Moose and I just returned home from a pilgrimage to my home town. It was a trip I have been looking forward to for months. One that ended up being more heartbreaking than I could have imagined. I lost my aunt two days ago. One of my favorite people I have ever known. Someone who’s love was palpable. The person I was most excited to see- the one I am always most excited to see when visiting my family. My heart is broken in a million pieces. There are so many thoughts, emotions, and layers to my heartbreak. It isn’t just for me. It is for my cousins, my father. I am still trying to work out my thoughts – how to pen my heartbreak, this experience of utter sadness while still caring for my son. It will take me the week to work it out, I’m sure. That brings us to this weeks post, which was actually penned two weeks ago. It has been sitting in my drafts folder. Honestly, I haven’t been sure I was going to post it because I still criticize myself for it. I feel dramatic. But maybe someone else feels dramatic for how they feel, too. Maybe it causes them to push their feelings deep down, inhibiting them from reaching out for the support they need. So on the off chance that my transparency with my theatrical emotions will help someone else allow themselves to express their trauma, I post this. Because this week more than most, I realize how important it is to let yourself feel. It’s important to reach out when you can’t do it alone.
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Today is my annual appointment with my gynecologist. She has been my doctor for 13 years or so. She is fantastic. She is located where she has always been- next to Piedmont hospital. The same hospital halls I waddled through to visit my ultrasound doctor to check Moose’s progress every few weeks. The building I spent Saturdays and evenings attending classes and tours to prepare for Moose’s arrival. The monolith that I shuffled into to meet my baby boy on April 15, 2016, petrified of the surgery and impending motherhood that awaited me.
I now hate having to come see her. I mean, don’t get me wrong, my annual exam has never been at the top of my list of enjoyable activities. But it was something I awkwardly endured once a year to ensure that I’m healthy and to get medications that I needed. But now I get anxious when I pull into the parking garage. I take deep breaths as I navigate through the elevators and hallways. My pace quickens and I fidget nervously with whatever is in my hands. Because now, when I arrive at this building, I think of my son. I think of him strapped to monitors and laying in a Plexiglas bassinet. I think about the concerned phone calls from my hospital room to the NICU to check on his progress.
I think of saying goodbye to him after his midnight feeding and leaving the hospital without him.
Moose was only in the NICU for five days. He had difficulty breathing, but was healthy otherwise. He was a big baby, especially juxtaposed with the delicate premature babies that shared the NICU space. Hence why he gained his moniker of Moose while there.
I only had to be in my home without my baby for two days and two nights. Hours that are etched into my brain. Emotions that are seared into my heart. So much so, that even 20 months later, the emotions that course through me when entering this place are almost tangible.
I’m blessed. I am blessed that my NICU experience was only for five days. I am blessed that he was full term and his breathing recovered. I am blessed that it wasn’t worse. It could have been so much worse.
I am minimizing the impact those five days had on me. I get frustrated with a friend of mine for doing that. Hello hypocrisy. It is the same knee jerk reaction he experiences. It is the same thing anyone feels when they have seen the “worse” that things could have been. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I use it in an attempt to deflect the pain. Maybe if I remind the pain that it shouldn’t be there, it won’t be. If I convince my brain that I am being dramatic, my heart will follow. I don’t want to have these emotions- I want to feel lucky instead. Lucky that it wasn’t worse.
I remember scrubbing my hands and arms before being admitted into the sterile environment that my son inhabited. I would be shoulder to shoulder with other mothers. But they wouldn’t be standing there, hunched in their hospital gown and socks. They wouldn’t have a wheelchair near by to steady their steps or provide relief when their body couldn’t go any further. They would be showered and dressed. Clearly recovered from the havoc childbirth wreaks on your body. Their new, heartbreaking normal becoming routine. And it was in those moments that my heart broke for them. I wanted to wrap my arms around those strangers, because I felt an odd connection with them. A connection of heartbreak, grief, and hope. But I never did. Because I felt guilty. I knew my heartbreak wasn’t as deep as theirs. My hope larger. The light at the end of my tunnel closer.
So when I have to visit this building- walk these halls- I feel histronic for the emotions that course through me. The palpable need to wrap my arms around my precocious toddler to remind my heart that he is healthy and safe seems silly. But I can’t shake it. I can’t help but bite back a couple of tears- stuff down the anxiety. Because the ghosts of devastation don’t seem to be evacuating the building.
When I look at my son, I don’t mourn his birth story the same way I did a year ago. The crisp edges of the emotion and memories of his birth day and the days that followed are softening. My eyes don’t well up with tears when I think about it. That memory doesn’t carry the same weight as it did. It is now overshadowed by giggles and hugs. His little body sliding into my lap. The tickle of his curls on my nose as I kiss his head. But this building holds onto my devastation with a steadfast grip. I hold on to the logic that eventually the monotonous memories of annual check ups will blur the harshness of those five long days. But until then, I sit in this waiting room, surrounded by growing bellies and tiny newborns. I stare at photos of my healthy child. I scroll through the most recent events chronicled in my digital photo album to remind myself that he is happy, healthy, and thriving. That we both survived. That the past is just that -past.
Until my heart and sympathetic nervous system catch up to the reality- I will continue to scroll through my photos and text my best friend -keeping the breakdown at bay. And I will squeeze my Moose man extra tight when I see him tonight and thank God that he is happy and healthy- and mine.