By Jessie Smith
Our story began on a beautiful day in October. The moments I had dreamed about my entire life - the baby shower, preparing for the final stage in pregnancy and delivery, and enjoying the last moments of a beautiful next chapter in our lives together - were quickly taken away when I found out after arriving to the doctor's office that day that I would need to be admitted to the hospital immediately. As usual, my husband dropped everything to be by my side within a moment's notice. He held my hand and comforted my tears when we found out at 28 weeks and 3 days that I would be hospitalized until the birth of my son due to sudden onset Severe Pre-Eclampsia.
The next few days were a blur of confusion for me, trying to figure out if I would in fact be in the hospital for the next two months, if we were delivering early, and the poking and prodding of the nurses and doctors giving me sleepless nights. My husband, continuing to be by my side, often brought me small but heartfelt surprises to try and lift my spirits.
On the morning of October 9th, the doctor entered the room and sat on my bed around 6am. It was decided: at an early 29 weeks, after steroid injections to help build his lungs quickly, after a continuous insulin drip and after my blood pressure reached stroke levels, our little boy would be born via C-Section. I don't believe in that moment I had fully accepted the things to come, as I was rather okay with everything, maybe even excited. Looking back on everything I was in a state of complete and utter denial. Besides, how could this situation possibly be okay with this little innocent person being born at 29 weeks, cut out in the most unnatural of ways? Nonetheless, I called my husband at our home and without question he was in my room within an hour.
While on the operating table, my husband sat by my side. My chest began to hurt profoundly while the doctors were cutting me open to take out my son. Because my blood pressure was so high and the doctor had already confirmed it was “stroke level”, I prepared myself to die fearing I was having a heart attack. Despite the drugs I was given to calm me, I went through my entire family (my parents, my brother, my husband and my son) reassuring myself that they would in fact be fine without me alive. I quietly prepared myself to die, hand in hand with my husband. I remember hearing him telling me that I was doing a good job and that he loved me. With eyes closed, I concentrated on every word he said, thinking of all the beautiful memories we had created together over the past five years of marriage: "I love you too, I love you too, so much".
After our son was born, I was jolted back to realty in a state of confusion, not sure if I was alive. The questions I had were answered after hearing my husband exclaiming through tears that “He’s a boy!” and “That’s my son! He’s here!” Within a few short hours, after I was stapled back together and taken to the recovery room, we found out that our son had emergent medical issues that would cause him to be taken to a neighboring hospital’s NICU. He would die without intubation, he would die without the first surgery, and he would die without a G Tube allowing him to eat. Nothing was certain. I was frightened – frightened for our little boy, frightened for myself, frightened about the future and the “what if’s” that come with uncertainty. My husband stayed by my side without request, to comfort me. It wasn’t until he found that he could see our son after surgery that he left to go be with him.
From that moment on, until we were ultimately discharged, we had endured the rollercoaster of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit – some moments being those that would have been sure to defeat the strongest of marriages. I was not given the opportunity to think about what my husband was going through during many of those moments, as I was consumed with fear and sadness for my son and for myself. It was until after it was all said and done that I was given this chance.
Fathers in the NICU environment rarely receive any praise for the role they play in the life of the mother and child. Like my husband was for me, these men are often times the only person who breaks the vicious cycle of isolation that can arise for mothers, providing them a sense of feeling that there is in fact one person in the world who gets everything she is going through. My husband was that person. Through the entire crazy ride, he was my rock, my comfort, my best friend. Words will never be able to express the amount of gratitude and respect I feel for him. He has incredible strength – he has hidden his fears, held back tears, and remained strong for his family despite the worries he had in his own mind. I’ve never had to ask him to be a support to me, yet he is and continues to be.