I haven’t done this yet, but because I know how deeply this wound can go for mothers I wanted to put a trigger-warning that this is partly about my experience with a baby in the NICU and fear of losing a child.
While at my weekly checkups during my second pregnancy my doctor would always ask the same thing, “How are you doing during all of this?”
Her question was asking a lot. Not only was she concerned for my physical health during the pregnancy, but also my mental health. Millie was diagnosed early on with a birth defect that had a prognosis ranging from: she’ll be ok after a couple months to she might die. As you can imagine, that leaves a mom… on edge. This fear grew so out of control that I stopped sleeping. I’d try and explain the lack of sleep to my doctor but her solution was always medication. I didn’t need medication. I needed my baby to be ok. No one could fix that for me. No one could tell me for certain that she would be ok.
If I finally was able to cry myself to sleep, I would wake up sweating and gasping for breath from the same reoccurring nightmare. The details would change slightly, but in the end it was always the same. I had to choose between saving Evie, or saving Millie. Millie always survived her diagnosis in my dream. We’d be at home, living our normal lives as a happy family of four. I’m not sure where we were ever going in my dream, but we’d all get buckled into the van and start driving. I’d crash. I’d crash into a wall, into another car, into a lake; I’d crash into something every time I’d close my eyes.
My heart would race as the car started sinking in the water. I’d struggle to find my release button to pull off my own seatbelt. My eyes would dart from the rearview mirror back to my seatbelt. Let me go, let me out. Finally, it would release and I’d climb to the back of the van. The water is rising and I stop. There are two of them, crying and screaming. I start unbuckling Evie, and start unbuckling Millie, but the water is rising. I try to grab both, but then I can’t get the door open. I can’t get the window open. I have to put one down to be able to swim.
I always have to put one down. I always have to choose one.
Months and months dragged on and this dream would repeat itself. I’d go to bed at night with my heart already racing. I ordered seat belt cutters online and stashed them all over my van. If I could just prepare myself, have the right tool, I’ll always be able to save them both. I’ll always be able to choose both.
The dreams continually intensified, they grew bigger and more elaborate as my belly grew wider each passing week.
“How are you handling all of this?”
Everyone around me tells me how strong I am, how I’m “handling” this so well. I wonder if they would think the same thing if they had my dream just once. If they would feel ok “handling” this as they watched one of their babies die because they could only save one, each and every night.
“How are you doing in all of this?”
My subconscious was preparing me in some ways for all of the changes that would occur right as that final push brought my fears out of my belly and into the world. Becoming a mother of two is scary in itself. Can I really love another child as much as I love Evie? Is there that much love in my heart? How will I ever have enough time for both? One will surely grow up and realize I was a mistake, and shouldn’t have been their mother. I can’t possibly maintain the relationship I have with Evie now once her sister arrives.
She was here, and I shut down. This was the truest form of an outer body experience that I’d ever had. I watched everyone in the room cry, and release all of their emotions that they had kept hidden away during the pregnancy. Sean watched as they took Millie away for surgery. I stared up at the ceiling while they worked the placenta out. I stared at the walls while everyone cried and waited to hear from the doctors. I started at my sandwich from Panera that I was supposed to devour after labor. I stared at the surgeons face while he explained the procedure. I stared at the incubator that held my baby girl. I stared at the four walls of that tiny, dark, NICU room. I was trapped again by my seat bell. Desperately trying to find the release button.
“How are you doing in all of this?”
That stupid question that everyone kept asking. Well, honestly, I’m not really HANDLING this. I’m surviving this, sure. Handling it? Not so much. Millie was ok. She would be ok. But was I? It took almost a week before I shed my first tear. Every day I was choosing Evie or Millie. Do I stay at the hospital and provide love and comfort to my new baby, or do I go home and see Evie? I begged family to bring Evie up to me as much as they could. I was angry that they didn’t understand that I needed to be with her. I needed to be in two places. At Millie’s hospital bedside, and with Evie. My nightmare was right in front of me.
I slept at the hospital every night. I spent all night with Millie, and would run back and forth between the visitation room and Millie’s isolated NICU room. Evie couldn’t come to Millie’s room with me. It took months after finally bringing Millie home for the nightmares to stop. I still from time to time have the nightmare, or the flashback of fears. The nightmares resurfaced often around the end of my pregnancy with Livie, but I found comfort in knowing she was healthy from the start.
Millie is healthy now, and I will be forever grateful. I am a different person now because of this experience. My heart is forever changed. It was a smack in the face how hard and quickly I had to learn that your heart is more than capable of loving two children enough. I have enough love, no doubt; but I am physically a single person. I will have to make choices for the rest of my life now that might mean choosing which one to spend time with, which one to focus on, which one should have my undivided attention. Hopefully, I will never have to choose spending time away from them for lengths of time like that again. Hopefully, I will never be in a situation where I have to juggle saving them both, actually all three of them now that their sister has arrived.
Millie has a follow up appointment with her surgeon on Wednesday. I woke up this morning in a familiar sweat and panic. Her follow up is to determine if she will need a surgery to repair her hernia. I know that this is a simple surgery that is done all the time. I trust that she will be ok. I am dreading the idea of leaving her side, or leaving the side of Evie and Livie. I am fearful of feeling so torn again that I shut down, like I did the night Millie was born. I’m trying to remain present, and hug my little girls today. Today everyone is fine. Today everyone is together. I have to remain present. I cannot predict or control the future; just like I couldn’t when I was pregnant. Today is ok, today is fine. Today everyone is together. Breathe. I’m fine.