6 months

We are closing in on 6 months with this kid. Just a few days away. Crazy. To bring a 28 week old baby into the world, 6 months is a pretty big sigh of relief moment. I wanted to write a lot about these first months of her life. I wanted to.

Here’s the thing: every time I would start to write, I was reminded of how it all began. It would bring be back to that place. How nervous and anxious we both were. How with every step forward she took in the hospital, we were waiting for that setback to come. And it never did.

For some reason, with this 6 month marker, I finally feel okay to take a deep breath and smile when she’s grinning at me ear to ear. To not panic when she’s tired and has seemingly placed her finger in her eyeball. I can shorten the number of times I go in to make sure her belly is moving up and done as she breathes but something feels me I’ll still do that for many many years. I get to continue to watch her learn new things like rolling over twice in a row and then when she has an audience of three, acts like she’s never even heard of rolling over in her life and bawls her eyes out. I’m loving the fact that the day my wife went back to work, she started sleeping through the night. How she really isn’t happy in her swing as much since she now loves to reach for things. Or how attaching a small mirror to the top of her floor play mat will allow her to smile at herself and coo for over an hour at a time.

And at the same time, while we are completely basking in this child’s glow, we still feel the stories of little ones we hear and read about in the NICU. I believe that once you’ve experienced it, you never want to again…but your heart is forever changed. All those fighting babies. And to be completely honest, I’ve struggled with this. I’ve struggled with thinking why our baby was in the hospital for over 6 weeks and never had a setback. What made her the lucky one when so many others simply don’t make it out of the hospital. It will make you resent yourself when you question those kinds of things. And I still haven’t come to terms with a definite answer. But you won’t find a more thankful father. You won’t find a father who wants the absolute best for his baby. She has completely changed many outlooks on life for me. I see it every morning that I pick her up to change her and she won’t stop grinning.

So, 6 months in. Can you imagine how I’ll be when she turns one?

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Dear Baby Girl

The talk has already started about the day your mom and I will get to use this whole experience against you. There’s been talk of “sending you back to the isolette” when you’re bad. And how we never missed a day while you were in the NICU. I think that one will be saved for when you think you’re too old to hold my hand.

Actually, the more I think about what I can use against you when you’re older, the more I smile because then I’ll know you will have made it through this uncertain time. That fills my heart and soul to the top.

We can’t wait to take you home. You will be absolutely adored and not just by us. You will gain two furry things just waiting to get their paws on you. My guess is that Lyla will become your amazing protector. Millie will be your partner in crime but will always leave the scene of that crime to let you take the fall. Watch out for that.

I keep wrestling with the fact that you were early and not ready, yet you keep showing me daily just how ready you really are. This was exactly the time that was placed upon you to arrive in this world. You continue to calm my fears. You show your spirit every single day. My favorite days are those where we find out how feisty you had been. It’s amazing after 5 weeks just how much strength and determination you’ve already shown us.

You’re already the fighter I’ve always wanted to be.

We will be putting you in the car soon and taking you to your new home with your own room. Just promise me that you will keep the projectile everything to a minimum. Or save it for your mom. Our little secret, okay?

I love you my sweet little fighter. You’ve already changed my life toward a direction I never thought was possible. I can’t wait to see and experience what you have in store for us. I’m blessed beyond everything for the opportunity to become your dad.

*thank you to all that read this short glimpse into our lives. We have been blessed with amazing families and fantastic friends who love us and our daughter. We would be in a very different place without all of you.

NICU

I really didn’t know much about the NICU before September 5th. All I knew was that they try to keep babies alive so when mine began her life in one, my heart started hurting from the very beginning.

I never thought I would think of the NICU as a second home. No one does, I think. One thing is clear: I don’t know how they do what they do. Basically it’s like trusting a parachute that you didn’t pack yourself. You trust that when you need it, that chute knows what to do and open. You trust that when a red light starts flashing or when the respirator numbers are failing, they know what to do. You have to put all your trust in them simply because you don’t know what to do. I can’t emphasis that enough. Scary is one way to describe it.

