The night before my son’s recent ninth birthday, he sat down on the couch next to me, heaved a sigh and said, “Tomorrow, I become a man.” I wiped away a tear, giving him a brief hug before he squirmed away in horror and ran off. He was right–he was becoming a young man right before my very eyes. A bittersweet pang filled my heart.
A few minutes later, I heard a commotion in his room. When I walked in, he was jumping on his bed. Grinning at me, he yelled, “Hey, Mom! Check this out! I can jump so high, I can kick my own butt!” I was never so proud than at that very moment. Seems this manhood phase might not be so near on the horizon. All was right again with my world. He will always be my baby boo.
The day our firstborn came into our lives, I had just endured 24 plus hours of excrutiating back labor. My son was sunny-side up. (I hardly think such a painful predicament should be compared to how one prefers their eggs for breakfast, so I like to say my son was ass-backward.) This produced depths of pain I had never knew existed. Most of the labor was a blur of me screaming expletives, my husband running frantically around with a cold washcloth, and my desperate attempt to concentrate on a focal point to get through the waves of spine-splitting contractions. My focal point was a cluster of a few bright red leaves on a tall maple tree outside the hospital window. Every year, when fall comes and the leaves start to turn, I am transported right back to the day my entire world changed. My son came into my life.
When the nurse placed him into my arms, it was as if a tiny warm piece of heaven had been gently placed inside my soul. The light inside me grew–radiating into every fiber and pore of my being as I gazed down at my baby boy. How did I ever not know my son? It seemed my entire life, he was always here, just out of reach. Now he was gurgling and cooing in my embrace in a hospital room. We were finally together.
At first, my husband and I struggled with the typical newborn issues: sleep deprivation, breastfeeding difficulties, reflux. But soon we both realized something was very wrong. At four weeks old, he was pale, not gaining weight and sleeping no more than an hour at a time before his heart-wrenching screams began again. The pediatrician assured us that this was normal with colicky babies. I was sent home with a dreadful weight of anxiety crushing down onto my shoulders. We rarely slept. And when I did manage to dream, they were filled with my son’s cries and me reaching out for him, unable to soothe his pain.
By six weeks old, my husband demanded they give our son an ultrasound. This wasn’t just normal colic or reflux that was tormenting our sweet baby boy. Our doctor consented just to appease us, still attributing our worries to being first-time parents. I fed him a bottle, then an abdominal ultrasound was performed with my son in my lap. He writhed and cried with such agony, my heart felt like it might shatter. I looked into my husband’s eyes, hollowed from lack of sleep and constant worry. Then our son vomited, like he had been doing for weeks on end. Suddenly, the technician’s eyes grew wide and a doctor was called in. “You need to pack your bags and head straight to Maine Med,” he said. “He needs emergency surgery, right away.”
In a rush of panic, we arrived at the hospital and a surgeon met us in a little waiting room. Our son had pyloric stenosis, a congenital condition seen in newborns. According to the surgeon, the opening that leads from the stomach to the intestine was completely blocked by his pylorus muscle. It had grows to about two and a half times normal size. He would need immediate abdominal surgery and a tiny incision would be made to allow the milk to pass through again. All this time, the milk (having no place to go) was going back up his throat, effectively burning it with the stomach acids. Thankfully, it was a relatively easy procedure and he was almost guaranteed a full and healthy recovery. The tears started to flow with the tremendous relief that we finally knew how to help our baby boy and ease his torment.
The next night was spent hovering over my baby, an NG tube slowing draining his stomach contents. I was almost delirious with no sleep and constant worry. I softly sang, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” as he continued to choke and sputter while the tube did its job. In my haze, I pressed the nurse’s button almost every hour. A nurse would appear, assuring me that he was not choking and he would be okay. But nothing could untie the knot of worry deep in my gut.
The next morning, my husband and I stood in a long dark hallway and held hands as we prepared to watch our son being wheeled away to the OR in a cold steel crib. The nurse had offered to put a small teddy bear inside the crib for us and I cried as she placed it right next to his tiny body. I reached down to kiss his cheek and he was gone.
The surgery was a complete success and our son was soon back in our arms. He would recover quickly. I could already see a faint light in his eyes as the nurse helped me feed him from a bottle. My sweet bubbly baby was slowing coming back to us. Yet he would need to stay at the hospital for two more days.
A nurse we hadn’t seen before helped us get settled into a private room. We prepared ourselves for another noisy sleepless night, sitting upright in a hard chair. We only wanted to make sure our son was okay and refused to leave him. The nurse shut the door and gently suggested we leave him there and go to a hotel so we could finally catch up on our sleep. My husband wearily looked at me and raised his brow. The idea of any sleep was tempting, but we both felt tremendous guilt at the idea of leaving our son, even for a few hours.
The nurse put her hand on my shoulder, her voice dropping into a faint but stern whisper. “Listen. You two married each other because of one thing: Love. And that love has helped to create a beautiful child. You need to remember why you had your son in the first place. Go to the hotel. Be together.” Her smile radiated such warmth and comfort, I knew she was right and that my son would be fine, even if we left. She cradled our son in her arms. “I’ll help you get a hotel room and I will call you to make sure you checked in okay.” My husband and I simply nodded, our minds still a muddled mess. “My name is Michelle, by the way,” she added, smiling again.
Later at the hotel, the bliss of uninterrupted sleep quickly washed over us. Six hours later, I awoke to a dark room and checked my cell phone. There was a message from our nurse, Michelle. “Hello again, it’s Michelle,” her soothing voice filled the room. “I want to make sure you are both okay and settled into the hotel. Don’t worry about anything. Your son will be just fine. Take care of each other and don’t forget what I told you. Always remember.”
After a few days, our son was being released from the hospital. Our worries were lifted as he began to thrive and eat like a normal baby. His chubby cheeks had color again and my heart felt at peace. I wanted to thank the amazing nurses at Maine Medical Center before we left. I approaced the nurse’s station and asked if Michelle was on duty that day. I wanted to thank her personally for what she did for us. The nurse gave me a confused look.
“Michelle? There is no nurse here by that name.”
My husband and I looked down at our son, wiggling in his car seat.
“Are you sure?” I asked with a nervous laugh.
“I’ve been here for years and know of no Michelle, sorry,” the nurse insisted.
As the weeks went by, we both would bring up Michelle and attempt to attach some explanation to it. But we know in our hearts, her words were true. And we will never forget them.
To my son:
We helped to bring you into this world with our love.
And we will always be here to hold you up with our love.
We love you so very much.
Happy birthday, baby boo.