It’s a cold, rainy March day and I can’t help but think about this time last year. It was right around now that our basement flooded from epic rains, the infection I’d had since January got worse, and I ended up in the hospital for a few days. It was the busiest point of my semester, and it was when I tumbled down the rabbit hole of work and chronic illness.
And, I was twelve weeks pregnant when I was hospitalized and very worried about the baby, but couldn’t tell you that then.
I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but when you go through infertility and loss you don’t look too far ahead. Just let the baby get through this, I remember thinking. Let us make it to the second trimester okay.
I watched her (of course I didn’t know she was a she then) dart around the many ultrasounds I had that hospital stay, eyes glued to the screen while the medicine floor—charged with taking care of my lungs—consulted with my fetal medicine team, who were charged with keeping the baby safe and evaluating which medicines I could take.
When we were several weeks into the second trimester, and I finally came out about being pregnant, reaching viability (or, 24-25 weeks) was the next milestone. Naturally, people asked me if we had a gender preference, which we didn’t. However, people looked at me strangely when I answered “alive” as my preference, so I learned to say “as close to full-term as possible,” and had conflicted feelings about the familiar old phrase, “as long as it’s healthy.” When we had scares at 28 weeks and I went on bed rest, and more scares at 32 weeks with my lungs and 34 weeks with my lungs and pre-term labor, all we wanted was for her to be okay. Every single day she stayed on the inside was a victory for us.
And then she was born, and I could finally hold this tough little girl who did so well for so long, who thrived even when the circumstances indicated she shouldn’t have been. She was whisked away for a (very short) NICU stay, and all I could think of was, just let her be okay. I couldn’t wait to have her in my arms again.
I’ve thought a lot about the whole “as long as she’s healthy” sentiment the past few months. Thankfully her health issues are not serious, and thankfully they have not impacted her development. She’s a strong little peanut—she’s been sitting up unassisted since she was a 4.5 months old, and is ready to take off and crawl all too soon. I joke it’s from all the steroids I took during pregnancy. We call her a little toughie because she rarely complains, even when not feeling well. She’s known as the baby who loves the doctor’s office, and never stops smiling and flirting with everyone, even when they are poking, prodding, and testing her.
One of her doctors is on the same floor as the pediatric hematology/oncology clinic and there is nothing like seeing that sign to make you feel simultaneously grateful your kid is basically fine and also heartbroken for the children and parents going through so much worse.
Way back, when I was a teenager and younger adult and babies were merely hypothetical, it was so easy to focus on the things that don’t matter. I’m competitive, and admittedly I can be an intellectual snob, and I remember thinking how I’d want my kid to do well in school, to go to a prestigious college, etc, etc.
That was before. Before facing mortality more than once, before falling in love and getting married, before 4 years of infertility, before people told me I would never or should never have a child, before loss and grief and hope and joy swallowed me up all at once. It was before I saw a tiny flicker of a heart beat at 6 weeks, before the drama at 12 weeks, before finding out “it” was really “she,” before tiny kicks and punches and more hospitalizations and complications. It was before I discovered cranberry juice made her dance inside me, before I held her in my arms for the first time, before I saw my husband’s face in hers.
And of course, it was before she held my finger while eating, or started my day by squealing and laughing in her crib; before she stopped what she was doing when someone said “Mama” and stared right at me. It was before I experienced how scary it is to see your baby sick, and how reassuring her big smile could be. It was before she learned how to give hugs, and big, slobbery kisses, before I realized that her deep belly laugh could make me laugh harder than anything else, ever.
She will be six months old tomorrow, and I can’t believe that. Honestly, there are still days I am in awe this is our life. In the middle of the pregnancy chaos I wrote about taking it one day at a time to stay sane. Now, I find myself focusing on taking it one day at a time, simply so I don’t miss a minute of this amazing journey, this “after.”
If she grows up and loves school, great. If she outgrows her health issues, absolutely fantastic. But in the end, as long as she is okay, as long as she is happy and knows she is loved unconditionally, that’s all that matters. Turns out the refrain that sustained me throughout our pregnancy--just let her be okay--sustains us still.