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Monday, September 15, 2008

Reunion Redux

The NICU reunion is this strange event. I mean, you are going back to this place where you felt tremendous emotional pain for a party. Balloons, music, basketball players helping the kids throw balls. Bouncey castles, costumed mascots, and then the strange item which brings you back to surreality--a state-of-the-art transporter on display, festooned with ribbons. There is cake and ice cream and oxygen tanks and wheelchairs. It is this one day out of the year where every single person in the crowd knows somewhat how you felt because they went through the same emotions too.

We spent a lot of our time off to the side, the ChickieNob gnawing on what she insists my mother calls a "yummy stick" (though my mother has no recollection of ever using this term)--a chocolate-covered vanilla ice cream popsicle--while the Wolvog held his hands over his ears and cried, "too loud! too loud!" Once you looked around the crowd for a bit, you saw many children had their hands over their ears or bodies cringing or their hands outstretched in front of them to create a foot or two of invisible breathing space.

Big crowds are not the sort of thing that usually work for preemies with lingering issues. It's sort of like celebrating your weight loss at a clinic with an enormous cake.

Overall, they had fun as they have every year, though I thought about it last night--how long I will have them return--and I arbitrarily said to myself, "when they're seven." Seven times will be enough. And then, I heard this woman speaking today about how her twins went every year for 21 years and I reconsidered. Why not? It's good to give thanks.

I went there with an agenda, needing catharsis, something that was going to get me out of the damn preschool. I was trying to create this perfect moment and I was going to do it with N, this fantastic nurse who had kicked my ass 1000 times before from pointing out my wussiness when I was scared to untangle the wires and take the twins from their incubators to pointing out my wussiness when I'd let them control a feed. The theme, of course, is that I am a wuss.

She was not down in the reunion but we saw a different nurse who told us that she was upstairs. We went up to the NICU where she came out in the lobby to hug the twins and catch up with us. And she was great--but she didn't kick my ass. She asked how I was doing with the preschool and I admitted that I hadn't left the building yet and I only got a sigh and an "oh Melissa."

And then it was time to leave.

We stopped by the bathroom that has now entered family lore. I actually had to pee, but the twins like to hear the story about how I locked myself in the bathroom and cried like an animal the first night I had to leave them in the NICU.



Not to be the most dramatic girl on the block, but I truly thought I was going to die that night--it seemed entirely possible that you could cry so deeply that your heart could simply stop. I don't think I've ever gotten over that night (or any of the subsequent nights that we had to sleep away from them for weeks, albeit in a hotel nearby rather than the first night which was spent an hour away at our home). I think a lot of the grief I feel about leaving them at preschool is tied to that first night.

Because it's grief. It isn't fear. I trust their teachers, trust them to be there for one another, trust them to stick up for themselves. It's just this deep, deep grief and the crying I have been doing feels again like that animal-like crying that I did as I was led out of the NICU. I think the reason that I have not taken up anyone's gracious and kind offer to be with me (on the phone or in person) when I leave the preschool for the first time is because I do not want to be embarrassed when I cry like that. And I think my body needs to cry like that. It would be like asking me to breathe through a straw while I run. I wouldn't be able to suck in enough air. And crying with reservations just isn't enough to reach that deep grief, that animal-like grief. Perhaps preschool is the closure to that NICU night. Or, perhaps, I will always feel this way whenever I am separated from them. Even when that separation signals a good thing such as moving away for college or getting married or becoming parents themselves.

I wanted this perfect moment at the reunion and I thought I'd get it from N. And then I thought I could create it by visiting said bathroom. We drove out of the parking garage and Josh asked me if I had found catharsis and the path to leaving the preschool and I thought that I hadn't because everything felt so rushed and wrong while we were there. Like someone was playing a song and I could tell that something was off--one guitar string wasn't properly tuned?

I really do believe that the right people come to you at the right time and if you're not busy, as I was at the reunion, trying to orchestrate your world, you will notice people lazing about, ready to hand you the answers when you're ready to listen.

The nurse who told us that N was upstairs.

I hadn't seen C in four years but I immediately recognized her since she had been such a huge part of our experience there even though she was only assigned to the twins twice during our stay. I didn't expect her to remember us at all and thought she must be bullshitting as I did when I bump into old students and pretend to remember them. But she said, "oh, they were in the isolation room in the back and you were always there."

I was always there when they were in the NICU just as I'm always there now when they're in preschool. I couldn't leave. I would get there around 8 a.m. to prepare for the next feed at 9 a.m. and then stay through the final feed of the night, usually returning to the hotel room around midnight. And doing the same thing the next day and the next day and the next day. I was burned out, but I couldn't hold them very often--only a few minutes every three hours or so--and I didn't want to pass up an opportunity.