Helpless is another.

One good thing about your new second home is that you begin to know routines. You see familiar faces. You know when to move out of the way and when to ask questions. The best thing is you learn what all those beeps mean so you don’t have a panic attack when a feeding cycle has completed.

Walking down the NICU hallway daily is always good and bad. To the left and the right you see many rooms with isolettes and families surrounding them. You see smiles and joy. A new mom rejuvenated with a positive day her baby had. You also see the opposite. You see the broken spirit of a family that is having to watch their baby become hooked up to a new and scary monitor. It’s tough to focus only on your child when there are so many others in the same boat as you, just looking to stay above water. Which I think is a good thing. Compassion and empathy are good things to have.

That’s why you smile at everyone. You watch your wife grab the hand of the mother in tears who just found out her baby will need a spinal tap.

Sometimes I wonder if caring for the baby is easier for the nurses than enduring the parents. They are having to interact with people who for the most part, are at their worst. I believe that takes a special kind of patience.

Each day I drive up to the hospital. I ride up to the 5th floor. I wash my hands up to my elbows. Each day I have a small panic attack fearing that when I walk into the room, a team of nurses and doctors are huddled around our baby, trying to keep her alive. Each time though, I’ve walked in and she’s laying there. Perfectly snug and content. It’s my prayer everyday.

We still have some time left at the NICU before we get to take her home. While we are biting at the bit to do that, we understand that where she’s at right now, is where she needs to be. Our time is coming. Now it’s her time with Callie, Liz, Sheri, Jen, Sarah, Whitney, Emily, Samantha, Mary, Laney, Nicole, Bonnie, Brooke and so many more who are tending to our daughter around the clock. I’m so thankful for their knowledge and expertise.

I’m grateful that they all are my daughter’s parachute.

Next: Dear Baby Girl

September 6th and Everything After

The first night was pretty rough. Our room was on the 6th floor and the NICU was directly below us on the 5th but could have well been in Omaha. It was tough to sleep. In fact, I managed almost an hour that night. Mostly due to what happened the day before but also due to the “recliner” I had to sleep in. Never had I been more jealous of Court’s hospital bed than during those first 6 nights. After that first week, I found a new respect for the word exhaustion.

The next day I decided I should go home for a bit. I was still in my work clothes and dress shoes. I needed a shower. Some normal clothes. Make sure the dogs were okay. Basically, take a breath. I was driving home and turned on my iPod. The first song that came has this beginning verse:

You called me out upon the waters. The great unknown, where feet may fail.”

I lost it. The whole previous day I felt out of my body and it came to a head in that moment. It was different in the room with her, friends and family. A lot easier to show strength. It was the first time to drive away from my wife and baby and become alone. This was the first time I allowed myself to think about what happened and just let it be without anyone there holding me up or telling me it will be okay. It dropped me like a stone. But the amazing thing in letting all that out was that it also brought me to a moment of thankfulness because I realize that this whole situation could have been so much worse.

Seeing our baby for the first time together was the best time. Now there’s only so much you can do when your kid is in an isolette, hooked up to a ventilator and multiple wires. You do what you can as new parents. You stare at her perfect nose. Her tiny fingernails. The way her legs continue to kick. You don’t see the tape that is holding the tube that’s going down her throat, helping her breathe. Or the tiny IV in her arm. You tune out all the different beeps even when each individual one scares the hell out of you. You focus on the tiny grip attached to your pinky finger. And you say a prayer that each day will get better.

I feel closer with my wife now. Both of our lives have changed drastically. But I have found that holding her hand feels stronger. Watching her cup the baby’s head and feet so that she feels safe in her artificial environment. That’s just her doing what she can as a mom. Right now. There’s a big sense of pride in knowing just how lucky I am that she’s the one I’m experiencing this scary thing with. She’s just as terrified as I am, yet shows strength in ways that are truly amazing.

