I’m 26 weeks pregnant.
My daughter weighs two pounds by the sonographer’s calculation.
My nephew was born very premature. Mom and baby both live in the next town over because he was safely delivered early.
He was already in the NICU at his 26th weeks’ gestation, and weighed exactly two pounds. I saw a picture of his tiny little face again just recently at this young age. And I was struck with so many thoughts and emotions and perspective:
How far my nephew has grown! His development is good, he’s perfectly normal. He has overcome so much in his small life, and he will continue to thrive forever. Medicine has come so far.
From this thought, I felt relief because if I were to go into labor tomorrow, I can believe that my daughter will survive and thrive.
From that thought, I felt fear because how much more difficult would life be bouncing between the NICU in the children’s hospital downtown and weekly chemo treatments in the northtowns? All while my son needs me to care for him too. I saw my brother and sister-in-law endure that torment for weeks, and I do not have the physical strength to do it.
I began to express this terrifying thought to Nick. All I said was, “can you imagine if we delivered now?” His soft response was “can you not?” I understood this to mean that he had also had this frightening thought visit him, and my husband was actively disinviting this thought from his mind so that he could keep it together. I wiped away one tear, and I hope Nick didn’t see it.
Two babies, the same weight, the same gestation, the same growth, but one in the womb, and one welcomed and swaddled in the world. One living and breathing, the other not yet alive and tied to the mother. One with a mother recovering from surgery and struggling to get enough of her baby. One with a mother being broken week after week and the baby a burden on her tired body.
And yet I am so thankful through the pain and fatigue because the longer I can endure this, the longer my daughter gets to cook.
My struggle does not make me better or stronger than other parents. That’s not how birth works. Each parent, each gestation, and every labor will require moral judgements, decisions, and vastly different struggles. Every parent must know that the paths they are set with are unique to them, and some are decidedly more challenging for self-inflicted reasons, but most of the hard decisions are just out of our control. Eclampsia, gestational diabetes, placental abruption, genetic disorders, we don’t choose to have these complications, and yet the decisions we make to mitigate them are ours.
My nephew and my daughter are two sides of a coin. There’s no good or bad in the thought experiment. yin and yang: one born, one in utero. Both somewhat sad, and both absolute miracles of survival. Tiny, helpless babies needing oxygen, nutrients, stimulation, and reassurance; experimenting with their eyes, fingers, toes, and muscles. Hiccupping.
What do you supposed babies think about? Do you think they have no thoughts, just perfectly meditating? Do you think they know secrets that we all forget? I bet both my nephew and daughter have similar thoughts, although my nephew likely knew more about sight than my bump currently does.
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