In St Cloud, Jax had a NICU neighbor named Ashton. We noticed him immediately because the tag on his isolette said “1 pound 8 ounces” – same as Jax! And the tag announced that the mom’s name was Andria. I immediately felt a connection, even though I had not met her. I never saw Andria – we were obviously on different schedules.
As they days went on, the nurses began calling Jax and Ashton the “trouble-makers” of the pod. One would alarm and the other would follow seconds later. They transferred a more “calm” baby to another pod because these two boys were causing so much ruckus no one could get any sleep. While we were not allowed to go near Ashton’s isolette because of privacy laws, I found myself rooting for him each time I heard his alarms.
Then, I finally caught a glimpse of Ashton’s parents at his bedside. Man, they looked like shit. Zombies.
Ashton’s mom and I finally talked that day. I found out that Ashton was originally going to be named Jackson – seriously! I found out that Andria cheered for Jax when he got his stats back up, just as I cheered for her son. I also found out that she was no stranger to the NICU: Ashton’s brother was born premature exactly one year earlier. Baby brother died when he was 5 weeks old from NEC. (Necrotizing Enterocolitis is where the intestines begin to die.) They found out that morning that Ashton also had NEC. They lost their first child to a disease that was threatening to claim the life of their second child.
Like a punch in the gut, it became crystal clear to me…they looked like shit for a reason.
The next day, I arrived at the NICU and found people crowding around Ashton’s isolette; the first person I saw was the Chaplain. I immediately thought the worst – did Ashton earn his angel wings? Thankfully, he was still holding on. Now, he was fighting a serious infection that was making his tiny body swell up to twice it’s normal size. He looked like the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man – peering at him across the room, I could only see slits where his eyes should have been. And the NEC was getting worse. The transport team was there to take him to Children’s Hospital so he would have access to more advanced treatments. This was his last-ditch effort – the mood in our pod was somber. His parents were sobbing. The nurses were trying to hold back tears. The doctors were grim-faced.
I felt like I was in a horror movie. Slow motion. The baby was wheeled out in his transport isolette. The Chaplain was praying out loud. Ashton’s parents walked, tight-lipped and stricken, after their son. They did not look at me. They did not take their eyes off their precious son. And then they were gone.
Jax’s monitor alarmed.
I was rocketed back to my reality. I held Jax extra tight that day. I sent all the love and light I could muster to Ashton and his parents. I cried for them as if it were Jax in that transport isolette.
I never heard what happened to Ashton. I thought that maybe our paths might cross again once we were transferred to Children’s, but no such luck. I do not know if he made it or not.
When I first arrived in the NICU, I noticed the moms who seemed to “have it together.” They knew where everything was, they knew all the staff by name, they knew all the medical terminology. I remember staring at those moms during the first few days of Jax’s stay. (They probably were a bit creeped out…) Staring and wondering how they did it. Staring and hoping they would reach out and help me. I never really had the nerve to talk to them; everyone seems so intent on their babies – I didn’t want to interrupt.
After a while, I realized that I had become the mom that appeared, from the outside, to “have it all together.” I recognized the look on the face of the new moms. They were grasping, same as I had been, for some sort of reassurance, some connection. I smiled. I saw relief. We were not alone. We could tell by the look in each other’s eyes if it was a good day or a bad day. We could send strength in a smile. We had a connection, and we had only spoken about 10 words to one another. It didn’t matter that we didn’t know each other’s names…
So many preemie bloggers talk about how they are still in contact with parents they met while in the NICU. In a way, I’m jealous because the parents I met, I only knew for a short while and I never got a chance to get their contact information. I hate not knowing what happened to Ashton (and Lily, and Levi, and Drake – more of Jax’s NICU “neighbors”). I think about them alot.
If I could talk to those moms now, I would tell them that even though we only knew one another for a short time, they helped me navigate the scariest time of my life. They helped me by smiling back. Even though I don’t know their names or how their babies are doing, those NICU moms will be a part of my life forever.
Now, thanks to social media and Facebook, I have a chance to connect with other preemie moms. We can share our stories and our worries and we “get it.” We haven’t met in person, but we know each other. We all have had different journeys, we know different things, our kids are developing on different timelines. But, we send strength in a “like.” The community of moms is strong. We share the burden of healing. Thank you, preemie and NICU moms, for letting me know that I’m (still) not alone…