Monday, January 5, 2015

A Surprise Homecoming: When Your Preemie Comes Home At Last

           Surprise homecomings are sweet. When it’s your premature baby who's making the surprise trip, “sweet” doesn’t even begin to describe the jubilation.

            Cory continued making daily strength gains, and I gave more thought to his homecoming. So, on the morning of March 7—Cory’s 8th day of life—I decided to do a little shopping for preemie coming-home clothes.
            And another car seat.
            The night before, I’d scanned through the directions for my new, super Cadillac car seat and learned that premature infants were NOT to be placed in the seat because they usually fell short of the length/height requirements. That meant the new plush car seat would need to wait a while for an occupant. So I called the NICU to inform them I’d be arriving late.
            When I gave that information to the man answering the phone, he abruptly announced Cory was scheduled for release.
            What do you mean…released?” I sputtered into the phone. “I just spoke with Dr. Shaw yesterday, and he said Cory would be getting ready to go home soon, not today…nobody said anything about a specific day!” My words scuttled over one another as my self-control unraveled. My heart pounded and my hand quivered as I clutched the phone.
            Well, this is Dr. Shaw, and I’ve already signed the release papers. Cory’s ready to go home.”
            “But he doesn’t even weigh five pounds yet…I thought he had to weigh five pounds. You didn’t say anything about today! I’m not ready…I need a car seat…and clothes…and my husband’s at work…and I don’t know what time I’ll be able to get there!” I nearly sobbed in nonsensical panic. “What time am I supposed to pick him up?”       
            I balanced on the threshold of hysteria. What had happened to all of Dr. Shaw’s “we need to be cautious” and “don’t expect too much too soon” talk?
            “He doesn’t have to weigh five pounds; that’s just a guideline. He’s very strong and he’s going to be fine. He’s ready to go home. You should try to be here before twelve, because I’d like to talk to you before he leaves. I’ll be here until then.”
            “Well, I’ll have to call my husband—he’s almost an hour away from home—and we’ll have to run out and buy a car seat before we get there and…I don’t know exactly what time we’ll be able to arrive at the hospital,” I finished in a defensive clip.
             “I’ll see you when you get here.” Dr. Shaw ended the conversation in a firm, doctorial tone, and my shaky hand hung up the phone.
            “You have to come home right now…they’re releasing Cory and we’re supposed to be there before noon!” I shouted into the phone when Chris returned my page.
            What!?” he shouted back. “What do you mean they’re going to release him today? We’re not ready for him to come home!” After explaining the situation to him, and briefly reiterating Dr. Shaw’s comments, he promised to come home immediately, then hung up. There was nothing for me to do but stand numbly in the kitchen, feeling helpless and overwhelmed, awaiting Chris’s arrival. There we were, hoping, praying, and fighting for this moment for nearly two years, and neither of us was prepared for the reality. But this was it.
            Chris arrived home in record time, flying through the door donning an expression of supreme happiness mingled with uneasiness and doubt. I insisted he contact Dr. Shaw before going to the hospital, while I paced around the kitchen, chewing my lip, nervously and rudely directing questions to fire at Dr. Shaw. Toward the end of the conversation, Chris barked out in an exasperated tone, “But we’re afraid to bring him home…we feel inadequate to care for him.” To which Dr. Shaw replied with a snicker, “I can tell!”
            After the call, Chris and I stood in the kitchen, momentarily gaping at one another before rushing to the car and speeding away to purchase the necessary car seat and special homecoming clothes. It was a relatively warm day, but I carried Cory’s crocheted, infant-sized afghan—the carefully folded afghan that had, for more than two months, lain waiting on my bed for its tiny recipient.
            Giddily, we scoured the baby section of the store and found a beautiful car seat at a specially reduced price. Selecting two outfits—including a special one for the inaugural trip home—we paid for our purchases while announcing to everyone who inquired the specifics about the new baby awaiting our arrival at the hospital. Then we sped off to locate newborn diapers. Loaded down with several bags of nappies and boxes of baby wipes, we goofily informed everyone interested about our new, soon-to-be-coming-home baby. We must have displayed the wide-eyed new parent look because everyone we encountered asked. Then we ran through the parking lot to the car, tossed the diapers in the back and drove to the hospital.
