I must have blinked because this week Charlie has another birthday and he will be turning 4. 4! It does not seem possible.
This weekend I spent some time thinking about the day he was born - how it changed my life forever, and how scary the day was. We had a tough go of it, Charlie and I, on the day he was born. Only the people in the delivery room that day know how very close we came to losing him. I didn't understand it at the time, I just knew things weren't going as planned.
Reading back through my post from that day, it is mostly factual and doesn't really touch on the emotional ordeal we went through. I hadn't prepared myself for the complications, even though they tell you you should. Does anyone really allow themselves to think that something might go wrong? I think the fear would be paralyzing.
The versions of the delivery that ran through my head were never that long, that intense, and certainly didn't end with my baby being whipped off to the NICU seconds after he was born. It took him a frighteningly long time to cry, his first apgar score was a 4. They held him up for me to have one quick glance and then a team of specialists took him away.
It was after midnight (24 hours since we'd checked in to the hospital) when Ryan and I were dropped off in a quiet, cramped excuse for a room - without our new baby. After carrying Charlie for 9 months, I felt so incredibly empty and alone. A nurse came in to help me try to pump milk - I never imagined my first attempt at breastfeeding would be with a pump. Ryan and I cried together until we both passed out from complete exhaustion.
We went to the NICU as soon as they would let us in the morning, but Charlie's poor little head was still so fragile that we couldn't hold him. We sat next to the incubator and watched him breathe and sleep, hooked up to so many wires and tubes. It wasn't until about 18 excruciatingly long hours after he was born that I held him for the first time.
And then I wouldn't put him down. If I sat right next to the incubator, I could hold him while he was still hooked up to everything. I held him all day and the nurses said he seemed to be getting stronger by the minute. So I just kept holding him. I slept in the chair all night holding him. I could not put him down.
I didn't want to leave him in the NICU alone with strangers. I wanted more than anything to just take him home and never have to put him down again. I don't know how parents of preemies or babies in the NICU with much more severe problems get through it. There was a baby girl in the NICU next to Charlie and her very young mother went home for 3 days without visiting. I felt so incredibly sorry for that baby.
I wasn't able to keep holding Charlie. Although his head improved dramatically, he got pretty severe jaundice that required he stay in the incubator under lights. By then he was used to being held and just cried and cried alone in the incubator. Ryan and I would stand next to the incubator with our hands inside, holding onto him as best we could. It felt cruel and unfair. This went on for days. They moved us out of the NICU and let me stay in the hospital in an overflow on-call room - it was not an enjoyable stay. They finally sent us home after 5 days, only to go back the next day after a really high bilirubin test by a home health nurse. Oh how I hated going back.
As painful as it was, we had our happy ending. Our stint in the NICU was short by most standards, and Charlie was the strongest, healthiest baby in the place. My biggest fears in life have always been 1) that I would never get to experience having children, and 2) that something would go wrong during pregnancy/childbirth. I've lived out my second greatest fear, and survived it.
I wonder if that first week of Charlie's life, spent in a hospital and confined to an incubator, made a lasting impact. Would he have been a cuddly baby if not for this experience? Would he have been so indifferent about breastfeeding if he hadn't been fed through a tube for 5 days? (The lactation consultant in the NICU was a godsend. Without her, we wouldn't have had a prayer at breastfeeding. She would insist the nurses let me try to feed Charlie before giving him anything through the tube. It was her life passion to give NICU babies the opportunity to breastfeed whenever possible. She was amazing).
Knowing Charlie like I do now, I shouldn't have worried so much at the time. He is incredibly physical and strong - a fighter through and through. I am so grateful that he is all these things. So grateful that he is mine and he is perfect.
He has his father's unmussable (is that a word?) hair, and my eyes. He runs fast and never stops talking. He may not be my snuggly child - but he's figured out that a hug and kiss will always make mom happy. He likes routine and can be a bit grumpy when we change things up on him (I have no idea where he gets that trait!) He still likes to be picked up and he will hold my hand when I offer it. I try to honor his requests to sit on my lap and to play with him in his room, because I know that someday, much sooner than I would like, he won't make those requests.
As he approaches 4, I can see that his face is longer, his body leaner - more like a little boy's face and body than a toddler's. This Spring he will play on his first soccer team, a year from now we'll be enrolling for kindergarten. It all goes way. too. fast.
But I think I'm going to like 4. Three was a bit tough and we had many, many frustrating moments - that same strong will that brought Charlie into this world can make for some epic battles. These days he really likes to be helpful around the house and he responds well to bribery (finally!). He is becoming very patient with Izzy and lives to make her laugh. His thoughts, words, and actions continue to surprise and amaze me.
As the first born, Charlie is our test case and we are learning as much parenting him as he is by growing up. I just hope we stay one step ahead of him - not easy to do at his pace.