Today is our due date- the day I am expected to deliver our first child. I am no longer pregnant, though. Our son arrived 6.5 weeks ago, bringing an abrupt end to that chapter of our lives. I find myself contemplating this day as I sit here in my pajamas, looking down at my beautiful, healthy son; and I know how lucky I am. I have discovered the most perfect love in the tiniest package, dressed with long eyelashes and tiny fingers and toes, a belly button and button nose. I am so lucky.
And yet today feels so complicated to me. It is the intended end of a fascinating, humbling, exhausting, and empowering chapter of my life: a pregnancy that came and went, challenging me physically, emotionally, spiritually; and taking my breath away. I did not find pregnancy to be a magical experience, despite awareness of how lucky I was and despite the surprise that my little body could successfully grow a human. When it ended early, however, I found this sense of loss among the emotional debris, this sense of failure.
Medically speaking, there is nothing I could have done. Preterm rupture of membranes occurs in a small percentage of pregnancies, for which there is often no clear medical explanation after the fact. A healthy pregnancy ends in a healthy woman, and a healthy baby is born early. Modern medicine then comes in and attempts to support that baby’s final development to make up for the loss of time in the womb. All the steroids and warm isolettes, professional and compassionate neonatologists and NICU nurses, vitamin supplements and intravenous nutrition that modern medicine offers, however, still cannot do what my body was built to do. And for that, my dear child, I am so sorry.
I am sorry that I stopped protecting you, sharing my body with you in all the ways you needed to set you up for a healthy life, with strong lungs and bones, fat to keep you warm through all the cold diaper changes of life, immunity from all the nasty floating through the world, and a couple more months of peace and quiet. Our final weeks were stolen from us, leaving us to navigate the transition earlier than you were ready to, than either of us were ready to.
But here you are- perfect and strong and growing, doing all your baby things. We have never been more proud of a set of bowels, amazed by the growth of fingernails, or more in love. You’ve introduced us to a fascinating new sort of love: one that transcends fear and time, exhaustion and social niceties. I may spend my life unable to thank you for the tremendous love you’ve brought into my life, the new sense of purpose, the sweet snuggles and smiles that make me want to stop the clock from ticking, to stay with you forever in those moments. Thank you, my son. You may never know how deeply I love you, but I thank you for the opportunity to spend the rest of my life showing you.
I could write you a book already, documenting the story of you, of us, and how we all came to know each other. I’ll have to be brief, though, because your slumber is short.
If magic is real, then I witnessed it myself, watching you grow from a tiny seed into the goldfish that swam inside me, inside the body I never believed could support you. It was quite a humbling experience, watching my body transform to create life and support the development of such a perfect little being. Most of my life I have looked at my body as weak, less capable. I always imagined pregnancy would be an unlikely, and potentially dangerous endeavor for me. Discovering that, on the contrary, I was built for this miraculous enterprise was an inspiring and empowering experience. Uncomfortable, of course, but fascinating. Feeling you grow and swim around inside me, falling in love with you at each turn, is an experience for which I’ll be forever grateful.
If magic is real, I witnessed it in your dad, watching him grow from husband to father in an instant. I suppose there was more build-up to it than that, but it felt a bit like watching the sun come up one morning to reveal an entirely new world. I have loved your dad in progressive increments since the moment I saw him in his white uniform walking past me at a debate tournament in 2007. I have known that our love was special since its inception, but I never understood the depth of its power until now. That love wrote the blueprints for you, breathed life into you, and catapulted you into our lives.
Your dad was so clear from the very beginning that he was ready for you. When I was scared, worried that we couldn’t be ready yet to be good parents, he was confident. When I was feeling sick and weak, my belly growing and my bones tired, your dad cooked dinner, researched strollers, and flew fancy cake in from Palm Springs. When I fainted, your dad caught us, and assured me everything would be ok. When I couldn’t find a name that described you, your kind soul and your resilience, your dad created a list of names. When I went into labor, your dad put the car seat in the car, packed our hospital bag, and navigated our way to the hospital we’d never seen before, even though he didn’t believe any of that was yet necessary.
When the nurse informed us that we wouldn’t be leaving the hospital without you, I saw a fear in your dad’s eyes that I’d never seen before. Your dad isn’t afraid of anything. In fact, he has been trained to handle crises, to stay calm and collected, to always be prepared to land the plane safely, no matter how many engines go out. That fear stayed there until we were all ok, reunited in the hospital days later. But your dad stood by us, monitoring our vitals, holding my hand (and later yours), afraid for our safety but determined to get us through this.
Things got scary for a bit- my body was ready to release you into the world no matter how hard the nurses tried to keep you inside me. Our doctor was on vacation, and the backup doctors weren’t ready for the operation. Your somersaults inside me had left you in a position too dangerous for you to arrive the normal route, so the doctors had to come get you. The operation was scary for everyone, as the various drugs they gave me sent our vitals in all directions, the anesthesia gave me an allergic reaction, and you got stuck in my belly.
That’s when I realized that if magic is real, it’s in you, in your strength and resilience, the light in your eyes. After such a traumatic entrance into the world, it took you a while to breathe on your own. As the doctors prepared to rush you to the NICU, they decided to let us meet for the first time, placing you on my chest in the operating room, wrapped up in a blanket. You were the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen, and in the midst of all the medical chaos, I reached out to touch your face and you touched mine. You finally took a breath, and everything was suddenly okay. In those 15 seconds, time stopped and the three of us became a family.
They took you away then, but a part of me stayed behind in that moment, strapped to that table under the lights, looking at you for the first time.
The doctors decided that you needed more help than the hospital could provide, and took you in an ambulance to another hospital with a more advanced NICU. They brought you to my room in your traveling isolette just long enough to say goodbye. Dad followed the ambulance and then stayed at your side all night and the following day in the new hospital, while I worked to convince the hospital to let me go after my operation so we could be together again. It felt so unnatural to be away from you for the first time in almost eight months, but I knew you were safe and that Dad was there to protect you.
I left the hospital as soon as I could, and it was such a relief to be reunited at your bedside and finally hold you in my arms. We learned so much about you over those three weeks in the NICU. You showed us how strong you are, and how lucky we are that you chose us to be your parents. I imagine I’ll spend the rest of my life contemplating the magic in you, and trying to deserve the love you brought into our lives that day.