Yes, I see that little boy, the one you’re pointing at, the one who’s so tiny. Yes, I see how huge his jersey is on him, that it hangs down past his knees, that his shorts go down to his ankles. I see the way he runs.
I first saw him as a steady flicker on a sonogram screen, confirmation that the rising HCG number was, in fact, indicating a pregnancy. I saw him again six weeks later, a curved bean growing perfectly. Then, again, six weeks after that, with arms and legs and a head. This was when the doctor first realized something was wrong, that ‘the fetus’ wasn’t growing right, that he was falling behind, too small for gestational age. That we should prepare for him to meet the same fate as his brother and sister before him. Maybe he’d make it to 20 weeks, a little longer, twenty-four, twenty-six. There was really no way to tell and nothing we could do, except prepare ourselves.
At twenty weeks, the perinatologist had us tour the NICU and meet with a neonatologist, who thought it helpful to prepare us for what happens when babies come too early and too small. We learned about lung problems and brain bleeds and gut strokes. The next day we met with another perinatologist who talked about Downs Syndrome, and two days later yet another, who spent a grueling hour measuring in-utero blood flow.
From there, we saw our little boy two to three times per week, tense, tedious hour-long sonograms during which incredibly precise measurements were taken, of blood flow through his brain and heart and stomach, gauging how much longer he could survive in utero. At twenty-seven weeks I went into the hospital. At thirty weeks, the perinatologist, a kindly older man on the verge of retirement, decided the baby was in distress and it was time to deliver. The little guy, though, was busy playing with his cord, wrapping it so tightly around his body that his heart rate plummeted before we made it to Labor and Delivery. The last words I heard as the gas mask settled over my face were, “we’re losing him.”
Later that day, after emergency surgery, I lay in the recovery room with my eyes closed for a long, long time, scared to open them, having no idea into what world I’d awakened. Was it a world with my newborn son….or a world in which he was gone? I lay there that afternoon with my eyes closed, cold and scared and hurting inside, until finally I heard my sister’s voice, warm, quiet, and joyous. “He’s beautiful.”
After I stabilized, they wheeled me down to the NICU, where my husband was standing solemnly beside an isolette, where our little 1lb, 13oz son lay. We’d been so hoping he’d make it to 2lbs. I saw him that afternoon, tiny, emaciated, wide, confused eyes staring up at the bright glare of the lights, countless cords and tubes running to and from his small body. But I couldn’t touch him, because just that, a mother’s touch, might have been too much for his fragile nervous system.
I saw him, scared and alone, the size of a Little Mommy doll, and my heart bled.
For a week after that I saw him twice daily, lying alone in his isolette. I’d sit there for hours at a time, alternating between staring at him and watching the monitors that recorded his vitals. Sometimes his heart rate would drop, or his blood oxygen, alarms would sound, and nurses would swarm. And I could do nothing but sit there and watch, and pray and bargain with God. Please…please, please, please…
After a week I was finally allowed to hold him. A nurse placed him against my bare chest, positioned carefully among all the tubes and wires. It’s called kangarooing, and there are mysterious medical accounts of failing babies coming back from the brink as their mother’s warmth soaks through their fragile bodies, against the strong, steady beat of her heart.
I saw him daily for the next ten weeks, visits to the sterile NICU, where I sat beside his isolette, talking to him, telling him about his family, and making promises. So many promises. But after seeing him, I had to go home, back to my house, where the nursery sat empty and nights were spent in cold, desperate dread of the phone ringing.
I saw him the morning I arrived to see the empty isolette next to him, where the evening before a new set of parents had stood frozen vigil over their brand new baby boy, a 26-weeker…
I saw him when we brought him home, finally breathing on his own and a full 4 lbs.
I saw him that first year, finally sleeping in his own crib, sitting in his sister’s lap, his father’s arms, his grandparents lap, on countless trips to the pediatrician. I saw him interacting with the physical therapist and the occupational therapist, as he struggled to master skills such as rolling over and sitting up, crawling, standing, eating…always in the confines of our house, to protect his fragile immune system. No trips to the park or the grocery store, play areas or play dates. The one time I did take him out, some random person thought he was so tiny they just had to touch him…
I saw him fight and struggle, and I saw him smile and laugh. I saw him grow. I saw him fall in love with his sister and our cat, with balls and music.
I saw him on the first day of preschool, when he was the only child in class not yet walking. I saw him as the year went by, and his peers outpaced him physically, growing taller and stronger. I saw him stand up to boys younger but larger than him who called him a baby, keeping his brave face on until we were alone, when he would come to with tears in his big blue eyes as he asked me, “I’m not a baby, am I, Mama?”
I saw him all those times and thousands of others, and I see him now, out on the soccer field, despite the fact no one can so much as provide him a uniform that fits.
I see him out there, running, laughing, trying…healthy.
I see him, his fierce determination and resiliency, his unquenchable thirst for life, a miracle in motion.
Yes, random parent on the soccer field, I see him, the boy you’re pointing at.