On April 9th, 2011 my wife gave birth to our daughter at 24 weeks gestation changing our lives forever. I had no idea that a baby could be born that little let alone someday be an active, strong and healthy toddler.
The medical staff presented all of the facts about prematurity and held nothing back when sharing many of the grim realities of what our little girl would have to battle through in the coming weeks, months and possibly years, if she even survived at all. Looking back at that time in our lives, it seems like a bad dream.
I clearly remember the moment that I chose hope over fear. Our daughter Hazel had been taken to a side room to be stabilized after birth and after about half an hour I was finally allowed to go in and see her.
There this tiny person was, wrapped up in blankets totally helpless. She looked nothing like any baby I'd ever seen before but that was alright. She was ours and she was perfect. I remember placing the tip of my index finger into the palm of her hand and marveling that when she grasped my finger tip, her hand didn't cover it all. In that moment I hoped for strength and guidance from God to help my wife and I be there for our daughter.
Talking to any parent that's done significant time in the NICU, one of the most difficult feelings to deal with is having little to no control over the situation. From a young age many of us are told, if we work hard, if we set goals we can control our destiny. Sadly that's not always the case. Sometimes there is nothing you can do but pray.
The NICU dumps you on your backside, quick. What I noticed very early on was the one and only thing my wife and I had control over at that moment in our lives was how we responded to our situation. We had the ability to get back up each time our world was rocked. Sometimes it was easy to hop up and keep moving forward. Others, it was all we could do to struggle back to our feet again and keep going. The choice was ours.
It would have been so easy to just shut down and passively accept whatever came my way. Nobody would have questioned it. There were two things that stopped me from doing that. My wife and our little girl. They mean more to me than anything in this world. I was going to be there for them no matter what.
Hope gives you the strength to watch your child struggle for life. It helps you to keep your stamina up. Hope helps you to reach out and console others who are going through rough times with their little ones while you yourself are struggling to deal with the magnitude of raising a micro preemie. It gives you the strength to get up out of bed when all you want to do is lay there and imagine it isn't your child in the hospital. Hope gives you an ability to ask others for help because you know in order to take care of your loved ones, sometimes you must first make sure to take care of yourself.
After 107 days in the NICU our little miracle came home. Others we met weren't so lucky. To this day I've never been able to understand why. I've just vowed to make each day with our daughter count.
After 5 months on low flow oxygen at home, our daughter began to breath the way nature intended. It took many months of hard work, a little bit of luck and the support of some amazing people but she did it.
Now almost a year later, I watch our daughter run around the house with a huge smile on her face and I marvel at how far she has come. She is 17 months adjusted and loves to play with her toys, the dog, read books, 'dance' to music, give kisses laugh and rough house with her parents. From the moment she wakes up until the moment her head hits the pillow it's go, go, go.
Hope remains very much a part of our lives today although the focus has just changed a bit. I hope that our little girl grows up and is able to pursue her dreams to the fullest. I hope I am able to do my part in helping her learn about the importance of trying to make a difference in the world. I hope I have enough energy to keep up with that little girl I see before me.
Life is funny, because it is so unpredictable. It's cliche but you really never know what's just around the corner.
I offer a bit of advice to anyone who reads this post. You have the strength and the ability to make it through anything life throws your way. Take a moment each day to stop and think about one thing that is going well in your life. Some days this task is easier than others but no matter how desperate things feel there is always something to be grateful for, something to believe in and something to work towards. I try to live my life this way each day and it helps me to keep an even keel. Very little phases me.
My wife and I have been given a blessing. That little girl that gave us such a scare, has now become the light of both our lives. She was worth everything that we went through and more. We will continue to choose hope in our lives because really, there is no other choice.