Back in the room, I change into pajamas. I refuse to wear the hospital gown, even if I have a good excuse. I mean, I did just have a baby. Whatever, you were only six months pregnant. She wasn’t even two pounds. It doesn’t really count. I can’t believe you had an epidural for a one-pounder.
I feel better being back in my own clothes and in a new room. After seven days lying in a hospital bed, trying not to have a baby, at least now an end to the hospital stay is in sight.
Family members and friends come in and out, and Anthony takes visitors back to the NICU to see the baby. I personally don’t want to go back. What can I do at the NICU besides stare at a baby connected to all those tubes and wires? Why would I want to stare at something so small and sickly and bird-like? To get attached? To start to love her?
I hate that I’m feeling sorry for myself and bitter. I hate that I can recognize myself putting up walls and pulling away. I know better, but I just can’t help it.
Visitors are a good distraction, especially when Joe comes and is his usual energetic, stubborn two-year-old self. He jumps on me, a bit too hard, and despite the surge of pain that goes through me, it brings relief. He doesn’t know what I’ve just gone through physically, or what our family is about to go through emotionally. As his mother, it’s a relief to know he doesn’t understand what’s happening and won’t remember this time of our lives.
It’s refreshing to be in the presence of someone who doesn’t know what’s going on because I’m already starting to dread dealing with everyone who does. Regardless of what happens in the months ahead, I know what will come: sad smiles, knowing eyes, cocked heads, and the pointed questions, “How’s everything going? How are you?” It’s just over four years since my mom died, and sometimes I still get that when I run into someone I rarely see.
Night comes, and everyone leaves. Anthony and I are left alone. He asks if I want to see the baby before we turn in, and I say yes. I’m not sure if it’s because I actually want to see her or because I know I should. I get into the wheelchair, and he pushes me down the hall. We stop to scrub up and then pass a row of windows, through which we can see across a courtyard and into the windows of the NICU. It’s dark out and impossible to see into any of the rooms. But there’s one that glows with bright bluish purple light.
“That’s Alaina’s room,” Ant says. “The light helps to prevent jaundice.”
We go into the NICU and into her glowing room. The nurse greets us and points out the tiny “sunglasses” that protect Alaina’s eyes. She actually looks kinda cool, like a sunbather, relaxing at the beach. Her hair has a purplish tint from the light, like a little punk rocker. The nurse continues on, explaining how our girl is quite feisty, fighting them whenever they try to tend to her. And the feisty part of me rejoices, happy to hear that my baby girl is a bit of a fighter, proud that she’s a little bit of a bitch. God, she’s already just like me. I actually catch myself smiling.
They show us how to turn on the isolet’s heat walls and open the doors on the side walls so we can reach in so we can touch her. I fight the fear of touching this fragile baby bird, and reach in. One hand cups her head, with its soft downy hair, and the other touches her hand, with its thin long fingers and perfect little nails. I’m practically pressing my face against the clear plastic walls of the isolet, like a kid at the aquarium, taking it all in.
Fascinated, I study her. I see that she’s got Anthony’s ears, just like Joe does, and she’s got my hands, which I got from my mom. I look at Alaina’s chest, her skin paper-thin. I can see a pattern of dark purple veins through it and count her ribs. I can’t help but think of my mom. The last time I was in the presence of someone so thin and sick and vulnerable was at her deathbed. It’s strange to relate the first hours of my daughter’s life, the first time we’re touching, to the final hours of my mother’s, the final time we touched. I had held my mom’s hand too, but I’d been able to kiss her cheek. I’m still not sure when I’ll get to kiss Alaina’s.
After a few moments, we head back to the room to get some sleep. Less than an hour later, a doctor comes in and explains that they just did a chest x-ray and part of Alaina’s left lung is collapsed. They need us to sign for permission for them to insert a chest tube between two of her ribs.
I look over at Anthony, and he signs the form. The doctor leaves and I sigh.
