You can go into your kitchen, open the refrigerator, remove a few sticks of butter and place them in the palms of your hands.
That’s what it feels like to hold a one pound, eight ounce baby. The equivalent of six small sticks of butter.
You only have a fleeting second of it, when a nurse instructs you to cup your hands inside the isolette just inches from the bed and gently lifts a tiny baby into them as she quickly changes out the bedding. The whole exchange takes place in less than a minute and she’s gone again, the lid shut, the cover draped and you’re peeking under a corner of it through a thick plastic wall at your daughter, praying.
She will be a month old before you are allowed to hold her.
She’s chasing a little boy and girl at story time, weaving in and out of the shelves of books, her raspy, high pitched giggle floating across the room.
She is much, much smaller than them. We are talking, the moms, about ages. Both of their children were born in the month she was due. February, they say. November, I reply.
And there they come, the questions. Because she’s so small. Smaller than the 7 month old who crawls towards us. Smaller than the one year old toddling after them.
I tell her story.
I wave my hand “But she’s doing wonderfully now. We are the lucky ones.”
I lie in bed later and think of my hands.
Hands that reached for her from an operating table when they cut her from my womb fifteen weeks too soon.
Hands that are wrinkled, damaged and dry at twenty nine from all the sterile scrubbing in order to place one single finger on my baby.
Hands that trembled as I dialed the number to my husband’s office to tell him that thirty days after she was born they finally, finally let me hold her.
Hands that held a book as I read aloud to her about a little girl and a secret garden over the shaking vibrations of an oscillating ventilator.
Hands that clung to his as a surgeon took a scalpel to her heart.
Hands that traced the outline of her face on my computer screen in the dead of night as I shook myself awake again to pump.
Hands that wiped tears from my eyes for one hundred and fifty six nights as I walked out of a hospital and left her behind again and again and again.
Hands that I balled into fists as I took deep breaths to steady myself and prepared to put a feeding tube down on my own.
Hands that held tightly to her medical team in deepest gratitude as we took her home.
Hands that dropped a dish as the apnea monitor alarms rang out to say she wasn’t breathing.
Hands that stretched her body over a ball and willed her to use her fragile, broken bones.
Hands that let her go in the direction of her daddy as she took her first steps.
Hands that grasp her little one in mine and remind her to use her library voice as she puts a finger to her lips and whispers “Shhh!” back at me.
Hands that casually wave when I express how far she has come, how strong she is when asked by an acquaintance at story time.
They get the short version, the one punctuated with numbers and gratitude that fits in the space of the conversation. She was so small and her story is so big. She was so sick and her fight was so strong.
But today is World Prematurity Day.
Today there time and space to share her story, to raise awareness, to lend some hope.
She is two years old and yesterday when I asked her if she saw the baby in the manger, she looked at me and signed “Jesus” and I pushed her hair back from her forehead and marveled at her and His great goodness.
This is the story with a beautiful ending and we are the lucky ones to be in it’s cast of characters.
I care not only because of what we endured but because I now count among my friends mothers who said goodbye to their babies this side of heaven. I am ever changed, marked by both tragedy and blessing.
My message is always this: Know the signs of pre-term labor. Education is the best tool. Trust yourself. Even if you think you just have first time mommy anxiety. If it feels wrong, make the call. Always make the call. It might not change anything. But it might change everything.
(In the spirit of promoting awareness, I’d like to ask for you to consider sharing this post with friends and family on social media sites. I’ve removed the sidebar buttons from this post in order to minimize distractions and direct the focus to it’s message. Thank you so much!)