Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Day I 'met' my Son

The knot in my stomach grew tighter. The clenched fist of fear, bony and gnarled, wrenched at my insides and drummed at my heart as I stood outside the Neo-natal ICU for the first time, waiting. Waiting to arm myself with courage before I hobbled through the door. Waiting for the right moment to step in and ‘meet’ my baby. Waiting to runaway. With a prayer on my lips and a shield of empty strength, I crossed the threshold into a world where little babies lay on blue trays, naked except for oversized diapers, yearning for their mothers’ arms and a chance at life.

I don’t know what gripped me first. The eerie silence punctuated by the beeping of machines that kept those babies alive; the rows of trays with tiny human beings, each at a different and dangerous stage of illness; or, the sight of the first tray I laid my eyes on, where my little son lay wreathed in tubes and hooked onto life-support, waiting to be loved. I had been told what I should expect and how my newborn baby would look. How a tube was snaking its way down his throat; how his tiny limbs and translucent skin were punctured by a number of tubes. How drops of dried blood were tattooed around those puncture marks. How he was sedated and monitored. How I couldn’t let my tears fall on him.

But even when you try your best to prepare yourself for the ugliness that life throws at you sometimes, you can’t strip yourself of your true self. You may wear a mask of courage, you may let your tears fall when no one’s looking, you may grip the hand of fate, but you can’t escape or ignore the swirl of emotions inside you, each one a shard of broken glass, slicing through you all at once.

That day, on July 14th, as I stood at my 1-day-old baby boy’s side, trying to peer at his face amidst the mass of tubes, trying to etch his features on my heart…trying to get my fill of my baby, I battled shock and heartbreak and helplessness. I tried to imagine what it would have been like to snuggle and kiss this little being, who’d just come out from my body, who was experiencing life and death and the in-between all at once on his very first day on earth.

I stood there in the warm, silent and grey room, looking at my son through a haze of tears, whispering prayers and words of strength to him, watching his chest heave and heart rate jump up, every time I placed my hand on him – carefully, so the tubes wouldn’t be disturbed. I hoped I had made him happy and kept him comfortable every day of the nine months that he spent inside my womb. I hoped he had sustenance in the form of snuggly memories of those days in-utero, as he lay in the NICU alone, wondering where he was, far away from his parents and the laughter and love that rightfully should have been his on his first day on earth.

I stood there for what seemed like an eternity, my stitches hurting, my balance still awry after labor and birth, sweat and tears trickling down my face. If there’s one thing I wanted to do that day, it was to untangle my baby from the mesh of wires and tubes, cuddle him close and whisk him away into the ‘normal’ world. A world where he could be dressed in tiny animal-printed clothes, swaddled in homemade blankies and rocked to sleep. A world where the only trauma he had had to endure would be the trauma of passing through the birth canal. Where the sounds he would hear would be that of laughter and music, not the nerve-shaking beeps of a life-support machine. Where the only thing passing through his throat, would be milk and nourishment, not a tube the width of five milkshake straws bunched together.  And where the only needles he’s have to endure would be that of his vaccination shots.

As I murmured prayers and hope to Baby N, all the while thinking how desperately I wanted to cuddle him and look at his tube-free face, little did I know that it would take me another 12 very long days to bring my baby home. The NICU would be a part of our lives for almost a fortnight, a time when all of us would try to live one minute at a time. When we’d keep ourselves in one piece by overdosing on hope, prayers and sugar-induced strength & energy. When we’d try to block out the sounds of the hospital’s ambulance that would wail to a stop numerous times through the day because the siren meant another very ill baby; it also meant memories of Baby N being entubed and placed in a glass incubator box in that very ambulance that transferred him from the birthing center to the NICU .

We waded through the quicksand of the days, crawling from one doctor’s report to another, letting hope keep us afloat, letting prayers from our friends and well-wishers be the sustenance that Baby N and we, so desperately needed. We tried to keep our eyes on the light at the end of the tunnel, braving the slow minutes, saving our strength for our little baby.

Note: This post is part of my 'new motherhood memoirs'. Writing that's meant for chronicling and catharsis. Writing that shares my motherhood journey. Here are some posts that record those early days:

Photo credit: Sandeep Banerjee

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