"Beep... beep... beep" I can hear the monitors as if they were still attached to Nora. "Hush... Hush...hush" was the sound of the oxygen that breathed in and out of her lungs. The mechanical synchrony and the murmur of conversations between nurses lulled me. Quietly, unnoticed, Nora passed her Golden Hour--the most crucial hour for a premature baby's life in regards to short- or long-term injury, life or death. We entered Labor and Delivery with a 78% chance of survival and by the time she arrived at Brenner Children's Hospital she was in the 90's. In one hour, Nora moved up a notch to survival.
Still, it was days later when they took Nora out of her incubated house for me to hold and gave us a 30 minute time limit. Wrapped in warm blankets, she wouldn't have to expend her energy and calories to heat her body more than necessary. I knew the moment I felt her I would cry giving her back. As I sat there holding Nora during my first 30 minutes of bliss, I thought of everything.
I thought of this new NICU life and how Annie and I both should still be pregnant with our cousin babies. Their lives were planned together. I cried. I did not want to separate myself from Nora. I sobbed more. We had become one again. We were both robbed of 11 weeks of crucial growing together, just us two. Her hand laid bruised on my chest and mostly covered with wires, but it looked so amazing. I felt her whole body move with each tiny breath. I felt a tiny puff on my skin each time she exhaled. I could hear my heartbeat through her. She breathed faster than I did. It was different. She was so tiny, her squeal was like the sound of a kitten meowing. It was so soft, I wasn't sure it had been real. It was so real though. I was so in love.
We weren't alone in our NICU room. Zack was with us. He talked to Nora while I held her. He gave her lots of kisses. I romanticized of the first time we would be home doing those same motions together, what seemed a lifetime away. I could see his emotions in his eyes. He wanted to hold her so badly but couldn't let himself just yet. He wasn't ready to trust himself with such a fragile life, his baby. I promised Nora it wouldn't take long before he would realize he needed her just as much she needed him. One thing Zack kept saying over and over, to anyone who would listen, was that Nora was so beautiful, she was just so beautiful.
I knew how badly Zack wanted to hold Nora. Zack knew how desperately I did not want to stop holding Nora. So he sacrificed himself for me that night, that first chance to hold our daughter. He sacrificed himself again and again, as he did all the days Nora was in the NICU. He let me stay, always. Whatever it took for me to be with Nora, that's what Zack did. And when Zack could come he would. He came almost every other day in between working. With his support, there were nights l never left her bed.
By the time the nurse came to place Nora back in her box, I could feel myself overcome with heartbreak. I felt so outside myself giving my child to a nurse. Giving my child to someone more capable and qualified for my child's survival than me, her mother. There was no holding back. I cried because she was alive and breathing-- in a box on machines and tubes, still so bruised from birth. I cried over Nora's life-- and my nephew's death. I cried because I couldn't have my family all in one place-- and I didn't want to leave. There was so much darkness with the light. Was there a grief over the living too? I was in agony over this fast turn of events that left me...with a life.
That evening was the first time I held my daughter. She was three days old.