This nurse, C, sat me down during my second week of this schedule and pointed out that I was trying to squeeze too much parenting or what I believed to be parenting into each day. And there is a parenting experience in the NICU that is very different from parenting at home. And taking her thought a step further into this day and age, it is all very different from parenting children in school. But letting them go, giving them their space, encouraging them to set out on their own--that is all part of parenting. Not just holding them close.

I really suck at the letting go part.

I don't even remember how she convinced me--perhaps I just needed permission from someone other than myself--but we did cut back a few hours. Not to what she suggested, but I did sleep in a few times and we had dinner out a few evenings. And it was good. It was good to go to familiar places when life felt so out of sorts. It was good to eat Thai food and look at pictures and imagine what life would be like when we got home.

I thought about her all day after we left.

*******
I wrote the top portion of this post on the weekend after returning from the NICU. I'm writing the bottom of this post waiting for my brother to come here so we can go over to the school together for pick-up. I left this morning in steps. We stood by the window and watched them play. Then we moved towards the front door of the building so I could cry away from the other parents. And finally, Josh moved with me out to the car and we sat in the parking lot for a long time. And then we drove home.

The house is so incredibly still; this strange emptiness. As if it is waiting for something.

40 comments:

Kristin said...

Congrats Mel...you did a good (and very hard) thing today! I'm glad you were able to find the motivation you needed.

Patricia said...

The house is so incredibly still; this strange emptiness. As if it is waiting for something.

This part I know.

I'm glad you were able to find peace in leaving today and in a way that honors the needs of your heart.

Kathy V said...

I know it was hard on you but I am so proud of what you accomplished. Every day migt be a challenge and that is okay but you know if you did it once, you can probably do it again. Hang in there. Hugs to you as you continue to go through this.

Martha said...

I'm so proud of you, I acknowledge your grief and acknowledge your losses. Baby steps still move you forward, I am so, so proud.

Jendeis said...

I am so proud of you, honey! You are doing great!

Jess said...

CONGRATS MEL!

The house is waiting for something! For the twins to come home again and tell you all about their days and laugh and play like always. Till then....you have time to explore you, and that's ok too.

Thinking of you, dear. You're brave and I'm taking notes for a few years when I'm in your shoes!

Jen said...

Three cheers! Actually, three isn't enough. I am so proud, I knew you could do it.

Rebecca said...

I'm sorry the reunion wasn't what you wanted it to be, and that you didn't find the peace you were looking for.

But, I am so proud of you for leaving the school! That was such a hard thing for you, and kudos for reaching down deep within and finding the strength that has been there all along.

(((HUGS))) for how hard it's been...

sara said...

Thank you for letting me know it's okay to have these feelings - the ones you had when your little ones were in the NICU. Our little girl Spot isn't even here yet (thank heavens) - but when the NICU doc came and talked to us last week when we went in I felt that way. After the doctor left I finally let myself cry for the first time. But it's just like you said..I cried so hard and so deeply I felt like my heart could literally stop. Just the way you put it...

But afterwards, I felt better. I felt like I could deal with things, I had allowed myself to release all of that emotion I had been stockpiling like it was prep for Y2K or something. I'm glad you were able to move forward little by little. That's what I'm trying to do each day. ((hugs))

Mama said...

I am so proud of you. SO proud.

Barb said...

Wow. Great for you sweetie pea.

Aurelia said...

I'm glad you were finally able to do this.

And the difference btw is that you are supposed to leave your kids in preschool at some point as they get older. Because they are ready, and happy, and it should be up to them a bit as they age. With the NICU, they really do need you 24/7 and I would also be the parent who never ever leaves. I'd sleep there, seriously, in a chair, with a crick in my neck.

Reading the part where the NICU nurse told you to leave a bit, actually upset me, because in an ideal NICU setting, there are beds for parents and they are always always welcome.

Heather.PNR said...

((hug))

Reading this brought tears to my eyes this morning. I'm so glad you were able to find the moment and method that was right for you.

I don't think I've ever experienced anything as raw and deep as my protective love for my children. You capture that so well.

luna said...

reading your analogy to leaving them in the nicu makes so much sense. I'm so glad you made that connection. I love the piece about letting go and not just holding them close.

cheers for taking that very big first step today.

Lori said...

What a great reminder that sometimes, looking back helps us step forward.

I can't imagine the anguish you are facing in order to let go of it. But I am very proud of you for doing so.

I bet you had a sweet reunion when you saw the twins again.

Delicious.

merseydotes said...

Good job. My mom always says that you raise your children to go away. That is, if they feel comfortable enough in their own skin to do their own thing, then you as a parent have done your job. Good parenting. 8-)

momofonefornow said...

