I write about it so that I can't forget about the little things that kept me going when, otherwise, I didn't know how I was going to make it. Like the cloth hearts some hospital volunteers made that were always somewhere on his body - his head, stomach, or back. Those little hearts that, one by one, day after day, I'd fold and place into my bra by my heart so that they'd smell like me when they'd be placed on my baby, hoping that they'd give him some comfort and a semblance of bonding through the sedative induced sleep he was in. And vice versa, so I could carry the scent of Felix around with me when we weren't together. Every night before falling asleep next to an empty crib, I'd pull one of those little hearts out from my bosom, hold it up to my nose, and deeply inhale his smell. Incidentally, they also worked well at wiping away tears.
I write down the memories so that I don't forget that for the first nine days of his life he was exclusively fed through a skinny orange tube in his nose due to having a breathing tube in his mouth. Then, when the tracheal tube was removed, he began to occasionally nurse from me and drink pumped milk from a bottle so the feeding tube wasn't used as much. And then, on July 23rd, the feeding tube was removed entirely because his suck-swallow-breathe coordination was strong enough that he no longer needed the tube to help him eat. I write about this difficulty so I can remember the challenges he overcame. That way, when my nipples are sore to the point of cracking and the last thing I feel like doing is breastfeeding, I'll remember to grin and bear it (okay, maybe not grin) because we are lucky he was able to latch on in the first place!
I write to remember the machines that kept Felix alive and filled up his room. And the alarms that came with the machines which went off with unwavering (and unnerving) consistency seemingly every five minutes. Whenever a medication was running low - beep, beep, beep - or his oxygen saturation wasn't right - beep, beep, beep - or his heart rate was too high or too low - beep, beep, beep - or his food was done being administered - beep, beep, beep - and on, and on, and on. And with every beep I grew a gray hair. Then the machines and their noises began to disappear, one by one, and we knew it meant our time at the NICU was coming to an end. Now when I'm at home with Felix and it seems too quiet and I'm getting restless I'll remember those alarms and immediately be thankful for the peace.
Then there's my family, Team Felix, who spent the long days and nights by our side and helped us pull through. My sister, who canceled her flight home twice and drove my mother and I back and forth from the hospital every day for two weeks. My mother, who canceled her flight and stayed an extra month to give us extra support and to give Felix extra love; who kept our stomachs full, washed my pumping accouterments, and maintained the house decent; who kept my extended family in the loop, and who bathed me in my recovery room shower a day after my c-section when I was too weak to do it myself. My mother-in-law, who understands trauma and is calm in emergencies, who always stayed at the NICU late and arrived there first thing in the morning, and who, on one of those early mornings, decorated the room with a banner and small balloons to celebrate my 35th birthday. And Chris, my God what would I have done without a partner like Chris? Who had to balance the weight of both my distress and his, who spent fourteen hours a day by Felix's bedside, who advocated for his son tirelessly by asking all the right (and sometimes wrong) questions, and who managed to remain an optimist through it all.
I write about the painful past so that when I'm feeling bad and being hard on myself I can remember how strong I am. The strength I had in dealing with infertility, to overcoming the grief I experienced for the beautiful birth I had planned, to treading that tightrope between despair and hope, to finally making it through with just a couple of battle wounds: the physical one that brought my son out into the world and the emotional one embedded into my soul. Wounds that heal a little more each day as they evolve into tough scars. Misfortune aids resiliency.
In writing these memories I'm forced to reckon with how fragile life is because I've witnessed its fickleness. So when motherhood has me entrenched in dirty diapers, fussiness, and clutter to the point where I'm too overwhelmed to leave the house and cranky because of it all, I can take a deep breath and remember our history. Remember that life is short so I need to be grateful for every day and try to forget the stuff that ultimately doesn't matter - the messy house, the unwashed hair - and remember what's important - the little boy who almost didn't make it, who now counts on me to sustain his life, whose every breath is a reason to celebrate the present, and who, in writing, has become immortal.