hospital, but other than that, I was pretty ok. Yesterday, however, I made an actual return to the second floor and the place where my son spent the first 77 days of his life.
When I called into the NICU, I really didn’t expect for them to buzz me back, but they did. The second those double doors swung open with a whoosh, that sickening-sweet sterol smell hit me, and I felt like I was floating in a dream. The first thing I caught sight of was my son’s original room, which now was occupied by some other little boy, with his name plate displayed on the door. I resanitized my hands upon entering and proceeded around the corner to the nurses’ station. One of the nurses who was usually at the desk was sitting there and immediately recognized me. I presented them with the cookies and focused on my task at hand. When I was done, the nurse who remembered me asked about my littlest guy. I began to tell her how great he was, but the familiar sights, sounds, and smells of the NICU, coupled with discussing my baby became too much for me. My eyes began to fill with tears and I had to quickly take leave, explaining that it was just too much to be there, but promised to come back with pictures next mother. I walked so quickly to the door that I forgot to hit the security button to let me out and I got stuck as the door made a little sound. I apologized, joking that I was out of practice, and made my quick escape. The tears came as I entered the stairwell. I was desperate to exit the building and get back to the car where my baby was. All I wanted to do was pull my baby from his car seat and kiss and hug him, thankful that he was no longer living on that second floor behind those secure double doors. Unfortunately, when I returned to the car, my littlest guy was sleeping so soundly in his seat, I didn’t dare touch him and wake him, so I had to settle for a quick glimpse of him before jumping in the car and heading out. It took me a few minutes to recover and I even began to tear up again as I told my husband about the experience.
This spur of the moment trip was too much for me right now, but I’m hope to be better prepared in a few weeks when I return for the one year anniversary of my son’s arrival and stay at the NICU. I’m not really sure how I will mentally prepare for this visit or how I will even deal with what would normally be a happy time for most families. It feels so bitter sweet to celebrate his first birthday next month. I’m so thankful for my son and the fact that he is now healthy, but I fear there are still a lot of emotions I never truly let myself feel and this might be the opportunity they take to escape. I’ve already felt great hesitation and sorrow at the idea of the anniversary of my two week bed rest approaching, so I know those feeling are beginning to stir inside me. I’m just hoping I can feel more joy rather than guilt and sadness on my son’s first birthday. I will just have to try to continue to focus on the present and future and my son’s beautiful smile to get me beyond the past and all we went through.