A year ago today you came home. Three months to the day after kicking your way out of my belly, you decided that you were strong enough to kick the nurses to the curb and remind your Daddy and I that waking up at 3am makes for an irrational human being.
You came home a fragile little newborn and showed us that true strength has nothing to do with the size of ones biceps or triceps. You could roll before you lifted your head. You cruised before you could sit up. I’m expecting that you may write your name before you can say mine.
You have taught Jocelyn what being a sister is all about—illustrating that the word “pest” is synonymous with “Aja,” but that a shared laugh can cure even the deepest hurt.
Your determination is legendary. If you saw a wire hanging from the roof you would certainly scale the building in an effort to suck it clean of grime. The fact that you cannot walk does not stop you from trying to climb, or clearing the bookshelves. I need to start giving you a duster to do double-duty.
Your favorite game is fort. Or food. And by food, I mean that you will eat anything. Except baby food in your high chair. Equally hated: your crib. There’s a passion to your hatred, as though it has scorned or betrayed you, and you want the world to know it the minute you crack an eye open and realize that mother has caged you, yet again.
You hold grudges. But you love completely. You have a smile that says: “I could bite you and you’ll still laugh with me before you cry.” I think it’s the underbite. Or the eight teeth. There’s power in that smile.
You make your Daddy and I proud everyday. And if this Thanksgiving is any indication, you are going to really impress the fellows when you get older.
A year ago today you came home and our family was complete.
I love you sweet pea.
Tales of turkey wonder abound and we’re here, like most of you, preparing for the onslaught of over-consumption. In years past there have been disasters—trips to the ER for gushing wounds, exploding ovens (okay, that was actually Christmas), wrestling matches, eating amongst moving boxes, eating Mexican food rather than turkey, and worst of all: no mashed potatoes. This year, we hope for good food, good wine, a little parade, a lot of football, and maybe a nap to work off all the stuffing.
The girls won’t be able to see their Uncle Justin tomorrow, since he is tending to the bulging belly that holds little cousin Izzy, but we are thankful all the same for our family. Here, there, and everywhere.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Gobble gobble. Or for you veggies out there: tofurky tofurky.
My mother has always said that I was a perfect angel. Okay, she may have had a context for that statement. When referring to any type of live performance (play, musical, etc.) she could count on me to perform like an obedient and polite child, even at a very young age.
Jocelyn is a very different child, but she has proven herself to be my daughter.
Saturday was filled with many surprises for Jocelyn. I didn't think that it was necessary to explain to a two-year-old what was in store for the day, so we just let each mini-event come and go with little prompting. Nana, handmade dresses, a car ride without her sister. We waited for the pieces to fit together.
We arrived at the Bill Graham Auditorium and she spotted pictures of the characters, she saw children dressed up, she saw dolls. There were balloons, light sticks, and popcorn.
Were we to use only pictures, you would think that Jocelyn was scared out of her mind. But in truth she was overwhelmed with excitement. So much so that she sat perfectly still and just stared. From time to time she would call out a name of a character. "Muno!" "Foofa!" And then she would lean back and resume her position as "Stoic Fan."
On the way out she kept asking for, "More Foofa! More Toodee! More DJ Rock!" Since returning home, Jocelyn can be found singing or mumbling a Gabba song or talking about the characters nonstop. I'd say that it was worth the trip, and if they come back, we'll make sure that it's an outing for the whole family. Let's just say that Nana did not have much fun babysitting Aja while we were gone. Baby sister was PISSED that she's the baby sister and wasn't included.
She can add that to her list for therapy later in life.
That's okay, I have my own list. She got me back for abandoning her for the day by refusing to go to sleep until after midnight. She hates her crib, but she loves food. Maybe if I wrap her crib in bacon she'll agree to sleep there? That's a shitload of bacon. I may get hungry before I finish that project.
Back to the drawing board...
We are NICU survivors.
My husband and I endured months of watching our tiny baby poked and prodded and swaddled and changed and poked and prodded for good measure, all the while helpless. I had visited the NICU once before, when my first daughter was born; full term, but with a minor case of jaundice. I remember passing by incubators housing miniature babies, on the way to hold Jocelyn (round and pink and flush with life in her warmer), all the while thinking, “Wow, I’m glad that’s not my baby.”
Thirteen months later, it was my baby.
The doctors were not able to tell me why Aja was born premature, only that I had experienced a placental abruption. We joke now that she pushed her way out—it was her sheer determination to join the world that thrust my pregnancy to its endpoint. She was born at 26 weeks and weighed 1 pound, 15 ounces. When the doctor came in to talk to us about our daughter, there was a short talk about survival. At that moment—that one singular moment—I thought about what it would mean if she did not survive. I was still in shock. My pregnancy had ended unexpectedly, and I was still groggy from the emergency c-section. If she wasn’t going to make it (I thought at the time) she needed to pass right then. That day. I had seen her only once, for a fleeting second when she was wheeled passed me, out of the operating room. I didn’t know her yet. But if I knew her—for even a second longer—I would not be able to stay strong.
Not one second longer.
She did survive. The doctors and nurses saved her—helping to breathe life into her small frame. She spent three months in the NICU. She spent a month on a respirator, endured heart surgery, fought an infection, and did her best to keep the nurses at her beck and call. Her determination grew every day. She lifted her head and tried to turn, despite the respirator locking her head in place so she could only look right; she rolled her way to the edge of the incubator in an effort to escape; she screamed when she was wet, and screamed when she was dry. I arrived one afternoon and the nurse was holding her in preparation for our kangaroo care. Aja heard my voice and turned towards me with her two little dark eyes. She knew me.
I was one of the lucky parents. I lived within five miles of the hospital. I worked part-time from home. I had health insurance. Many parents are not so lucky, and their life in the NICU weighs even heavier on the heart and soul. There is enough to think and worry about during daily visits, each day wondering when the doctors will announce it’s finally time to go home and get back to normal.
Normal took a long time. I think it may have just happened over the summer. At fourteen months old, Aja has not yet “caught up” but she is marching through milestones at her own pace. Just yesterday, I think she said “Mama,” but it could have easily been, “Mamumah duh duh.” I mentioned to Khary just the other day that the NICU is a blur. It is a blur, but I can also stop and think for a moment and bring myself back to Aja’s first home. It’s a home that saw its fair share of tiny faces, and continues to heal and mend and hold the miniature hands of babies born each and every day.
Today is Prematurity Awareness Day. Half a million babies will be born premature in the United States this year. Some of them can be prevented through quality prenatal care. Other births, like Aja’s, are sudden and unexpected. The March of Dimes is leading the fight for prevention and answers as to why.
I’ll never know why, which is something I grapple with from time to time. If there was something I could have differently. And there are moments when Aja is being Aja—so different from her older sister—refusing to sit in the high chair, and I wonder if this is just her personality or if this is her “preemie” coming through and making me take notice. Whatever it is, I always notice.
I can’t change the fact that Aja was born premature. What I can do is tell her story, and revel in her development. I can support the March of Dimes and their mission: to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality.
I invite you to join me and Aja to support all the tiny miracles. Help make sure that ALL the tiny miracle babies and their parents can call themselves survivors.
I am just one of hundreds of bloggers that is taking time today to help raise awareness about this important cause. Bloggers Unite!