This morning, Haley and I headed to the March of Dimes March For Babies. Brent is tucked away with the guys, reveling in the draft and the soap opera that is the NFL. It was just Haley and I and I was not sure of what to expect. There were a few hundred people, all in support of an organization that helped me maintain my sanity just over one year ago. I was flustered upon arriving as I was a whopping three minutes later than I intended to be, since I had to turn around and retrieve the stroller from the garage once I realized I had forgotten it. I signed us in, entered the arena, and the official countdown began. Three miles. Three....two....one.
I was walking with a team of people from Brent's work. Actually, I was registered with them, but I took off walking on my own. I saw various groups of people, and just about every group had matching shirts of some kind. The walls were laden with pictures and posters of premature babies, and teams were walking "in memory of" preemies who never got to leave the NICU. As I was walking around, pushing Haley in the stroller, I started to feel overcome with emotion. I know - big surprise, Val got emotional - but it was so.....surreal.
Just over one year ago, Collette came in to my hospital room and introduced herself and told me she was with the March of Dimes. She was compassionate, understanding, and approachable. She told me what was up ahead, and how she was going to be there to help. She brought me a sandwich from Subway, and I ate cucumbers for the first time in my 29 years of life. Three days later, Haley was born two months premature. See if I eat cucumbers again. (I kid, I kid....)
As I was walking around the arena, a head of hair caught my attention - and I recognized it belonging to one of the NICU nurses from Innovis. Right behind her was another nurse, and right alongside her was Dr. J. Haley's neonatologist. I choked back tears. I remembered meeting him for the first time in the operating room, as he explained what they had to do as they whisked Haley out of my sight and in to the NICU. He spoke slowly and sympathetically, as I cried laying on the operating table. He asked Brent if he wanted to go with him, but I needed Brent to stay with me...they just took my baby, I couldn't be without my husband too.
As I walked around the arena, it was as if I was walking in a dream, and the reality was reliving the experience of delivering Haley prematurely. I didn't see Dr. J in his jeans and jacket, I saw him in his white hospital coat. I saw the nurses in their scrubs. I saw Haley in her isolette instead of in front of me in her stroller.
As I glanced around, trying to get a grip, I saw so many children, and overheard so many conversations. "She was 6 weeks premature." "These quads were born at 24 weeks and 2 days." "It's been three years, and we miss him every day."
The three miles were done. I started towards the door, and Dr. J was standing right before me. He recognized me and said hello, tickled Haley, and asked how she was doing. I told him she was 13 months now, but the woman from Right Track had her meeting 14 month milestones (and her adjusted age is 11 months, so she's way ahead of her time!). He was excited to see her and hear of her progress. I flashed back to the day in NICU when he was explaining her intravenous feeding and the nutrients that were in the bag. He joked, "This is food just like you and I eat. Burger King, McDonalds, just in liquid form."
I walked out to the car and put Haley in her car seat - still rear-facing, since she's not even 20 pounds yet. (17.5 according to our scale calculations at home...) I loaded the stroller in the back, and then settled myself in behind the steering wheel. That's about when I lost it.
I can't really explain or describe how I still carry the whole experience with me. How I still wonder what real labor is like. How I still remember Lois, the nurse, coming in and telling me it was time. How my stomach started spasming once they made the first incision. How the nurses came in my room to tell me how beautiful Haley was. How Collette sat with me at Haley's isolette for an hour one day, just being a friend. How I marvel at the miracle Haley is, and how grateful I am she avoided any and all complications post-delivery. I can't express what it feels like to hold a 17 pound baby, while remembering her 2 pound, 12 ounce frame. Wondering when her eyebrows were going to grow in. Wondering if she would ever nurse. Wondering if she was going to be okay once we brought her home. Tensing up before every pediatric or preemie clinic appointment for fear they were going to tell me some sort of bad news.
And there we were, walking in that arena, in support of the group that was there to support me. For thanks to Collette. For thanks to the Innovis NICU. For hope that all the other babies born prematurely can have as good or better an outcome as Haley. For thanks to God that he chose to work a miracle in my baby's life. For me to have one more thing to be emotional about. :o)
As I drove away, along with trying to hide the fact I was crying for fear someone would see me in the minivan and think "That soccer Mom has done gone and lost it.....", I felt a sense of closure. A chapter in our lives is coming to an end, and it's time to start writing the rest of the story.