Why did my parents have to choose a rock driveway, twenty-something years ago? Why not cement?
Down we drove, shocks bouncing us along every. single. little. bump.
I clenched the black leather seat below me, annoyed that travel was required to go see her.
Further down the road, and after a helplessly sleepless night, the weight of life’s moment sank deep into me. Since going into labor, I had not shed a single tear. I’d been a robot going through the motions of what I was told to do, what I needed to do. And while I knew that life’s current circumstances held significant weight, I would not, could not, let the magnitude of my daughter being sick sink in.
For one, I was afraid to cry. If the tiniest bump in the road sent my body into writhing, what would a few tears do? Surely, those tears would turn to sobs, and a belly that involuntarily heaved in and out as my body released all the pain and anger it’d been housing inside. The fear of the physical repercussions of such a cry, kept me from feeling it all too deeply.
As he drove, just five minutes into our nearly hour-long drive, he glanced over at me. Swaddling blanket folded up, nestled between the seatbelt and my waste. Same baggy grey-and-white dress that I’d worn the day before, pulled out from the dryer just minutes before we kissed Sweet Pea goodbye and headed out the door. We hadn’t said anything to each other yet. We were just driving in silence, both contemplating the night before, and the day ahead.
“What’re you thinking?” he asked.
My throat lumped. Chin spasmed.
“Girl? You okay?”
No. I’m not okay. Don’t make me talk.
Every tear that was hiding, burst its way out of me. He reached over and grabbed my hand, his thumb gently stroking my skin. Telling me silently, It’s okay, girl. You can cry.
A few minutes later, as the breaths calmed and my vision became clear again, I managed a few words, knowing they were unnecessary.
“I shouldn’t have to go visit her. I shouldn’t have to travel an hour away to see my baby. I shouldn’t have to leave my other daughter, while she’s upset at me for not staying with her, in order to go see the other. I hate this. I hate this. I. hate. this.”
God, what are you doing?
I closed my eyes, feeling my husband’s hand squeeze mine.
His voice told me that his heart and mind echoed the same sentiment. We both felt so tired, frazzled, and unequipped to deal with the heaviness of life.
We continued on, once again silent, staring blankly out the window.
As we entered the NICU sign-in area, another lady was walking out. Her face was familiar. It took me a few seconds before recalling who she was. My roommate from the other hospital. That’s right, her daughter was transferred here too.
After briefly exchanging quick updates on our girls, she pushed open the door and walked out. Her mom followed closely behind. I couldn’t help but notice how she was wearing pants, and standing up straight as she walked.
I looked down at my wheelchair-bound body.
The comparison began.
She just went through exactly what I did. C-section and all. Why can’t I just bounce up and be okay? Why does every movement hurt? Am I just being a baby? I remembered the pain of simply sitting down and standing up. Getting into the car and getting out. Attempting to lay down… no, this pain is very real. But why am I so much worse off than her? Why? Why? Why?
We went into the restroom. I glared at that dang breastfeeding poster as my body still refused to function properly. Minutes later, we signed our names in the Visitors Book and proceeded to the wash-down room.
This time, we ditched the wheelchair at the beginning of the hall. I was going to walk to her this time. Not just into the room. But the whole way there.
With every snail-paced step, I willed myself to stand up straighter. C’mon, Stephanie. If the other mom could wear pants and walk easily, you should too. But the tape beneath the dress tugged at my skin, and the line beneath it burned.
I allowed my body to hunch forward again. Maybe I wasn’t as strong as that other mom.
I continued on, my husband behind me a few steps, patiently watching his bride protectively as she was learning how to walk normally again.
Just then, a nurse came down the hall. She noticed my pace, my oversized dress, and my posture. She smiled.
“You’re walking well!”
I hope she saw the gratefulness in my eyes, as her three simple words sank deep into a stranger’s heart, pouring grace into places that were reeking shame.
She continued on her way, unaware that her small effort of encouragement would echo in my mind, watering my dry places, and become the catalyst to my healing.
“Would you like to have some skin time with her?” The nurse couldn’t have possibly understood how long I’d been waiting for this experience.
She rolled a white shield screen behind my chair, blocking view from the rest of the people in the room, then handed me a hospital gown to provide some warmth for us both. As the nurse undressed Abigail, I pulled my stretchy dress off my shoulders, preparing for the moment we should’ve had days ago.
Then, she laid her on me. Her tender newborn skin felt so delicate and warm, and we remained entranced in each others presence for several minutes.
“Would you like to try to nurse her?”
Silly question, lady.
Since I hadn’t had a chance to try yet, and was a little unsure of what to do, they called the lactation specialist and she arrived minutes later. Upon touching my engorged breasts, that were apparently as eager to feed this tiny child as my heart was, she sighed.
I felt like I was in trouble.
“You’re as hard as a rock.”
Ironically, I hadn’t really noticed just how swelled up I was until that very moment. My mind had just been so focused on getting to her.
She helped me attempt to feed her, but she wouldn’t latch. We tried a nipple shield, and for a few seconds thought we had success, but then the shield would falter, and frustration kicked in as her little face furrowed in disapproval.
They handed me a bottle.
After kissing Abigail goodbye, I entered the pumping room where the lactation specialist was waiting for me. She had a large bag of supplies, ready to teach me what I apparently never learned in my breastfeeding course I’d taken just four weeks prior.
After successfully pumping out some “liquid gold” as she called it, she continued on with instruction.
“You’re going to need to pump each side for a minimum of ten minutes, and do it at least every 2-3 hours to get your supply to come in strong.”
While what she said sounded logical enough, defensiveness soon kicked in as I realized that what she was asking of me would be near impossible.
But I have to drive here, an hour each way, and when I leave here, I’m going to be starving and need to eat. Then when I get home, Sweet Pea is going to want mommy time, without me jumping to the pump first thing. I just had major surgery and have not slept more than an hour and a half without waking, and have not had a chance to let my body rest. I NEED REST. I NEED TO HEAL. OR HOW IN THE WORLD AM I SUPPOSED TO TAKE CARE OF THIS ONE WHEN SHE COMES HOME? And when going to the bathroom takes a minimum of fifteen minutes each time, pumping every 2-3 hours is not doable, nor likely, and I’d appreciate you not making me feel any more guilty than I already do, thank you very much.
I resolved to do what I could and pray for the rest.
“Just bring in what you are able to pump, even if it’s just a tiny amount. Every drop counts.”
She applauded me for pumping the “liquid gold” she’d now be taking back to Abby, assuring me how much that tiny bit of liquid would help her heal.
At least my body did something right.
Heal up, baby girl. Drink and heal.
On the way home, feeling overwhelmed, defensive, and angry at my circumstances, a song came on the radio, the way one always does when God desires to whisper to my heart but the volume on my own thoughts is turned up way too loud to hear Him.
You must think I’m strong
To give me what I’m going through
Forgive me if I’m wrong
But this looks like more than I can do
On my own…
I know I’m not strong enough to be
Everything that I’m supposed to be
I give up
I’m not strong enough
Hands of mercy, won’t you cover me
Lord, right now I’m asking you to be
Strong enough, strong enough
For the both of us…
Alright, God. I hear you.
I’m not strong right now. But YOU are.
Your strength is only magnified by my weakness.
Be my strength.
I pictured the little one we were getting further from by the minute, swaddled in sweetness, her weakness as evident as mine.
Be her strength.
Continue reading the story here.