As I’ve written about my son’s birth story this month, I’ve realized that, even after six years, I am still processing the whole experience and probably will continue to do so for many years to come. Obviously I have moments of utter disbelief that we had to endure that kind of beginning. The sheer irony of finding myself as a mom in the NICU after working in one for years was ridiculous. Questions of ‘why me?’ and ‘why him?’ constantly lurking over me. But then I skim back through old photos and journals and see that there were, actually, many good moments…miracles even…that happened as a result of his beginning.
I went to a meeting this week where the speaker talked about gratitude. She shared the quote,
“Gratitude turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity…it makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
She encouraged us to think of a time when life felt chaotic. She had us envision that time in the palm of our hands along with the truths of that experience, both good and bad, on our fingers. Then she told us to focus on the truths that make you grateful and the other things will take the back seat…opening your eyes to gratitude, even in the hard times.
The timing of this talk couldn’t have been better because honestly, my child’s birth and NICU journey were a paradox to the introduction into motherhood that I had dreamed about. And although I’m typically a positive thinker with a sincere faith that things will come out on the bright side, I can also have a hard time moving on.
So I’m taking my cue to dwell on the positive things from our NICU adventure. Not forgetting the hard times because they can make me grateful too…but choosing to reset my focus in order to experience true gratitude.
First and foremost, I would have to say that the best thing that came of our journey was that our son survived and is an active, healthy kid today! I have to accept that the timing of his birth was divinely planned. When you hear a doctor comment that he would not have survived another day in utero, one has to acknowledge that it was well orchestrated. He was born on December 29th and our regular appointment that week was on the verge of being cancelled because it was between two major holidays. Based on the doctor’s statement, no appointment that day meant no baby the next. That alone takes my breath away. He may have been delivered nine weeks early, under some unsavory circumstances, but that was exactly how it was meant to be.
Secondly, if I’ve heard one person say it, I’ve heard a thousand people declare that my son couldn’t have asked for a better mommy because I had worked in the NICU for so many years. And although it irked me in the beginning to hear that sentiment, it did prove to be a key to surviving our adventure and building my confidence as a new mom. Heck, I think we might still be in the NICU today if I hadn’t noticed that our son’s heart rate drops were just because he was trying to poop and not because his heart wasn’t responding well to his medications. My work experience gave me a perspective into his care that a lot of NICU parents don’t have. There were so many moments, as I sat by my son’s bedside, where I wanted to holler to the other parents, “believe in yourself, believe that you really do know your baby and are an important part of the team!”
I also recognize that it may not have been the best start, but we also avoided some of the major complications of being born early and that ultimately, his heart condition didn’t require surgery and responded well to medication. We may have had a multitude of caregivers during our forty days in the NICU, but in the end, the ones who were his primary doctors and nurses were calm, open-minded, respectful of my experience and interested in working with us as a team. While in the thick of it, all the different caregiving strategies would leave us feeling out of control and unimportant in his care. But our regular doctors helped the team keep things on track and honestly did keep the seesaw of care at a minimum while we were there. It says a lot when you can go back each year to visit and there are a handful of staff in the NICU who remember your story as well as you do.
I would also be remiss to not acknowledge that we had incredible support from our families and friends during our whole experience. Our son was loved by so many from the very moment he made his early arrival. I’m not gonna lie, his social media following might have made me jealous at times. He has always had a gigantic cheerleading team behind him! And we did too. We quickly created a blog for our journey and were always amazed by the encouragement, love, and prayers that we received every day. With a limited visitation policy in the NICU, we might not have been able to physically have many people right there with us, but we always knew we could log on and feel the love whenever we needed it.
Last, but definitely not least, I am proud of how our marriage endured this ordeal. Traumatic experiences like this can really throw a wrench in the works and we could have easily derailed. But quite the opposite happened for us. My husband, a natural encourager, was such a strong support for me and patient beyond belief when it came to dealing with a hormonal, post-pregnant lady going through her own, personal nightmare. Poor guy. It was definitely a time in our marriage where one person’s strengths picked up the slack for the other person’s weaknesses. We made such a great team! And consequently had some very memorable moments during our time in the NICU that we can look back on with a smile.
Life’s circumstances are different for everyone. Some people have factors much harder than ours while others have the fairytale birth and perfect newborn. In moments of denial, chaos and confusion, we have the opportunity to set our focus on the things that are happening that will lead us to finding gratitude in that time and ultimately acceptance, order and clarity.
So in this season of Thanksgiving, I can honestly say that I am thankful for our son’s crazy beginning. It was not always a walk in the park, but for us, more good came from it than bad. If I hole up in the hard moments that surrounded his birth, than I deny myself the opportunity to see how gratitude, even in the hard things, “can make sense of our past, bring peace for today, and create a vision for tomorrow.” My son’s story will follow him for his whole life and is the very foundation of who he is and will become.
“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny…”