Joshua, today is your first birthday. How is that possible? It seems like there is no way a year could have passed since I first laid eyes on you, but I have checked and rechecked and re-rechecked the calendar and apparently it’s true. I still have trouble believing it but I guess the calendar wouldn’t lie… it is from Chick-Fil-A, after all.
As this day has been approaching, I thought long and hard about what I wanted to say to you. I thought of telling you the story of everything that happened, but you already know it – you lived it. I thought about imparting some deep wisdom to you, telling you the secrets of life that would help you as you grow. But it turns out I don’t know that many life secrets and some things you just have to find out for yourself. So I thought for a while longer and decided I would tell you some things that I learned over this year, things that only you could have taught me.
See, I am not what you call a “researcher” or a “planner” or “someone who is ever ready for anything more than five minutes ahead of time.” I leave that to the more sophisticated people around me (who are constantly texting me to ask if I am running late yet again). And I wasn’t worried about being prepared for parenthood. I might be a last-minute person but I do good work in that last minute and I knew everything would work out fine if I stuck to my tried-and-true method.
Imagine my surprise when I found out that the last minute to plan had arrived much faster than I expected. I think that was the hardest part of finding out you would be early – I was just starting to wrap my mind around the fact that I would be a parent. It still seemed surreal. And then suddenly I was going to be a parent in a matter of hours. I remember from the moment the doctor told me you would be born it was as if I was watching my life unfold on a giant screen, like I was aware of what was happening but so sure it couldn’t be real. I even told your dad that, moments before you were born – “Maybe this is just a dream,” I said. He assured me it wasn’t and offered to pinch me to prove it but I declined. Don’t let him pinch you, either.
And then you were there. Less than two hours had passed since we had found out how sick you were and how much you were struggling, and there you were. You didn’t cry, because your little lungs didn’t work very well yet. The doctors had told me not to expect you to cry because of how early you were but that was the only thing I knew about babies – they cried when they were born. I was sure you would cry. I kept asking your dad why you weren’t, and finally concluded that the doctors had done something to prevent you from crying so you wouldn’t be upset. What can I say; I was on a lotttt of drugs, man. But I remember every moment after that with vivid detail. Dad got permission to snap a picture of you and show it to me. He watched them work on you and Dr. Manar took a minute to explain what was happening, and then he came over to explain it to me. I heard the words but they still didn’t seem real. Dr. Manar brought you to me and said I could give you a kiss. I did, right on your little nose. And then they took you to the 2nd floor, where we would spend the majority of the next four months.
So my plan not to plan didn’t exactly work out, but, really, no amount of planning could have prepared me for this. And I think that is the biggest thing I have learned through this last year: Plans fall apart. Nothing is perfect. God’s plan is different from my plan and His plan is the one you want, even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time. For all of my lack of preparation, I still like to be in control. I like to know what’s going to happen and what my role will be. When you arrived, I didn’t have any training. I never took a class. I didn’t know how often to change your diaper. I had to learn on the job. But even if you had been born two weeks late, that would have still been true (although the diapers might have been easier to use – yours were reaaaaally small). That’s what parenting is: swearing your kid will never watch television and then five years down the road having the Disney Channel schedule memorized and sighing in relief when it’s time for Mickey Mouse.
I discovered that no matter how hectic things got, I could handle it. Some days were a lot harder and some days were pretty easy. But for you I could do anything. I could learn medical terms and ask questions even when I was afraid and accept help from people that I had never met before. You were a pretty solid motivation for putting my own doubts aside and working hard for you, to make sure you had everything.
I learned just because something isn’t the best, that doesn’t make it the worst, either. There is a whole world of in-between where things can just be okay. I tend to work in areas of black or white, never grey, but you showed me that when it comes to parenting, especially parenting a NICU kid, grey is pretty much your life.
You taught me that it’s okay to question God. That it doesn’t make me less of a Christian, mother, or person. That God not only understands our pain but feels it right along with us. There were days when I opened my mouth to pray and nothing would come out. I was too mad, sad, plaid, whatever, to form any words. And I wondered if that meant I wasn’t as much of a Christian as I thought it was. But that’s not how it works. God knows my fears and doubts before I do and asking Him questions is okay.
I found out that there really is a silver lining to every bad situation. You made for a pretty spectacular silver lining. I could (and still can) sit and just watch you for hours, silently cheering every time you moved your little hand or peered up at me with one eye. It was those moments, the tiniest victories, that filled my heart with joy and love for you. You helped me make friends with other parents who had kids just like you, kids who struggled and lived in a world of doctors and specialists and medicine, kids who I now get to see grow and play and who I am so excited for when they accomplish something. The parents became a part of our family as we grew together and rooted for each others’ children, taking genuine delight in every good update. These are the people who are in the “club,” who know the frustration and anxiety of being a NICU parent.
You showed me that a total stranger can show the biggest kindness. You helped me see that I was surrounded by friends and family who love me and would do anything to help. You revealed the amazing skills of the NICU nurses, whose kindness and patience with both of us made all the difference in the world to me. I learned that no matter how bad things got, I was never alone. Someone was always praying for you, even someone who had never met you and never will. It is the people who prayed on your behalf, who dropped off gift cards and hugs, who sat in the waiting room for hours and hours – these are the ones who I will never forget, because they made it possible for me to find the strength to continue even when things seemed too tough. When I think of how your grandparents drove overnight in a storm to see you, how your other grandparents stopped by nearly every day to check on you, how your aunts stayed up late to talk to me all night and how your uncles volunteered to help us move and prepare for you to come home, I know without a doubt that our little family is loved so, so much.
Joshua, you made me a mother. You changed me from someone who thought she understood what unconditional love meant to someone who knows exactly what it is. You have filled the last year with love and laughter and joy and smiles. Yes, there were sad moments, but I wouldn’t trade a single one of them. You have taught me so much in only a year and I hope that I can teach you something during your lifetime to repay the favor. Daddy and I love you so much and we are so grateful to know you. Here’s to the next year of life lessons from our favorite micro-preemie.