THREE YEARS BEFORE
The doctor sets out the scenario, and despite yourself, you focus on random details while he talks -- the rubbing-alcohol scent of the Purell, the slate gray hue of the examination table where your wife sits and absorbs the news.
She’s going on bed rest for three months—or until the baby is born—and you are going to be caring for her, for your first toddler son, and in addition to keeping your full-time job, as a bonus, you’ll be administering to your wife's glutes weekly progesterone shots even though needles freak you out, and even though you’ve never stuck a needle into anything alive, let alone anything resembling a human being.
But you set aside the shrill-shrieking doubts, and you focus on what the doctor is telling you.
Twenty-eight weeks, you decide. Your wife and your unborn child need to make it to twenty-eight weeks.
You know this because you’ve been through this before. Your first son was premature, but his early arrival was a shock. That pregnancy had been cruising along just fine until the thirty-second week when it came to a full-stop. You did your time in the NICU. You saw the other parents and the other stories, some easier than yours, some so much harder.
These are the children you and your wife make. These are the nutty and eager little beings who can’t seem to wait to enter the world. And this second one—if he survives—will be your last. You’re never going to fucking do this again. It’s not fair to anyone, least of all your wife.
“Are you committed to this?” The doctor asks, testing your resolve, if this should go wrong and the baby is born before week twenty-four. Do you really believe you have the capacity to deal?
You don’t. You know you don’t. But that’s not what you say.
You are now at twenty weeks. A birth any time between now and the next four weeks will be tragedy—there is no other word—the child that you are somehow already bonding with on an ephemeral level, that unconscious and I’ll just call it mystical/biological process that knits you to your kid before he emerges, will cease before he takes a single breath.
So you begin counting. You count hours and you count days and, when you can count off a week, it’s a celebration. You don’t tell your wife that you’re doing this. You don’t confess to her that you are obsessing, that you are preparing mentally for a child born so early the hospital won’t resuscitate him.
You keep this to yourself.
Your wife loses valuable, essential muscle while she lies through the days, incubating, holding in. She tries not to read online about the other women in her situation—especially the other women on bed rest who lose their babies—and she distracts herself by reading, napping, watching whole seasons of Lost. You know if it were you, you’d go crazy, you’d, well, lose your shit. She doesn’t. She’s busy bonding. She and your unborn son are communing, connecting. They’re going to make it, they decide. They’re both going to see this through. Together.
Meanwhile, you spend through your wife’s short-term disability before your son is even born. You spend thousands of dollars before she even gives birth because your healthcare coverage has an out-of-pocket expense that didn’t seem that large until you charge thousands of dollars on your credit card. And when your son is finally born at thirty-one weeks, when he and your wife finally make it, your wife has to quit her job because she has already burned through her maternity leave, and she doesn’t want to cede the care of a one-month old premature baby to the hands of anyone else.
But the point is that the kid makes it to thirty one weeks. There are details you’ll never forget (like ‘cerclage’), there are the amazing doctors and surgeons who just happened to be brilliant, and there are those long days and nights spent in the NICU that will be with you forever because the nurses were so phenomenal. There are your friends and family who stepped up and kept you fed, kept you sane. There are the people you didn’t realize you needed so much.
The kid is here. Your wife did it.
Your second son is going to be three years old next weekend. Your wife has gained back her health. Finally.
This isn’t your story. This is your wife’s story. This has been her journey and this has been her struggle. You can only guess at how difficult these years have been for her. The heavy-lifting of caring for an infant and a toddler. The turning away from the world, the turning inward, the bringing together of the four of you. She did all of it.
This is the time of her re-emergence. This is her time.
Just like the story that your three-year-old loves so much, mother and son are casting off the chrysalis and taking to the air. Butterflies. Beautiful butterflies.
You watch them both, and you marvel.