After I finally left the hospital, a new routine emerged. My husband went to bottle feed our daughter at 9 am. I’d pump, then wash all the plastic parts with Palmolive. (They’re lying about it being gentle on the hands. My skin was practically peeling off.)
Then I’d go do kangaroo care at 11 am. Stay an hour or so, come home, pump and wash again.
Every two hours… pump, pump. I watched a lot of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” those days, and I’d try to fit in another NICU visit in the evening. I’d fall into bed and feel guilty for not waking up to pump. I did a handful of times, but it was miserable.
Get up, repeat. I felt like an exhausted cow.
At the time, six weeks of visiting our premature newborn at the NICU seemed like it would never end. I’d feel a pang every time I’d see a happy family leave the hospital with balloons, and their gigantic looking baby smiling in its car seat. That was how it was supposed to be. What had happened to us?
Kella was so tiny. When I’d hold her, she’d tuck her head under my chin and her feet would touch my navel. Her toes were like grains of rice. Her hands the size of my husband’s thumb nail.
She slept a lot, but when she woke up, we’d get these little clues that this kid was a total card.
One day, my mom and I were talking to her in her “little glass house.” I told her she looked just like ET with that pink light on her toe, and I burst out laughing for the first time since she was born.
Honestly, she lifted her head, stared into my eyes, gave me a huge smile, and laughed back!
I thought, “This is my daughter.”
Sometimes I would stare at her and feel guilty. I’d stroke my slightly smaller stomach, and think, “You should still be there sweetheart. I’m sorry I failed you.”
A lot of time, I really didn’t think much of anything. I was still on blood pressure medication. Maybe that was it? I look like a lost psych patient in many photos from that time. It was strange to look in the mirror and not recognize myself.
One day, I was hobbling across the crosswalk to the compounding pharmacy for some of Kella’s medications. (I was walking slowly because I’d sprained my ankle a few months previously, and it was still bothering me a lot.)
A car was driving through and slowed, so as not to run me over. “You’re welcome decent lady!” the guy yelled out the window and peeled off.
I was dumbstruck. “Jeez, I just nearly died in childbirth. My daughter is in the NICU, and my husband has cancer. So sorry, I don’t look absolutely gorgeous right now, and by the way, thanks for not killing me, asshole,” I muttered under my breath.
It was a far cry from the old “hey beautiful lady!” I’d so often hear in my 20s. I’d hated that, too. Both felt dehumanizing. It occurred to me that my appearance was the least interesting thing about me. I may not look so hot, but I was a better person now.
It was a shame looks matter so much, I mused. How many beautiful souls do we overlook every day?
I went home, pumped, washed and visited my baby.