“Seriously? She hasn’t even been alive for 12 hours, and they’re already cutting her open? If her lungs aren’t working, maybe she’s not meant to be breathing…”
“Babe, you want to give up already? It’s the first day. There’s going to be a lot more of this coming our way,” Ant says.
“I just feel like we’re playing God. Maybe she was born so early because she wasn’t meant to live. Maybe we shouldn’t be using machines to keep her alive. It just feels wrong. Where do we draw the line? It’s great that we have this technology, but who are we to say who gets to live or not?” I just don’t know what’s right and wrong here. I just don’t know.
* * *
Ant’s alarm goes off, and we go to the NICU before he has to leave for work. I walk this time, turning my nose up at the other new moms we pass who are still in gowns, still getting pushed around in wheelchairs, still looking like they are pregnant.
We scrub in and enter the NICU. The nurses let us know that the procedure went well, and her lung is looking much better. Morphine is helping to manage the pain and sedate the baby, because she was not happy this morning.
I don’t like hearing that she’s on morphine. My mom was on morphine in her final month of life, and it took away the last bit of who she was. The day I learned she was on morphine was the day I realized she was dying. It was a hot summer day in August, and I had taken off from work to visit her at our shore house. When I got there, my mom was lying in the bed in my room, watching coverage of the funeral for Senator Ted Kennedy and rambling on about how my dad and her oncologist were involved in Kennedy’s death and were now conspiring against her. Not only did it scare the shit out of me, it caught me completely off guard.
* * *
We go back to my hospital room, and Ant leaves for work. Alone for the first time since Alaina was born, I decide it’s time to focus on how I’m going to announce her birth to the world.
Over the past week of sitting in the hospital, I couldn’t help but think about what my public statement would be. In this era of social media, you can’t go through something like this and not acknowledge it on Facebook. It sounds so lame to even say that, but it’s true. Trying to figure out what to tell people constantly lingers in the back of my head. Sometimes I find myself composing a birth announcement. Other times it’s an obituary.
Last night, I thought about it more than ever. I mean, I had a baby, and I didn’t even post about it. What does that say? That I’m not happy about it? That I’m not excited? When Joe was born, I posted his stats and a photo within 12 hours.
Part of my hesitation is because I don’t know what’s going to happen—I didn’t even know if she’d make it through her first night. But she did. If she were full-term and normal, I wouldn’t hesitate to announce her arrival. It’s only fair that I give my baby bird that same treatment. I’m not quite ready to shock the world with her stats and her photo (I haven’t even taken a photo yet—it almost seems inappropriate), but I can at least acknowledge that she exists.
So I start writing. And I stop. And I start again. What do I write if I don’t want to announce the usual weight and length? What else do I know that sets her apart? And then I realize it’s not what sets her apart, but more about what makes her fit in. She’s already just like me, and her father and brother. This little girl who forced her way into our lives on her own terms, looking for a fight, she’s already one of us. Tears flood my eyes and I know exactly what to write.
As much as I want to build a wall between my heart and hers, and while there’s a physical isolet wall that separates us, I can’t deny the fact that I’m her mom and she’s my daughter. And it’s time to let the world know.
Here’s what I end up posting to my Facebook wall:
Well, we were expecting her arrival in February, but she’s impatient and stubborn, just like her mom, dad, and big brother, Joe. Alaina Louise DeStasio stormed into the world 12 weeks early on 11.13.13 at 12:55pm. We don’t know what the next few months will have in store for us, but the doctors are already saying she’s feisty. Welcome to the family, baby girl…you already fit right in.
104 days later, I posted her obituary.
— Joyce Galletta DeStasio
Joyce DeStasio lives in southern New Jersey with her husband, Anthony, and son, Joseph. She earned a B.A. in English at Saint Joseph’s University and received Publishing and Editing certificates from New York University. After working for a book publisher in New York City for two years, she moved home to South Jersey and began working at an ad agency. Seven years later she’s still there, managing accounts by day, writing by night. She writes mostly memoir about women’s and family issues: body image, parenthood, loss, and more. “Walls” belongs to a larger memoir that she intends to publish as a book or as a collection of short pieces.