I am so proud of you! I know that was tough. So, so tough.

Dora said...

Wonderful post. I'm proud of you, too! Tomorrow will be easier. By Friday you'll be a pro.

Oh, I know about the animal crying. It's an ugly one, with a head full of snot. And a major headache that lingers afterwards.

Hmmm, never occurred to me that my crowd aversion (which I've had since I can remember) could be because I was a preemie. (8 weeks early, 4lbs.)

I'm Mommy, Not the Grandma said...

Seems like when we're waiting for our babies to come to us, we can't wait to say hello. And, when they arrive, we never want to say good-bye.

Be extra kind to yourself...you took a big step.

BTW, thanks for all that you do with this blog!

Arian said...

You should be SO proud of yourself today! That was such a hard thing to do and I am certain that you had to dig really deep to find that sort of strength! Go out tonight and treat yourself to something really special. You have earned it!

If it helps, I see lots of moms of kindergarteners that just can't bear to leave. It breaks my heart to see a mother peering in with tears streaming down her face. We have one mother that still struggles. She comes to the school at least three times a week to eat with her son and always lingers for a long while. It gets better though. It always does.

After struggling so hard to keep your children it only makes sense that it would be pure torture to let them go. Hang in there!

Cara said...

Kudos to you for knowing you have to embrace those tears! You did it on your own time and you should be proud!!

battynurse said...

Good for you.

Michelle said...

Congratulations! You took a big step. I am proud of you. You love your children enough to let them go an then when you see them again you love them enough to hold on tight. Hugs!

Geohde said...

I cried my guts out when I had to leave my babies in the nicu. It's just the worst feeling. Even now...

J

Io said...

Oh lady, you're doing do well and now I am crying a bit having read this. Maybe if you can spread it around a bit for everyone to bear it will ease your burden a bit.

Isabel said...

I'm so proud of you! It must have been so tough, but you did it. Congratulations!

Beautiful Mess said...

You did a beautiful thing! I know it's hard, but you did it! Good job and big hugs to YOU! Glad you had fun at the reunion, and ice cream is ALWAYS a fabulous thing. Delish!
Hugs,
-D

Ms Heathen said...

I'm so proud of you, Mel - not only for leaving the twins at school, but also for confronting why it was so hard on you.

I cannot begin to imagine how difficult it must have been for you when the twins were in the NICU. Their passage into this world was so very fraught - no longer you want to hold on to them so tightly.

The Broken Man said...

That's an amazing story - thanks for posting it.

The Broken Man

Kim said...

I, too, hated leaving the nicu. I always felt I was leaving a big part of me behind. I know I'll feel that way in November when I return to work, too. Not a good feeling.

Congrats on the little steps!

Piccinigirl said...

wow, that was a beautiful post.

I'm just glad that what happened today, happened on your terms, in your time. I find often that I find real strength in you and it helps me find it in myself for a myriad of things.

Yea!

Sara said...

Good for you!

loribeth said...

When you have fought so hard to bring those two little ones into existence in the first place, it must be incredibly difficult to start letting them go, even if you know it's the way of the world, & that it's good for both them & you in the long run. I'm proud you took that first small step. I'm sure it will eventually get a little easier...

P.S. Your post reminded me of how my father started crying when dh & I were ready to leave on our honeymoon after our wedding. I think it was only the second time in my life that I'd seen him cry (the first was when my grandmother died suddenly at age 68), & it totally floored me. It really hit me all at once at that moment that I really was leaving home for good this time. *sniffle*

Samantha said...

I loved your post. I'm glad too that you are finding a way to handle the separation, a little bit at a time.

Nearlydawn said...

Good Job Mama. Really. I'm proud of you.

Stacie said...

The last part of this post made me cry. There was so much emotion in those few little words.

Your little ones are so very fortunate to have a mother like you...they really, really are.

bbrsbaby said...

I know I'm late to this, way behind this week, but Congratulations for overcoming the mountain! I hope it gets easier each time you have to do it.

Denise said...

I'm still catching up on my reading from last week, so I know this is a bit belated. But I just wanted to tell you I'm proud of you. I can only imagine what you have been through and what you are still going through.

Bea said...

PB just moved into his own room. Oh my goodness that bedroom is so big and EMPTY now. I can't quite imagine having him out of the house.

Bea

Julia said...

Mel, a very belated Mazal Tov on this momentous step. I am reading from back to front, so I got to read the whole saga in less than an hour (no, I am not that slow of a reader, but there was a feed and a change involved in the middle, oh, and making coffee... very important) rather than in real time, like a good reader would've. And it still looks like a momentous achievement. Must've been incredibly hard to live through. Mazal tov, again.