My mom surprised me with a gift last week. It’s a daily journal with a polka dot cover, slim and adorable. “First Year Moments With My Baby Boy,” it reads. “The Hardest, Happiest Times I’ve Ever Loved.”
And I promptly began to cry.
That one sentence so perfectly sums up the first month we’ve had Oliver home: beautiful, difficult, wonderful, strange. There are times I feel totally competent, even smug — like, What? I got this. Was this supposed to be tough?
And then there are times I’m so exhausted I can barely see, trying to comfort a howling infant who was due for a bottle 15 minutes ago. I have to push my unwashed hair from my eyes to peer at him from behind smudged glasses, trying to ignore the rumbling in my own stomach as I mix formula and stare blankly at late-night television. I don’t have this, I think. I had no idea it would be this tough.
My husband took two weeks off when Oliver left the hospital, and we tackled everything as a pair. Feedings, diapers, games, soothing . . . when I needed a break, we played Pass the Baby. When he needed a nap, we passed back. My mother- and father-in-law arrived over Memorial Day and were a tremendous help. My family and friends have also stopped by frequently, and the company and meals have been invaluable.
But I’ve been without Spencer until dinnertime for the last few weeks. I quickly had to figure out a way to sneak in a shower and transform myself into a real, live human, which didn’t turn out to be as hard as I’d feared. After his bottle, Ollie is pretty much sacked out for an hour. I’ve quickly figured out ways to maximize these naps to rest myself, pull the house together, answer emails.
Today, June 5, was my due date. Instead of waking up to labor pains or waiting anxiously for my water to break, we welcomed Oliver in April after I developed preeclampsia. We’ve had him home from the NICU for almost a month now, so he’s been with us longer than he was in the hospital.
That knowledge gives me so much comfort.
Sometimes I still forget any of it happened, honestly. I wake up to Ollie whimpering from his bassinet and think, That sounds like a baby. Is that a baby? And then . . . it floods back, of course. And I sneak my face close to his and look into those dark blue eyes peering up in the darkness, searching and eager and sure. (And hungry, of course.)
The first week was hard. Really hard. After the roller coaster that was life in the NICU, suddenly bringing home our tiny infant — and staying inside the house for days, weeks — was abrupt, isolating and lonely. We were okay, but it was a weird transition I could not have anticipated.
Once I started letting go of “the plan” (“This is not how it was supposed to be” was, for a short while, my sad mantra), everything began to improve. And when I started focusing on the moment and just looking at my son’s sweet face, putting aside my anxieties about . . . well, everything else, life got better still.
For as much as I love being able to hold and comfort our son whenever I want, I initially struggled with feeling competent as his mother. Where Spencer has instinctively seemed to know how to change diapers, swaddle and comfort, I did best when I was just rocking or soothing him. Though we gained so much knowledge in the NICU, I still worried about him being so small.
But he’s not so small anymore. He’s not small at all, in fact! Now weighing more than 8 lbs., Oliver is the size of a full-term newborn — which is exactly what he would be had he arrived on schedule.
Hitting this date is a major milestone, and one I’ve been thinking about for weeks. Though I know his prematurity is not my fault, I’ve still carried guilt around like a backpack. After all, my body could not do its “job”: protecting this little guy until he was ready to come into the world. June 5 has been looming over me.
I really don’t dwell on that, though . . . not anymore. I’m nowhere near that nervous first-timer I was two months ago. In the last four weeks at home, Oliver has flourished and given us so many glimpses of his little personality. He loves his meals and naps like a champ; he has these sleepy, “milk drunk” smiles he offers just as he’s drifting off.
Preemies have two ages: their actual age based on their date of birth, and their corrected age calculated based on their due date. It’s important to know the latter for determining milestones. So Oliver arrived 8 weeks ago, but he’s actually age 0! His “adjusted” date of birth is . . . today.
Sometimes during the last few months, Spencer and I would look at each other and say, “Can you believe you’d still be pregnant right now?” or “Can you believe he wouldn’t even be here yet?”
At 8 weeks old (or 1 adjusted day old), Oliver . . .
– Drinks 3 oz. of milk every three hours
– Loves to snuggle on Daddy’s chest
– “Laughs” soundlessly in his sleep
– Is fascinated by black and white images
– Sucks his thumb occasionally
– Takes a pacifier when he’s hungry
– Turns at the sound of our voices
– Is beginning to make eye contact
– Seems fascinated by ceiling fans
– Likes to “hold hands” by squeezing our fingers
– Naps right through TV shows, vacuuming, power tools
– Has about 10 different silly nicknames
– Can raise one eyebrow at a time . . . and does
– Is wearing newborn-sized clothing — for now!
Spencer and I take turns looking after him — and just looking at him — into the long, dark hours of the night. Though the broken sleep and exhaustion were crushing at first, I’ve made a quick return to coffee and Diet Coke and am finding a way to function. People do this every day, everywhere, I think. And he’s more than worth it.
Speaking of caffeine, I return to work in a little over a week. I stretched my paid time off as far as I could, and my job has been very accommodating in light of all the chaos. Part of me is a little excited to go back, honestly. I’ve missed my friends and routines, my desk and . . . well, just the normalcy of it all, I guess.
But I’m tense and heartbroken, too. I cannot say I’ve hardly been away from him since he was born. I’ve spent many minutes and hours — even days — away from Oliver. Heck, save a frantic few seconds after he was born, it was days before I could even see and touch him.
So I do know what it’s like to be away from him — and it sucks. A lot. But we’re going to keep moving forward and figure everything out as a family.
After nine weeks off, returning to work will be tough. Being away from Ollie will be really tough. Navigating our new schedules and responsibilities won’t be a cinch, either. But I think I’m ready for the challenge — and ready to start developing a new normal as a happy family of three.
I’ll never forget how fortunate we are.
And as long as we get to smooch this face at the end of the day, I know we’ll be just fine.