Our days for the next several weeks will consist of daily drives to the hospital. Not a day has been missed and won’t be until she comes home. And the days are getting easier. She has made many positive strides medically that indicate in time, she will be just fine. In these situations, nothing is a guarantee but we have yet had a day where it looks insurmountable. Take one positive and climb on top until the next positive comes along. I’ve learned that it’s the only way to think. Any other way will simply break you.

Next: NICU

Delivery

I remember walking into the OR, completely oblivious to anyone or anything. I saw people standing but they didn’t look like people. More like people you see in dreams. Faceless people or people you can see but are blurry. I had to walk to Court from her feet to her head to get past the curtain to see her face. I didn’t see much, just the top of her stomach that seemed like it was flapping in the breeze. They really should think about a different strategic path for fathers to take for c-sections.

I got to her head and I could immediately tell she was just a bit loopy. I could also look in her eyes and see the fear. I could see how quickly this has all happened for her and how uncertain she was feeling. It was difficult to fight back emotion, and let me tell you this: A runny nose and a surgical mask do not mix at all. It’s gross. No, for real.

We talked for a bit and tried to keep conversation as normal as possible. I’m not sure how normal we felt. It wasn’t like I’m asking her, “So when you’re done here, you want to go get a pizza?”. I remember Court telling my welling eyes that it would be okay when I heard the surgeon say, “We’re ready.” They transfer our girl directly behind me to another table where a team of more doctors do what they do.

Courtney starts telling me to turn around and look at her. My eyes were stuck on my wife. I physically couldn’t turn around. I was terrified to find out anything bad. All I knew was that she’s twelve weeks early. I wasn’t sure what a 28 week baby looks like and having to relay something bad back to her, I was not prepared for or even thought about.

I started with small glances like I was testing the water temperature in a pool. Ten fingers. Ten toes. Two eyes. Ears. Check, check, check , and check. The doctor asked me if I wanted to take a picture. I stood up and turned to find this tiny, tiny baby there with eyes wide open. Not crying, she was just there staring. I took a couple of pictures, one more good stare and sat back down.

Court asked me how she looked. I showed her the pictures and we cried. She demanded that I go with our baby when it was time. We had a small back and forth about that but of course I agreed to go with the baby. The doctor said that she would hold the baby up to Court’s face for a few seconds before leaving. For almost three seconds, Court was face to face with our daughter. Then they were gone.

Next thing I know, I’m in an elevator with our baby and a team of doctors but without my wife. It just didn’t feel like we just had a baby. The fact that she didn’t get to hold her kept racing in my mind.

After watching them get the baby in the room and all set up for various monitors, they had me go out in the waiting room. Evidently I nodded okay and found myself back out in the waiting area. This is where I’m bombarded with everyone asking about the name. Turns out, when Court was wheeled through to go to her room, she told everyone that I would announce the name. I smiled because she knew I wouldn’t without her and she got herself off the hook with the questions. Then it turned from the name to wanting pictures. Just so you know, Trying to forward pictures to everyone is not high on the list for a five minute old dad who’s baby is on one floor and wife on another.

All I wanted was to get to my wife and make sure she’s okay. We needed to be together. To make this as normal as any early delivery can be I guess.

After I had some time with Court back in the room, we had everyone come in for a moment to announce the name. It felt bittersweet. We waited nine, strike that, six months to reveal her name and yet we weren’t going to get to enjoy that moment of introduction ( cue The Lion King music). We missed out on me cutting the cord. Court holding her for the first time after delivery. I never felt her kick while in her stomach. Things like that. Bittersweet.

But I knew that the moment where it will be the three of us will be coming soon. Probably with monitors and wires but that doesn’t matter. It’s my family.

Mine.

And with all we didn’t get to do or experience, we closed out this intense September 5th day in the best possible way. We switched from just us to being parents of this super tiny person that will bring us moments we haven’t even begun to imagine.

Next: September 6th And Everything After