Having a child in the NICU is strange. I’ll just say that. In terms of one’s journey into parenthood, it really throws you for a loop. Everything you imagined doing with your child happens differently, if it all. You don’t feed your fussy baby every couple of hours (at least we don’t yet). You don’t go through a bajillion diapers a day. You can’t just pick up and cuddle your baby whenever you’d like. And you aren’t the one at your baby’s side every time she falls asleep and wakes up.
This last one hurts the most.
It breaks our hearts to think about Olivia waking up when we aren’t there. Waking up at a time when the nurse isn’t in her room. Waking up and being unable to cry to let someone, anyone know she’s ready to have some love and attention. Waking up and being alone… The thought of her falling asleep alone is no different.
She doesn’t fall asleep in our arms. We don’t get to rock her slowly, or walk the house in circles until she dozes off. She falls asleep in her giraffe. Usually to the sound of a heart beat (noise machine), with a hand hug from mom or dad. What’s also different is that she falls asleep when she wants to, always. There is absolutely zero concept here of “putting her down” or “trying to get her down for a nap” or “getting her to fall asleep” to align with someone else’s notion of a schedule.
She’s here, in her giraffe, all day and all night. Awake and asleep when her body decides.
Fortunately, Luke and I have been able to spend every day with Olivia. So we’ve watched her fall asleep countless times. Similarly, we witness those little eyes ever so slowly wake up, multiple times a day. We don’t always know she is immediately awake (because of her lack of cry), but we see her cycle through awake and asleep times all day long.
Out of all the hundreds of times Olivia has likely fallen asleep in the past three weeks, there are three specific moments that I hope I never forget. These are the times I felt most like a normal parent, rocking my baby to sleep.
Three times so far I’ve sat next to Olivia’s bed and felt like it was me – her mom – who put her to sleep. Olivia was already tired, but she needed the love of her momma to help her get to bed. Each time started just the two of us. Olivia and mom, hanging out, starring into each other’s eyes.
One time I slowly rubbed her forehead. Over, and over, and over. Until each blink became a bit longer, and finally her eyelids remained closed.
One time I could tell she was snoozy, and I spoke softly to her. Told her stories and held her little hand until off she went.
And one time, she was fussing and crying, fussing and crying. With one hand on the side of her face, I placed a finger on her lip. She started sucking slowly. A comforting reflex. She immediately stopped fussing and seconds later her face calmed completely. The beads of sweat on her forehead dried up, and her eyes began blinking, slower and slower each blink.
It’s little moments, I’m learning, that make you feel like a normal parent in the NICU. Three sleeps, out of hundreds, reminding me that no matter what our circumstances are, I’m a momma now. And our little girl needs me.