Sometimes a reminder of Nora’s harrowing first days comes up in the strangest places.
Not that I need a reminder. But after four years, it’s no longer at the front of my mind every single day how after a perfect pregnancy, something went wrong early in my labor, and how she was born without breath, without a pulse — straight 0s on the Apgar chart.
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I don’t tear up every single day anymore thinking about how she was resuscitated and rushed to another hospital, while I spent the night in the one where she was born waiting for updates and trying to get my head around what had happened.
I no longer constantly go over all those talks with doctors about how — if she lived — she might be severely damaged, requiring intense care her whole life and contending with piles of disabilities.
From the day that the tests started coming back with good results and the doctors started talking about our little family going home, all together, all OK, I’ve moved forward, always forward. Enjoying the present, appreciating the promise of the future, and letting the past recede.
But just because it’s not front-of-mind doesn’t mean it’s not there. Her start, cold and grey, is always with me, every moment, but more as a feeling, not a thought. It exists as a push for me to be the best parent I can, and one day, when she’s old enough to know and understand what happened, I hope it will become a little extra nudge for her to be everything she can to herself and to the world.
But sometimes a memory bubbles up, and I’m back in the NICU again, trying to keep myself together and wondering if anything will ever be OK again. A lot of times it happens in the shower, when I glimpse my C-section scar, or when I’m helping Nora with her shoes and see tiny scars on the tops of her feet from where tubes used to go in.
Other times, the triggers aren’t as obvious. I was catching up on a mountain of filing at home today when I found, underneath a stack of old bank statements and plumber invoices, a thick stack of papers clipped together. They were explanations of benefits from Nora’s health insurance, a stack almost two inches tall. Each page listed several medical services from the first year or so of her life. The NICU stay and diagnostic tests from the first couple weeks, then physical therapy, developmental therapy, feeding therapy, and followups with neurologists, cardiologists and the pediatrician. I’d forgotten how much of our lives, early on, were spent in waiting rooms and under the care of experts.
I held that stack of papers in my hands and looked over some of the doctors’ and therapists’ names. I remembered them all, their faces, their voices, their exam rooms. I took a moment and just remembered that time, and the person I was as I lived it, and thought about the person I’ve become since living it. And most of all I thought about the healthy, happy person Nora has become since living through that, an outcome that didn’t seem at all certain or even likely those first few days.
I can’t see any reason to keep that stack of papers anymore. Those bills have all been paid off now (believe me, it took a while), and we no longer have to see any of those doctors (except the pediatrician for her yearly checkup). There are people in my life, and Nora’s life, that we met after that horrible time who don’t even know what happened, because it just hasn’t really come up.
We’ve moved on, ever forward, which is exactly the right direction to go. And we’ll leave that paperwork behind. But there will always be reminders, on my body and hers, in our minds, and in our hearts.