            After walking hurriedly through the hospital parking lot and jogging down various corridors, we stopped abruptly and breathless at the door to his room, then slowly, cautiously approached the bed. In unison, we leaned over the rails and stared at our oblivious, bundled baby. Gee, he still looked so tiny and fragile in that gargantuan bed! Dr. Shaw was gone—it was after 1:00—but he left instructions and papers for us to sign, along with an infant choking and CPR video we were required to watch before taking Cory home.
            With those items taken care of, Chris carefully applied himself to preparing Cory for his trip home, while I snapped the mandatory photos. With trembling hands and beads of sweat materializing on his brow, Chris managed to complete the arduous dressing process of his sleepy, limp son, then buttoned the long row of tiny buttons on the back of the blue and white knit outfit. Then we carefully arranged him in his new car seat. We gathered up the doll clothes-sized t-shirts he’d worn, the daily weight and length record, the head warming knit caps, NICU graduate t-shirt, stuffed NICU panda bear, the gray elephant Parker had given him, and went in search of his nurses to say goodbye.
            What do you say to the people who work so selflessly to give your baby a chance at life? Who appear so sacrificially devoted to the care of their miniature patients? Thank you hardly seemed adequate. Maybe the joy of seeing those special babies finally go home keeps them going. Maybe it’s the daily miracles in their midst that motivate them to continue even when the fight seems impossible and they sometimes lose. Whatever it is, Chris and I were deeply, eternally grateful for their answering God’s call and for their love, patience and selfless dedication. There were tears and hugs and thank you’s all around.
            We were going home at last. Parker didn’t know it yet, but we would soon arrive at his preschool to pick him up, with his baby brother perched in the reserved seat next to his. He’d have a backseat car buddy now.
            And there would be no special monitoring devices to schlep home with us. On the phone with Chris, Dr. Shaw had expressed his amazement that Cory had not experienced a single episode of sleep apnea during his weeklong stay in the unit, something unheard of in preemies. All of the other preemies parading out of the unit the last several days had one in tow. Even though I wanted one, we wouldn’t get it. Cory didn’t need it. I’d need to learn to live without it.
            Beaming jubilantly and victoriously, Chris and I carried our tiny package and his meager belongings through the hospital, passing smiling, inquiring people who stopped us to peer at our package. We promenaded triumphantly into the lobby, through the front doors, out into the warm, glowing March sunshine. Once outside, we stopped to look at each other and acknowledge the significance of the moment, barely able to believe—or comprehend—how far the Lord had brought us, and the wealth of our blessings.
            I could finally relinquish my firm grasp on the verse I’d considered so applicable to the horror in my life almost two years earlier, and ascribe to seven more verses of the sixty-third Psalm:
                        So I have looked upon thee in the sanctuary,
                           beholding thy power and glory.
                        Because thy steadfast love is better than life,
                           my lips will praise thee.
                        So I will bless thee as long as I live,
                           I will lift up my hands and call on thy name.
                        My soul is feasted as with marrow and fat,
                           and my mouth praises thee with joyful lips,
                        when I think of thee upon my bed,
                           and meditate on thee in the watches of the night;
                        for thou hast been my help,
                           and in the shadow of thy wings I sing for joy.
                        My soul clings to thee,
                           thy right hand upholds me (Psalm 63: 2-8 RSV).

            King David’s words say it all. Nothing could be added. We had learned that, indeed, without His steadfast love, there is no life. Not true life, anyway.
            Our arms were full and our hearts awash with God’s miraculous gift and love. His praise was on our lips. In the plentitude of His benevolent mercy and grace, our family—together, with its precious new member—made a triumphant journey home.
            Only God could have orchestrated such a victory after such resounding defeat. Our broken hearts had been redeemed in so many ways.
            Against all human reason and actuarial odds, we traversed the darkest and deepest valleys then soared to the mountaintop. All on the wings of His grace.
            The wings of grace that gave me the strength, the hope, the courage and the purpose…to try again.


NEXT WEEK: Epilogue…life with a preemie, and more

Until next week,

Thanks for joining me!

Blessings, and Happy New Year!!!


photo credit: <a href="">JusDaFax</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>