On this day before my baby boy turns 1–I’m both nostalgic and excited for his future. When tomorrow arrives, it will be a day of ONLY celebration…But today, I can’t help but remember a painful moment that occurred the night of his birth that has haunted me throughout his first year.
The day of my son’s eventual arrival began with my not feeling well. Luckily, I had a check-up scheduled with my doctor that morning. They discovered that I had an infection, and concluded that they had to deliver our baby that day.
After a long day of waiting, terrified for our baby and the unknowns of a surgical delivery, I was taken into the operating room at 4:45 p.m. Everything went smoothly through the delivery. When my husband and I heard our son’s first cries–our own followed. He was finally here–and he sounded so healthy. My husband cut the cord and counted fingers and toes, and I awaited the meet-and greet I’d been dreaming of all of my life…the moment when the nurse would put my baby next to me.
I knew that amazing moment would be brief. Our son was born at 36 weeks and 2 days. Despite his healthy birth weight–I had been warned that any baby born prior to 37 weeks had to, by policy, spend its first night in the NICU.
Due to the epidural, I could not touch him with anything but my lips, which grazed his soft cheek and kissed his precious face. The nurse then said, “Do you hear that grunting sound?” I thought it was just a hearty cry–but I was wrong. “That’s not good, she said.” And with that, our baby was whisked away to the NICU.
I knew my husband would not want to leave me while still undergoing surgery, but we had an agreement: He would go with the baby. I was stitched up and sent to the busy recovery area for hours. I arrived in my room and was greeted by a nurse who had to perform the patient in-take routine. After getting me settled in, she began with her first question: my name. Easy.
Second question: was this my first delivery. Again, easy… and yes.
Third question: my birth date. I answered… date and year.
She or her computer swiftly did the math. And her response came almost as swiftly.
“Wow,” she said, “you waited too long to have children.”
Bam. I felt like I had been stabbed.
Typically, I tend to be quick with the response, leaving no lag time between receipt of a sharp comment and responding to it adequately. But in this moment — it was as if the epidural had reached my lips. They couldn’t move. I was stuck, replaying her words over and over.
“You waited too long to have children.”
I didn’t know how to tell her that, in kindergarten (circa 1978), when our teacher asked us what we wanted to be in the year 2000, I immediately answered, “A mommy!” I didn’t know how to say that motherhood was a lifelong dream that eluded me. That it took longer than I ever imagined to find the person with whom I wanted to create and raise a family… That along the way, I buried a mother, that the responsibilities of being the eldest sibling took priority and I relocated my life to another state as a result. I didn’t know how to tell her that I’d spent the first year of my marriage going through fruitless IVF procedures, mourning a miscarriage and consulting doctors internationally, giving myself shots and living with a bruised and distended belly. I didn’t know how to say any of that.
But she saw something in my eyes. She stopped her questioning and said, “I’m sorry, that wasn’t right of me to say.”
It was then that I found my voice. Softer perhaps than I’d ever spoken before, as my rage was buried by shame, and weighed down further by overwhelming fear.
“I didn’t wait,” I whispered. “I had a baby just as soon as I was able. You don’t know how long it takes for some of us to get here.”
She apologized again…and again. I knew she felt badly. And I saw no upside in making her feel worse. But I couldn’t shake it off. My baby was in the NICU. I didn’t know what his future entailed. I began to fear the worst–and blame my 42-year-old body for all of it. Sure enough, as morning arrived we learned that often premature babies–particularly Caucasian male babies–suffer from Respiratory Distress Syndrome. And our baby was indeed among them.
Finally, he came home after two weeks, seemingly in ideal health. We had his Brit Milah and finally gave him his name. At last, we felt new parent normalcy. But the days later, his breathing became noticeably noisy. Frightened, we visited various specialists. We eventually learned, to our shock, that our now 4 week old had likely developed scar tissue in his airway–a consequence of being intubated in the NICU–and needed emergency surgery to fix it.
More fear. More panic. More prayers. And oh, more blame.
We were lucky. The surgeon was remarkable. Upon opening his airway, everything changed for the better. We brought home a healthy baby, who was now able to breathe easily. He gained weight, eventually surpassing the growth chart in height and weight. So much so, that due to his size, he actually was struggling to crawl. Our pediatrician encouraged a proactive approach and he began physical therapy. The script read “developmental delay.” I know it had to say this…but nonetheless, it was an invitation to an avalanche of my ever-familiar self blame.
Within a few short weeks, he was crawling and pulling himself up. Today, he’s right where he should be.
The only person still lagging behind was Mommy. I continued to blame myself for anything that occurred…be it even a few itchy mosquito bites. It was too easy to assume negative responsibility for things that sometimes “just are.”
This morning, while I lay in bed with my little cuddlebug, I found myself staring at him, taking in his perfect little nose, cheeks and lips, watching his sweet belly rise and fall…relishing his cornsilk mane of hair, the beautiful long fingers he got from his Daddy and the yummy little toes that resemble my late mother’s. And I couldn’t help but think:
This delicious boy next to me–HE is my beshert child.
Had I had my babies sooner, I would not have this child, my miracle baby.
I would not have the family that includes an amazing husband and father.
The blame ends now.
Today, I own that I have done right by my family. That we are exactly where we are supposed to be.
I am exactly where I am supposed to be. And I am grateful.