One year ago today, on Zachary's fourth day of life, I met her early in the morning after dropping C.T. off at a neighbor's house before school. She was just starting the morning "cares" session with him when I walked into his hospital room, anxious to see him and spend the day being his mommy. I rushed to stash the breast milk I'd pumped overnight into Zachary's refrigerator, washed my hands again, so that I could participate by changing his diaper, taking his temperature, and cleaning his face. I couldn't wait to hold him after we were done with the checkpoints and grooming.
Nurse Erin had built my confidence over the previous two days when she was Zachary's nurse. I learned how to interpret his vitals, how to operate the many mechanisms of the isolette, when to ask for help vs. when I could handle something for him on my own. She explained the rhythms of the NICU - the feeding and bathing schedule, the timing of the "cares" sessions every six hours - and how to make sure I was involved and aware of everything I wanted to be aware of, as a parent. I still had much to learn, and still struggled with worry about stepping on the toes of Zachary's caretakers, but I felt relatively comfortable with the once-foreign concept of caring for my son amidst medical professionals and the high tech equipment of the hospital setting.
Erin was patient with me. She answered my questions and repeated her answers when the overload of information was too much for me to process the first time. She was gentle and even loving with Zachary when she touched and talked to him. She insisted on keeping him warm and comfortable at all times. Together, we learned what kept him calmed and soothed. She kept me calmed and soothed as I struggled those first couple of days to produce some colostrum and eventually milk for Zachary. My heart sunk when she said she wouldn't be back for several days..., but I was thankful to know she had signed up to be with him/us again the next time she was working.
With this new nurse on Friday, I suddenly felt incompetent. She didn't offer for me to get involved in as much of Zachary's care when she was in the room. I had to ask. And then, when I asked, I could tell that she was a bit put out or somehow uncomfortable with my eagerness to care for my son. She made a comment, with maybe a hint of finger wagging, that she saw in the notes I had been very involved in Zachary's care. I thought: Yes, I am his mother, after all! And, I will have to fully take over for you people in just a matter of weeks when he comes home. She mentioned I should know that some of the nurses were not as open to this level of parent involvement. I think the words she used was something like "some of them can be persnickety...". I was left to wonder what exactly she meant and whether she included herself. Based on our uncomfortable interaction throughout the day, I suspected yes.
She was so casual, even flip, about any concerns I had about Zachary that day. I am certain that on one specific occasion I saw her go into his isolette to touch him without washing or sanitizing her hands. I froze. I didn't say anything. It seemed she already disliked me and I worried about the impact on Zachary's care if she liked me even less.
I cried and cried at home that night. Was I too involved, pushing too hard to mother Zachary? Really, what had I done to step on her toes,... or did she really treat all patient families this way? Why had nurse Erin been so supportive of my mothering and participation if this wasn't appropriate? Zachary was doing so well - why shouldn't I be involved and bond with my son? Why didn't I have the guts to confront this woman about being sure to wash her hands? I had to let it all go. I had to go back and do it all again with another new nurse on Saturday morning.
Zachary also had an echocardiogram on this day last year. I was warned that it would be taxing for him, that it could take over an hour and would probably zap him of energy for the day. They were right about it taking over an hour, but Zachary slept through the entire procedure holding my finger, my hand on his head, vitals completely calm, as they lathered and probed him.
It felt like I was going to get to keep him forever.
When will it not feel like acid burning me from the inside to replay the beautiful memories, to remember the full expectation for his life?
We wanted to do a direct act of kindness in memory of Zachary sometime between his first birthday and the first anniversary of his death. Through a friend of my sister, we learned of a woman whose husband died last spring, leaving her to raise their four young children alone. We also learned that his life insurance had been cancelled just before his death. I spent a lot of time thinking about how overwhelmed she must feel with her grief and her sudden single-parent reality. I hope it wasn't presumptuous, but we put together a basket of stuff that might provide a sliver of very temporary, almost insignificant comfort, in memory of a stranger's baby boy. (Thanks to my dear friend Megan for designing the memorial card that accompanied the basket.)