My first glimpse of him was so surreal. After the numbness of the spinal finally wore off, and I’d had some more time to rest, our kind nurse helped me into a wheelchair and took Shawn and me down to the NICU of Hillcrest Medical Center in Tulsa, OK. The pain at my C-section incision site was very real, but the pain in my heart was greater. I could take medicine to help numb the pain in my abdomen, but my heart was torn and bleeding with no apparent remedy. I tried to take in all the surroundings. We had our own little corner of the NICU with a curtain that could be drawn for privacy. Intimidating medical equipment and monitors were all around, the constant beeping putting my nerves even more on edge. I was grateful, though, for the individual sign that had already been made for Benjamin and taped to the front of his small bed. His name was attached with white foam letters on a blue background, decorated with a foam basketball and soccer ball, and stamped with his tiny footprints right in the center. It gave a small sense of warmth to an otherwise sterile environment. Was this really my baby? His still, ashy body was hooked up to so many tubes and wires-the only sign of life was the gentle rising and falling of his chest, but the ventilator was doing most of the work for him. I gingerly reached out and touched his little hand. I don’t remember what I said to him, but I know I tried to speak peace and love amid all the shock and fear swirling inside of me. At one point (either that visit or a later one) I asked the nurse if it would be ok to kiss Benjamin’s hand. She seemed surprised and told me “Of course.” Though it hurt to bend down, I touched his tiny hand to my lips, longing for some sort of connection with my son. It felt as though the visit was over as soon as it started, and it was time to be wheeled back up to the hospital room.
In the days following, the scene was much the same, though as my body began to recover, I walked more and rode in the wheelchair less. My arms ached to hold my son, but I was given no definite time frame of when I could. He had to be weaned off the ventilator, which felt like such a slow process-two steps forward, one step back. He had to have the delicate IVs attached directly into his belly button removed and a pick line inserted. This was no easy task. The many failed attempts were evident as little red dots all over his arms and legs. My only consolation was that in his sedated state, Benjamin probably didn’t feel the pokes. I knew he was my baby, but he didn’t feel like my baby. A bond had not yet been formed. I missed the feeling of him inside my womb. I felt connected then; I felt like he knew who I was then. I hoped he could recognize my voice and know that Mommy was near.
The anticipated day finally arrived, May 30, 2009. It had been nine days since Benjamin’s delivery, but it felt like a short life-time already, as our whole world had been turned upside down. I had already been discharged from the hospital and was staying with my mom at the Ronald McDonald house about 15 minutes away. My mother-in-law Cyndi had been with us for a few days but had to return to MN. Shawn already had to return home for work and was making the hour long drive to see us as much as he could. Later, mom and I would move to the Hospitality House only two blocks away from the hospital. My 27th birthday had been a few days before. It was the hardest birthday of my life. All I wanted was to hold my son, but my request could not yet be granted. Benjamin’s gift to me that day however, was to open his eyes so I could see them for the first time. Now the moment had finally arrived. I sat in the rocking chair eagerly waiting as the nurse swaddled Benjamin and tried not to tangle his tubes and wires too much. My first experience of having him in my arms was heavenly. This really was my baby. Shortly thereafter we tried our first attempt at “kangaroo care,” the important skin to skin contact that a newborn baby needs. The first attempt was disappointing. Benjamin was in an unfamiliar position and spent most of the time wiggling around, trying to make sense of everything. The second time was sweet, as he relaxed into my body and we rocked.
I could never hold him long enough. All too soon it would be time to put him back in his NICU crib and say our goodbyes. Every parting was painful, even if it was only for a few hours. I would kiss and kiss and kiss his face, wanting to savor every moment with my son. Shawn and I would read scripture over him, pray over him, and I would sing over him the simple song the Lord gave me during my pregnancy--Mighty warrior, child of God, Mighty warrior, child of God, Mighty warrior, child of God, Benjamin Lee. Beautiful baby, Benjamin Lee, Beloved of the Lord, Benjamin Lee, Son of my right hand, Benjamin Lee, Benjamin Lee. There was so little we could do for his physical care at that point, but we could make sure Benjamin knew he was loved. The thought of being able to hold him without tubes and wires away from the sterile environment of the NICU seemed glorious and almost too good to be true. This was the only world my son knew at this point, and I so wanted him to see the beauty of the outdoors, the comfort of our home and especially his nursery, lovingly prepared just for him…
Now fast forward several months. Benjamin did get to come home on June 17, 2009, 27 days after he was born. Though there were more hospital stays in time, life really did fall into a rhythm as we settled into our new life with our son. All during my pregnancy we prayed for a cuddly baby. God answered our prayer! At the time I write this Benjamin is fast approaching his 2nd birthday, and he is a Momma’s boy! When I hold him facing me, his face lights up in a huge smile, and he often lets out a squeal. We make faces back and forth to each other. One of his favorite games is for me to kiss all over his neck, while he holds his head back and erupts into delighted giggles. In a desire to return my kisses, he will lick me across the face. He is such a cuddly guy, that it is often difficult to get things done. He holds out his arms to me and fusses, “mamamamama” until I pick him up. Sometimes in exasperation I find myself saying “Mommy doesn’t have to hold you all the time!” Sometimes I am caught by the irony of my own comments. I remember the days where I longed to hold my son and wasn’t able to or the days when I would hold him in the NICU rocker but it was never long enough. Even as I’ve tried to write my thoughts today, we’ve had to take some “cuddle breaks,” and I can hear the discontentment beginning to rise again. In these moments I must remind myself what a privilege it is to hold Benjamin in my arms, what a privilege it is to have him safe at home with me, what a privilege it is to be his Mommy.