Monday, January 4, 2010

A Letter to the Mother in the NICU

I remember you. Your baby was tiny. Beyond that I don't know much. We never spoke and I know you'll never see this, but there is something I've been meaning to apologize to you about.

I saw you walk into the lounge that day. I want to say around Jan 23, 2008 but I can't remember which one as they all sort of blur together. You were dabbing your eyes with a tissue and quietly sniffling. I wanted to run over to you and hug you and tell you that everything would be alright. But....I didn't. I averted my eyes and pretended to be reading or checking my phone. Something lame like that. And that eats at me. Why couldn't I comfort you? Shouldn't I, as a fellow mother with a baby here, be able to empathize with you? Perhaps I was too caught up in my own situation. I was so busy trying to be strong and in control of my emotions that taking on any of yours might have caused me to crack. And if I cracked, then that would mean it was real. Then I would have to admit that I was in pain. That no, I wasn't holding it together. I was a wreck on the inside. So I put up the walls and didn't let you in, and for that, I am so sorry. Even now, almost two years later, I feel the walls going up again as I write this. I don't want to feel those raw emotions.

I think, more likely, what was holding me back was guilt. Guilt that my baby was going to survive and lead a mostly normal life. Guilt that she was 9.5lbs and able to nurse from my breast while many of the other babies couldn't even breathe on their own, let alone nurse. Guilt that, once her heart was repaired, we were going home. But you had bigger issues. You were just looking for your baby to make it through the night. Then maybe be big enough to eat or to be held. It was definitely a "it could be worse" kind situation. Why do we do that to ourselves? Did you find yourself doing that after seeing some of the other babies in there? That kind of denial does nobody any favors. Does the fact that it could be worse make my pain any less important? Does that mean that we're not allowed to mourn the sense of normalcy that we lost? Why do we feel selfish for simply acknowledging our own pain? It doesn't diminish anyone else's pain. Maybe I thought you'd think I was trite for suggesting that everything would be ok?

The nights were the worst, don't you agree? It was so quiet except for the sounds of the various machines and monitors beeping. The chairs were horribly uncomfortable. Every once in awhile an alarm would go off. The nurses would rush over and I'd get so worried about the baby. Did it stop breathing? Was it going to die right here in the middle of the night? And the crying. Oh the sound of those tiny baby cries will be burned into my brain forever. Since my daughter could nurse, I stayed there almost 24/7 to make sure she didn't get any bottles, but we were only there five days. How long did your baby stay? Weeks? Months? We were in pod 62. I walked by yours but you know what it's like there. You don't get nosy and poke into other pods. I know your baby was tiny but that's about it. Why didn't I reach out to you? And why couldn't I reach out to anyone and ask for help? Perhaps that question is best left for another time. I hope you had a lot of support. But please know that I think of you often. I wonder how you and your daughter are doing. I bet she's a sweet little thing. And I will always regret those two minutes when I should have gotten up and asked if you needed anything. I'm truly sorry.