The day after London came home from the NICU we took her on a brief outing, a trip to Target. We were both quite scared. I had hand sanitizer in my pocket, in the diaper bag, and probably in the stroller. As most new parents move about, we were slow, paranoid about every baby carrying tool properly snapping into place, and just a little hesitant about our ability to accomplish an errand with London in tow.
I was scared most by the threat of germs. For over 100 days every single person who came to see London had washed their hands twice, even if they weren’t necessarily touching her. Taking her into a Target, where a nutter could potentially walk up to London and touch her foot freaked me out. Even the idea of her breathing the air in a Target sort of worried me. I know, that’s ridiculous, but that’s the stuff we thought about back then and we prepared for it.
What I did not prepare myself for were the looks we were going to get from people who glanced at our baby. To put it more accurately, the looks our baby would get, the long stares and the double and triple takes. When you take a baby out in public people are inclined to look at him or her. What they do not really expect to see are tender grip cheek stickers holding a nasal cannula in place and an NG tube, held down by an orange strip of tape and wrinkly patches of tegaderm, snaking its way across the baby’s face.
I can still see the first person inside Target who saw all that on London’s face. A nice looking man who was clearly caught off guard by all those sticky accessories. He did a double take and by his second look at London I could see it in his face, he did not have a clue what any of that stuff was. He could very well have thought London’s situation was more serious than it really was. A part of me wanted to stop everything and explain to him what every little tube and piece of tape was doing and that London was a very strong little girl who had been through more scary days than many people my age have endured.
But I could not take the time to tell that man about all that stuff and all those scary days. It would feel like we were back in the NICU explaining to visitors what all the machines around London were doing and why she needed them. It would be an exhaustive way to transition into a life at home with London. So, I just nodded and smiled at the man and kept on walking, his inquisitive stare following us around the store. I had then such an instantaneous and deep appreciation for parents whose kids will never shed their special medical tools and/or physical and mental challenges. We were, for the moment, living that.
But after 109 days in the NICU, I also knew that we had an insanely determined little baby on our hands and, with time, people were going to lean over the stroller and see nothing that might hint at this little girl’s history, enough to fill a book, and that is what has brought a smile to my face every double take since.