This is from Chapter 7 of Please Cry: A Father’s View From Outside the Incubator. Gabriel was two weeks old and still on the ventilator.
May 13, 2012
Gestational Age: 25 weeks, 3 days
I went to church by myself again today, which is Mother’s Day. The church still had the white flowers of Pascha decorating the windows and the front area. I still look at those little bundles of flowers mingled with long branches of leafy green salal wired to the tops of the windows and think about how little I knew about preemies when we put them up. Back then, if you had asked me what The March of Dimes did, I would have said “Polio. That’s why Roosevelt is on the dime, because he had polio and then did things for other people with polio, right?” This would have been accurate 50 years ago, but now they help premature babies and babies with birth defects, and the March of Dimes lady buys all the parents pizza every other Thursday.
The flowers on the windows are starting to look a little old. They have another week and a half before we will take them down 40 days after Pascha as we get ready for the Feast of the Ascension.
At the end of the service, our church brought new daisies to hand our to all the women on Mother’s Day. Nobody checks to make sure you are a mother, as we know better than to get in to that mess of awkwardness. I grabbed a flower on my way through the line, which did not make me feel awkward for two reasons — one, these days I am too tired to feel awkward, and two, everybody already knows what that flower is for. In fact, several women walked up to me during coffee hour to make sure I had a flower to take to Miri. Every church in our diocese on the West Coast is including Gabriel, Miri and me in its Supplication Prayers after the sermon each Sunday. This a humbling experience for me because whenever a prayer request comes in the weekly announcements or an e-mail the church sends out on the prayer chain, I almost never remember the names when it comes time for my private evening prayers.
One woman at church was telling me about her daughter-in-law who has been on bed rest since December for fear of pre-term delivery. She has reached term pregnancy and is now allowed to walk around. They are now hoping for an uncomplicated birth. To put things in perspective, December is the month when Miri got her positive pregnancy test. When Miri was on hospital bed rest, every time Miri got up to walk three steps to the bathroom, she was afraid that would “be it,” the trigger that sent her in to full-blown labor.
My goodness, I thought. Miri would not have liked five months of bed rest.
I went from church back to the apartment for a brief stop and put the flower in water. I got to the hospital and found that the nurses had created a colorful collage of stickers on a small poster that included a picture of Gabriel and said “Happy Mother’s Day!” I told Miri about the flower when I got to the hospital, and she just nodded. A few minutes later, she said she was really confused about what Mother’s Day meant this year. She said she wants to write about it, but it might take her a while to think up how to express it.
May 14, 2012, 10 p.m.
Miri wrote in our CaringBridge blog about Mother’s Day:
Sunday was Mother’s Day. Everyone was wishing me a happy Mother’s Day, but I don’t really feel like a mom yet. I have a baby, but I’m not his primary caregiver. I just get to visit. He’s not learning about “mom” and “dad” yet, because we only see him in a limited fashion. I did get to hold him briefly Saturday, and this was the first time since his birth I have been able to do so. But even so, it’s not the bonding period that moms and dads usually spend with their newborn.
In the Orthodox Church, the mother and her newborn spend 40 days with each other to rest, grow, heal and adjust and only return to church after the 40 days are complete. At this time short “churching” prayers are said and the mother and her infant rejoin the congregation. At this point it is also customary to baptize the baby. The 40 days is symbolic of the 40 days the Theotokos spent with the Christ-child before bringing him to the temple. I am now in the midst of my 40-day period, but I don’t get to really spend that time learning about my baby. He’s this little boy that I see through the plexiglass when I make the special trip to the hospital. I feel like my 40 days are all messed up. We already baptized Gabriel because we weren’t sure how long he was going to be with us. Pretty much, we don’t get the “normal” baby experience — we have this made up, unnatural-feeling process instead. And it’s hard. I don’t love my baby any less. I don’t wish that he wasn’t here. But sometimes it is very difficult to accept the way this gift was given to us. I know that God wouldn’t give us anything we can’t handle, but that doesn’t necessarily make it any easier.
As for Gabriel, he continues to hang in there. Still firmly on the ventilator, but we have to remember he’s only 25 1/2 weeks, and these things take time. The next four months seem to stretch on so far ahead of us, I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel yet, but time does pass. Gabriel is almost three weeks old — we’ve been doing this for almost three weeks. It seems like it can’t possibly have been that long, but at the same time, it seems like we’ve been doing this forever.
Gabriel is still a little miracle and every day he’s with us reaffirms that fact. While I was in antepartum on bed rest, whenever I started to go back into labor, they always offered the option of inducing labor and just letting it take its course. The baby would have been too young to survive, but they always offered the option. It was an option we never considered even for a second.
After she posted this, I read the end of what Miri wrote and thought, “Wow, dear, that’s charitable of you to overlook my waffling.” Or was she in too much pain to remember when I stepped out to call Father John before the birth and ask him what on earth I was supposed to do?
Since I met her, she has been the one to stay grounded in the present, while I worry about the future and all of the problems it might bring. The thought of selling a car, moving to a new city for a new job makes me want to run and hide in the forest for fear of making a mistake, but she views them as things that need to be done and makes orderly preparations. Before met her, I heard stories of other guys getting engaged and throwing up every night as their weddings approached, and I thought that would be me. But then I met Miri and discovered that life does not attack you that way. When she and I were a few months from getting married, she kept asking me, “Are you sure you want to be married to me? Being married is hard work.”
I said, “Yes, but you’ll be there.” Working out the problems of marriage one at a time with her did not seem so daunting. Miri had warned me that having a baby was a great amount of work, and I had said, “Yes, but he’ll be there,” meaning that the work would not seem so bad when it was our child and we all wanted to be there.
When Gabriel was born, she understood that Gabriel was in extreme danger, of course, but she did not create more layers of fear to toss on top of that. My fears were worse — we would be driven insane by a child in continuous pain for years. My answer of “Yes, but he’ll be there,” of working out our daily problems was turned upside down with this obscene notion that maybe he shouldn’t be there.
My huge worries about making a lifelong mistake are usually irrelevant. The antidote is just to take things one day at a time. And then life attacked us all at once — it really was time to make a decision that would last forever, or at least that is what Dr. Grumpypants told us to do. I am glad we resisted and Gabriel was saved, but he is still very fragile. When I look through the incubator at his little head with the “concerned” wrinkles continuously on his forehead, I think about how his condition could reverse quickly and we could have a dead or extremely disabled child, and then what? Will we wish we had taken Dr. Grumpypants’ advice? For Miri, that question was closed from the beginning, but I still wonder — who has the responsibility to figure out how to get Gabriel his best, most comfortable future — Gabriel, or us?