In truth, I have a blurred memory of laying eyes on you for the first time. I remember your Dad wheeling me up to the NICU, I think my sisters were with me, well at least Sammy was (there’s no way Amanda had flown in yet now that I think about it). I remember the nurses outside your room asking if I was Mom and when I said yes they said, “Wow! You don’t look like Mom!” My assumption is it was meant as a compliment but it stung. Of course I wasn’t big and fat and bloated, I had you at 22 weeks. That isn’t ample enough time to become any of those things. I entered your room and that’s where things sort of stop. I remember what I was wearing, my glasses and an oversized Steamboat Springs sweatshirt. Sammy and Jake had run to the house for us to get us clothes and toiletries. Aside from that… nothing.
What I do strongly remember are two other things. First, after they had gotten you settled in the NICU, your Dad came and found the hospital room I was in to show me a picture of you. In the ER, once they announced you intubated and alive, he went with you to the NICU. Neither of us wanted you to be alone, and I was in good hands. The picture is of my fresh baby boy with tubes all over, and Daddy’s hand laying next to you to show just how tiny you were. Later Blake would tell me that he was shaking so hard he worried he would drop his phone on you, and a nurse kindly offered to take the picture for him. As I write this, it’s been a year since you died and the memory of what I thought when I saw that picture for the first time is pretty fuzzy. Disbelief and shock were likely two of the main feelings.
The second thing I remember is the first time I was alone with you. It was roughly 3am, it had been 15 hours since you had been born. I had just finished pumping in my hospital room and couldn’t get back to sleep. Somehow I realized that I hadn’t been alone with you one single time yet. There were so many people around us, so many things going on, I was so overwhelmed. The realization made me sob. Dad was the “milk captain” and dutifully ran the tubes I filled up to the NICU for me, but at that moment I decided I would do it myself so I could go and see you.
When I got upstairs I used the phone outside the NICU entrance to announce, “Mom here to see Leo Cheney,” washed my hands thoroughly with scalding water, and made my way back to Bay 1. Bay 1 is for the sickest and tiniest babies. You were considered to be a “micro-preemie”. From there, I remember entering your room, setting the milk on the sink, and gently walking over to your bed. I can’t for the life of me remember the name of the nurse on duty that night but I will always remember her face. She was there the day you died, too. She held me while I sobbed, the shock and terror washing over me. What had I done to you? How had my body failed you so badly? Would you survive?
It was so shocking to realize that my son had arrived. When you get pregnant you picture childbirth to be so different. You go into labor at or close to full term, you labor and deliver, then you get that special moment where the doctor hands you your baby and you get to hold and look at them for the first time, marveling at what you and your partner created. Now? I simply laugh at that idea. How idealistic, to think that it’s all so picture perfect. If you sense some bitterness in those words, you are correct in noticing.
After a few minutes of holding me, the nurse asked if I wanted to touch you. I slathered on hand sanitizer, donned rubber gloves, and got to touch your tiny arms and hands. Stroking wasn’t allowed, your skin was too delicate and it could come off with too much friction. Over time, as we got to touch you more, you would grip our giant fingers in your tiny hands and it was truly the most incredible thing.
By the end, they didn’t make me put on gloves to touch you. I will never be sure if they thought the skin to skin contact would help heal you, or if they knew that you wouldn’t survive anyway so they might as well loosen the restrictions on us. Either way I am so grateful to have gotten to touch your skin a few times before the night you died. That night, I kissed and cuddled every part of you I could. Especially your tiny baby feet.
What a meeting, my love. What a meeting.