Become Beautiful Butterflies: A Love Note

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.

“Absolutely.”

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.

NOW

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.

Early Children

My youngest son's second birthday was last week.

Like his older brother, our youngest child was born prematurely.  Both boys arrived roughly seven weeks before their due dates; our youngest after a traumatic pregnancy that involved bed rest and the anxious counting of weeks as we hoped that our son would at least wait until week thirty before demanding to be born. 

We have never returned and thanked the many doctors who helped us. Way leads to way, and once the kid is home, you enter into this entirely alternate reality where whole months pass before you even notice.

It is the nurses, though, who deserve praise and awe. These women cared for us and they cared for our sons in the NICU while we rested and waited to take our boys home. They taught us how to feed, change and bathe our children. These women were simply amazing, and they do these amazing things for dozens of people every day who rarely, if ever, remember to thank them. So, thank you. 

I know becoming a parent has transformed me, but I often find it difficult to describe how. The one story that illustrates the change goes like this: 

After my first son was born, and my wife and I were spending our days and part of our nights at the NICU, I was exiting our two-door Honda (a two-door Honda we can no longer own, thanks to the logistics of baby-seats) in the hospital parking garage. Beside our car was a Ford F150, and the young man trying to turn over the engine was maybe in his early twenties. Turned out that like me, he was a new father, and unlike me, he was trying to take his wife and new baby home. If only he could get his truck to start.

Dead battery. 

So together we shoved the Ford into the through-way of the parking structure, then I backed out the Honda--effectively blocking parking garage traffic in both directions--and we jumped his battery while people honked and yelled and made for a very unpleasant few minutes.

After we were done, I had to direct traffic until we could get the truck clear, and the young man could drive down to where his wife and baby were waiting. 

Before my son was born, I would never have done anything like this. The logistics alone would have had me pretending I hadn't heard the oscillating starter. I was doubly surprised at myself. One, for getting involved in a situation that was only going to be a mess. Second, for not even thinking about it. I just acted. I acted, not because I'm some heroic person, but because it was the right thing to do and it needed to be done. For the betterment of everyone. (Save, perhaps, for the folks who were stuck in the backed up traffic, but well, you can't win without someone losing, right?)

Anyway, to me, that's how parenthood changes a person. You act for the benefit of others because you are part of a community, and you'd better do your damned share. The doctors who helped our sons, they showed me that I need other people. The nurses who worked with my wife and me while we saw our boys through their births and NICU stays, they taught me what it means to be a human being.  

And the boys, well, the boys are teaching me all kinds of things every moment.

Thank you.