Just in time for Mother’s Day weekend, our little Oliver was able to come home last Thursday . . . and I’ve barely slept since.
I’m exaggerating — but only slightly.
It’s just that he’s so little . . . and he makes so many sounds. There’s the dirty diaper cry, the “Lady, how’s about that bottle?” cry, the belly pressure cry. Our first night home, I was truly a mess. Everything startled him, and everything startled me. He just seems so vulnerable.
After almost a month in the NICU, where Ollie was cared for by an attentive staff, he was turned loose to Spencer and me. I’d gotten so used to the monitors, wires and nurses hovering nearby that I had a panic attack before discharge. Though Ollie requires no special medical attention, I still couldn’t imagine how we were supposed to care for our preemie without professional help.
Don’t you have to, like, prove your qualifications to be handed a helpless child? Isn’t there a form to fill out, a test to take, some sort of ground to cover?
For as much as we often wanted to sprint out of the hospital with him, there was still comfort — reassurance — there. Those folks know what they’re doing, after all — and we do not. Not like that. But his nurses taught us about his little quirks and budding personality. Since we were only able to be there for a few hours each day, they were his caretakers. We were frequent visitors.
For two novice parents, the knowledge shared in the NICU has been invaluable. I’ve made no bones about how little I know about babies, how nervous I am around newborns. I usually avoid them out of terror and apprehension. I usually politely refuse offers to hold them, worrying about their cute squirms and floppy necks . . . so it seemed a crazy (cruel?) twist of fate that Spencer and I would, in fact, get a tiny baby even more fragile than most.
“You’re really not going to break him,” his nurses would assure me, sensing my hesitation at his bedside. Nervous and still recovering from childbirth, I often differed to Spencer for his care at the hospital. I usually flopped in a nearby chair, content to take photos and just breathe.
But the time came to get myself together. My mama instincts finally came in.
We spent hours learning to change diapers, give baths, offer bottles, give comfort . . . and I wanted desperately to bring him home, especially late at night and early in the morning. When I was pregnant, those were his “active” times — the times I could feel him kicking, grabbing my husband’s hand as we talked about this mystery baby and dreamed little dreams for him.
When we came home without Oliver, ravaged and shocked by his early arrival, I couldn’t bear to see night come. I felt so empty — physically and emotionally — that I just prayed to fall asleep and not think about anything, anything at all. I often wrote in a wild fury, words strung together that I never shared; I’ll probably never read them again. In the first week, especially, I was just sad and angry and wrung out.
Though the NICU nurses were wonderful, it was hard not to feel angry at times. That’s my baby, I’d think, feeling jealous and weird when one of his caretakers fussed over him. I had to remind myself constantly that I am his mom. I just felt displaced and in the way, toting my tiny containers of pumped breast milk and trying not to cry at his isolette.
I felt robbed, honestly. Robbed of the last two months of my pregnancy, which we’d planned and anticipated; robbed of a more peaceful birth experience without the anxiety, fear and guilt of preeclampsia and early labor. I was mad that our families, eagerly anticipating their first grandchild and nephew, had to experience all that worry with us.
But I’m working on letting that go. It doesn’t serve me to think of what might have, could have or “should” have been; there is nothing I could have done differently to change what happened in April. And he’s here now, and he is perfect.
“We get bonus Ollie time,” I say.
I’m sure that, in the months to come, the chaos of it will fade. To some extent, it already has. I can look over now and see our son in his bassinet, kicking his feet in baby dreams. Though I gave birth a month ago, I feel like we actually had a baby on May 7. Bundling him up for the car ride home and waving goodbye to our favorite nurse is a moment I won’t forget.
As any parent of a newborn can kindly tell me, these early days have been tough. But I cherish them because they are, in fact, “normal” — and normalcy is something I crave. Ollie’s early arrival, my own illness and his month in the hospital complicated what is already a challenging time, and we’re processing.
Though he is a sweet, easygoing baby, Ollie doesn’t sleep when anyone else prefers to sleep. Which is to say: at night. I knew this would be hard, but the exhaustion is something else entirely. And after seven months of living a caffeine-free existence, I am hitting the coffee hard. Spence had a pot brewed on Mother’s Day morning, and the pair of us wandered the kitchen like zombies throughout the day.
But there’s a beauty in that, too. The bleary-eyed new parents, clinging to each other like buoys as their newborn howls nearby; the piles of laundry and stacks of fresh diapers, the spilled baby powder and mounds of bottles. It’s a familiar scene — and ours now, too.
Like all things in life, I know this is only temporary. That floods me with relief and sadness — joy and pain both. I think about when Ollie will be big enough to stand in his crib and reach his arms up to us, and the nights he’ll turn the pages of his picture books himself. When he’ll stop trailing me through the house, running out to meet friends instead. The bittersweet flavor of those moments dissolves on my tongue.
So I focus. I relish. I try to stay in these moments, difficult and fuzzy and milk-soaked though they may be.
Last night, my husband held him gently and brushed his nose over his downy-soft hair. Oliver was swallowed up in Spencer’s arms, his little hands flexing as though in a wave.
“Can you believe that, someday, he could be taller than us?” I whispered.
We are already developing new routines, schedules. Ollie gets bigger each day, pushing us closer to the blessed time we’ll all get a few unbroken hours of sleep. And then I’ll be crying at his high school graduation and helping him pack for college and deciding none of his floozy girlfriends are anywhere close to good enough, so.
In the meantime, we’re trying to rest. Clean. Work on our new normal. Though I’m still sorting through those Feelings I have about Oliver’s birth, our weeks visiting him in the hospital, my crazy entrance into motherhood and how we’re adjusting as a family, I’m focused more on the day-to-day at home while I can. Four of my six weeks off work were used — poof — before Ollie even came home, so we have logistics to sort out as well.
And we will. I know we will. Every major life change I’ve experienced — many in the last two years — has seemed overwhelming and a little scary at first . . . and motherhood, though thrilling, is no different. I’m proud that I’ve made it this far without major meltdowns and so impressed with my patient, loving husband, who has already proven himself to be the best dad to Ollie.
In the meantime, I savor the quiet moments we share these days: rocking in the nursery with his wide eyes searching mine; our 3 a.m. bottles in the quiet, dark house; the drowsy, sleepy smiles he offers like clockwork after mealtime. Sometimes I look at him and think, How did this happen? How is he mine? and I laugh, because life so often feels like beautiful happenstance.
And I’m grateful.