Today is a good day. Neither my wife nor I slept well last night (usually one of us does), and we woke up crabby and contentious. Almost as if he Jedi-intuited this, Bub woke up in a big puddle of cute and tracked it all over the house. But this is not why this is a good day.
It’s a good day because we are 37 weeks today. Full term, according to the experts. Over the hump, we hope. At the 35-week ultrasound, this baby had already passed Bub’s birth weight—he/she’s now got to be nearly 1.5 Bubs and still growing. Though my wife is absolutely miserable (and it’s much easier for me to say), we will take misery over the alternative.
Bub was born at 32 weeks. Imagine our surprise. He was meant to be a Thanksgiving baby, and yet Halloween candy was still full price. As first-time parents, especially, the first thought that ran through my head when they said the baby was coming was Can you do that? Is it going to be okay?
Of course he was fine. Technology has come a long way, yadda yadda, and I’ve since met plenty of parents whose babies were earlier and smaller than Bub’s whopping 4 lbs. 9 oz. I got to cut the cord, hold him for about five seconds, and then he was whisked from my arms to the NIC (Neonatal Intensive Care) Unit, where he would spend the next (and his first) four weeks.
This was the time I refer to as parental purgatory. We were technically parents, yet our house was relatively clean, deafeningly quiet. We slept at night. Guilty sleep, in the shadow of the empty bassinet, but sleep nonetheless. Babies aren’t supposed to come with visiting hours.
The NICU is a stressful environment. For parents, anyway; I suppose the babies simply don’t know any better. There are always alarms beeping, leads failing, babies crying and nurses scurrying. The heartbreak of parents leaving with an empty car seat. Being told you can’t hold your child because ‘it might be too stressful for him.’ Waiting. Always the waiting.
It was a hard time. We forced ourselves to go out to dinner or a movie while we had all this “freedom,” but we couldn’t really enjoy it. We mostly stared at our hospital wrist bands and wondered if he knew our voices, the scents of our skin. I grew a Hospital Moustache. Nobody won.
I suppose like anything, the more you work for it, the sweeter it tastes. The day finally came when Bub was released for good behavior (Suck, Swallow, Breathe). Walking out of the hospital that day was the most alive I’d felt in months, maybe ever. I was about to drive my son home. My son. I felt like a father at last. And it was worth the wait. Just as this one will be.