When Olivia first arrived in the NICU, the room across the hall from ours was empty. For those first few incredibly frightening and emotional days, it was nice to feel like we had some additional privacy surrounding us.
Soon after, our first neighbor arrived. Olivia’s nurse warned Luke and me ahead of time: “A very sick baby is about to be admitted… you’re going to see a lot of people rushing in. Just a heads up so you aren’t surprised by the scene.” My first thought was one I probably shouldn’t share. I remember thinking: “Another ‘very sick’ baby. Well at least now we won’t be the only one. And maybe we won’t be the sickest baby anymore…” Obviously, in my right frame of mind, I would never wish ill will upon anyone else, let alone an innocent newborn. But that was my honest thought. Maybe, just maybe, we won’t be the sickest anymore.
A week passed. The faces and routines of the parents across the hall became familiar. We waved and smiled when we could, and witnessed each other breakdown in tears when we could no longer keep it together. We spoke on occasion to the grandparents as they visited, and socialized with one another in the lounge. But then we began to take notice of their baby’s progress. Like Olivia, their baby had been cooled, and warmed. We overheard that their baby came off the ventilator after only a few days. I watched mom and dad hold their baby, all bundled up, without many cords and wires connecting them to the bed. And I saw the little baby feeding peacefully from a bottle. A big bottle. Directly to the mouth. No ng tube. No continuous drip of a seemingly minuscule amount of breastmilk.
One morning, we walked into Olivia’s room and I paused. The baby across the hall had been discharged. The room now perfectly cleaned and prepped for the next baby in need of care. The first words that came out of my mouth were kind and wholeheartedly genuine.
“Oh wow,” I said as I observed the empty room. “Good for them. Good for them…”
Since their discharge, we’ve had another neighbor arrive, and that neighbor has since gone home too. We’ve seen a handful of rooms in Olivia’s hallway go from occupied to empty. We’ve seen parents walking past the secretary’s station with carseat in hand. Babies coming and going, all while we stay.
It’s a bittersweet concept. On the one hand, of course, I feel happy and hopeful. Happy for the families around us who get to bring their little baby home. Hopeful that one day we may do the same. But on the other hand, no matter how much I try to fight these feelings, I feel sad. Jealous. Resentful towards people I’ve never even met.
We don’t know if we will be here another two weeks, or two months. We don’t have a clear prognosis for Olivia’s conditions. We don’t know when, or if, we will one day bring her home. So we stay. We stay and we wait for answers and we hang on. All while loving on our little girl.