September 20, 2011

Our NICU Stay

So, Baby Jack turned eight months old yesterday! And I’m still trying to finish his birth story. There’s so much to say about our NICU stay, and it’s impossible to fully describe its impact and all the things I learned. I’ve written this post half a dozen times. It’s still not hitting the mark for me, but it’s time to move on. In other words: That’ll do, pig. That’ll do. (Name that movie!)

Baby Jack went to the NICU soon after he was born so doctors could check out his little heart and look for any other congenital anomalies. I think the poor little guy was scanned, x-rayed, and examined from head to toe. Doctors did find a couple of other things, but nothing they seemed concerned about. Which leads me to the strangest part of this whole experience—I didn’t know if I should be worried about him or not.

Some of this haziness I can blame on hormones, but I just didn’t have any sense of perspective on the severity of his issues. We had been so concerned about him before he was born, and now here he was, doing great and not needing any interventions. Yet, he was in this place with other babies who needed constant intensive care. Plus, we were sent home with six pages of diagnoses and appointments with specialists, and I just didn’t know what to think. I just kept telling myself that they wouldn’t have sent him home if he wasn’t okay.

So in the following weeks and months, we had many visits with the pediatrician and other specialists, and with each one, my anxiety lessened. He even had surgery to repair a couple of things and has a few more specialist visits, but he’s just doing great. And along the way, I’ve learned to identify and confront my fears in order to stop worrying about him.

My appreciation for life in all of its variations was so enriched by our NICU experience. And we were only there for a week! You might read these and think “Gee, what a bunch of clichés.” And you’d be correct. But now I understand them so much more than just repeating them as platitudes. I could write pages about these, but how about some handy bullet points instead?

• Life comes in so many variations and shades. Life can be heartbreaking. And heartbreakingly beautiful. And people are amazing in their capacities to care.
• NICU nurses are superheroes. I cannot imagine what they see on a daily basis. The nurses we had were amazing. And they really do care and connect with babies when it might be so much easier to emotionally detach.
• There are no guarantees in life. Things can really suck, but to worry about the future is to waste the present. I have so much more motivation to do things because this moment is all I’ve got.
• It’s my job and honor to see these boys into the world and out of it if need be. If anything should happen to them, I’ll disintegrate into a pile of ashes and be swept away by the wind. But to fear illness and death or to be anxious about the future is a waste of time. (See also The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. It will straighten out your priorities in a hurry.)
• No regrets. Live with a Saturday mentality. On Saturdays, you indulge yourself--maybe you sleep a little later or do fun things that you’ve put off. Do more “Saturday things” every day.
• Be kind. We met so many people in the hospital and who knows what challenges they faced. Everyone has a secret struggle. Turn a trivial encounter (talk to a cashier, hold a door open, let that car merge, wave at a child) into something positive. Make “nice” your default setting.

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