“I love you, my child. My Child. Still can’t believe it all. Wishing you were still safe inside me and that I could feel you. I miss you, little girl. Be strong.”
– From a letter Kate wrote to London on January 31, 2014. London was one day old.
I start today’s post with this quote because in a few sentences Kate conveys the sense of loss mother’s have when they have their baby so early. Sense of loss is somewhat misleading (London was stable in the NICU), but Kate knew and I knew that the safest place for London and also where she would still be developing the best was lost. That was not the only thing lost though. A full-term pregnancy was now just a dream.
Kate was just starting to look pregnant when London arrived. Our closet was full of maternity clothes waiting for months 7, 8, and 9. In fact, the day we got home from the hospital I helped Kate up the stairs and followed her into our room. Shortly thereafter, I heard Kate in our closet and walked in to see what was going on. Kate stood staring at a rack of maternity clothes with tears running down her face. I listened to Kate and held her. Seeing Kate so sad about not getting to wear these clothes even made me cry.
As a father, I do not know the sense of worry and loss a mother has when, without any warning, the human being growing inside of her is out over three months early and exposed to a world she wasn’t supposed to see until spring. But now, having a wife who has gone through that, I have a decent understanding of what that is like.
The sense of loss manifests itself in a variety of ways. One of the strongest, at least in the first week after London was born, but one that also fades over time, is how painful it is to see pregnant women who are full-term or damn near close. To be honest, both Kate and I hated seeing very pregnant women for a while. We were comforted to know this is completely normal. In the two days after London was born, we received a slew of emails, calls, texts, and cards from people who wanted to let us know that they were praying for us and for London. A few of those contacts had preemies themselves. And in one particular email, a mom wrote, “you will hate seeing very pregnant women.” She nailed it. We both did. One of the first days out of the hospital we went to Baby’s R Us to stock up on some breast pump supplies. There were couples everywhere and it seemed like every single woman was about to pop. It was extraordinarily tough. I ran out of dagger eyes to give.
Being bothered by the sight of very pregnant women was the product of our envy during those early days. I remember I would see a couple who is clearly having a baby very soon and think, damn, they’ve got it so easy. They really have no idea. Look how they’re wandering the aisles at Baby’s R Us without a care in the world. Of course, our attitudes have since changed and I no longer think that those soon-to-be parents had it so easy. Having a baby is a lot of work, no matter the gestational age at birth. However, if having a full-term, healthy baby was exactly the same as having a preemie, I would be lying to you and severely devaluing our experience, the experience of thousands more, and the NICU and everyone who has ever worked in one.
I am so sensitive at times to other people’s feelings that it took me a long time to realize that even though this is our first time around with a baby, I know it has been more difficult than if London had been born full-term. Sharing that in the months since London was born and even now, I feel sort of like a jerk because it boils down to me saying, “Well, we have had it quite a bit harder than you.” I know that can sound like I am devaluing the difficulty of having a full-term baby, but that is not my intention. I am just trying to speak truth from our experience and that of the other parents in the NICU right now, who also know that with the littlest life they were blessed with comes the most terrifying and stressful days of their lives and the knowledge that although life goes on, something has been lost.