“When can I come see Anna?”
Julianne’s text was the first request we’d gotten to meet our girl. I had put so much effort into making sure that everyone knew how sick Anna was that it seemed no one thought she was safe to visit.
In truth, we wouldn’t – couldn’t, really – let everyone come see Anna. The NICU was a highly regulated area. Our comings and goings could disturb the other babies in Anna’s area. Sometimes we couldn’t see her, due to issues with another baby. Sometimes things going on with Anna kept other parents from seeing their children. It was the nature of having a medically fragile baby.
But exceptions were made.
“I’m here all day,” I texted back to Julianne. “Let me know if you’re coming, and I’ll let you know if you’ll be able to see her.”
“Oh, my God, she’s so tiny,” Julianne breathed as she gazed at Anna in her isolette.
“Ridiculously tiny,” I said.
“It breaks my heart. Oh, Elise.”
Julianne hugged me, and I put my head on her shoulder. I was trying not to be sad. I was doing everything I could to remember that Anna was here, and while she didn’t have an easy road ahead, she could still come out of it fine. It was hard, but I had to believe that she could be okay. And so when Julianne began to cry, I felt my own suppressed tears bubbling to the surface.
“I’m sorry,” she said, wiping her tears with a hospital-issued tissue. “I knew she was small. I’d seen the pictures and read the numbers. I wasn’t expecting her to be so small. And the tubes and stuff! I don’t know how you’re doing it. How are you not freaking out?”
“I can’t freak out,” I answered.
It was true. I had to be able to listen calmly to everything her doctors were telling us. I had to be able to make medical decisions based on those things. I was my daughter’s medical advocate, and in that role, I had to stay as level-headed as possible as often as I could.
“You’ve got to be freaking out a little,” Julianne replied.
“A little, yeah, of course. I’m not a robot.”
“What can I do?”
“I don’t know,” I replied honestly. “We’re getting through things as well as we can.”
“You’ve got food?”
“Yeah, Paige brought over enough dinners to get us through about a month. She filled our freezer to the brim.”
“That’s good. Also, speaking of Paige.”
“What’s going on? Is everything okay with the baby?”
“Everything’s fine with the baby. Everything will be fine.” Julianne paused and took a deep breath. “Jake left her. He’s in the process of filing for divorce.”
My mouth fell open. “What?”
“They were doing the counseling, and it wasn’t working. I guess he really thinks that he can’t bond with Nate. Paige and the counselor tried to convince him to wait until the baby is born and see what happens then. You know, see if he changes his mind when he’s face-to-face with a real baby. He didn’t think it would change anything.”
I was stunned. I stared down at my daughter in her isolette and tried to wrap my brain around the idea of someone abandoning their child. Nope, impossible.
“Is Paige okay?”
“She’s holding on. She’s keeping busy. Like with the freezer full of food for you guys. Right now, she’s concentrating on having a healthy baby. I’m hoping that once he comes, she’ll have something positive to focus on, instead of thinking about what Jake did.”
“What an ass,” I said.
“Well, my feeling is that this might be better than if he had stuck around and been a horrible father. What if he became abusive toward Nate or something?”
“That would be a nightmare,” I replied. “I guess I’m glad it’s over quickly too, then. When you put it that way.”
“Anyway. Tell me about the baby. How’s Anna doing today? I can see her, but I have no idea what I’m really looking at.”
“She’s doing okay. Her doctors are planning to raise all of her feeds today by one cc. We’ll see if she can handle that without a reaction. They don’t think her digestive system is working normally. She’s back on the CPAP for breathing assistance, and that’s going really well, which is great. She’s stopped having apneas when she’s sleeping. So far we’re seeing very little evidence that something more serious could be wrong.”
We were very thankful. There were so many things that could have gone wrong, so many illnesses and problems that she could have faced. We really seemed to be avoiding a lot of the more serious issues so far, a minor miracle.
“What’s going on with you?” I asked. “God, we’ve talked about everything but you.”
“Things are maybe happening on the adoption front. It might be too early to tell though.”
“What’s happening? I’m dying to know. Anything to have something else to think about right now.”
Julianne sighed. “All right. What’s going on is that a couple is very interested in us. But they aren’t due for a few months yet, so things could change.”
“Why are they giving the baby up? Could their situation change?”
“They’re older, and this pregnancy was a total accident. Their youngest is almost out of college, and they don’t want to do the whole parenting thing over again. They were about to retire, and can’t seem to deal with the idea of changing their plans.”
“And their older kids are okay with that?”
Julianne shrugged. “I get the feeling that they don’t know about the pregnancy. The kids are grown and out of the house, so there isn’t much chance of them catching on.”
“Why didn’t you tell us about them sooner?” I asked softly. “You know we’re happy for you guys, and that we won’t get our hopes up too high. We know what the process has been like for you so far. You’ve had, what, two previous matches that didn’t work out?”
“Yeah. For one, you’ve got a lot on your plate right now, and Paige does too. And there’s still so much time for them to change their minds, and I honestly think they will. They certainly have the means to raise the child themselves. I’m afraid that if their kids find out, they’ll put a stop to the adoption.”
“Good to be cautious then.”
“I think so.”
“I hope it works out.”
Julianne shrugged again. “I’m too sure that they’ll keep it. I’m not getting excited, or anticipatory. I don’t think this is our baby.”
“I suppose you never can be sure, until you have the baby in your arms.”
“Like being pregnant, yeah.”
“I can imagine. You’ve met these people?”
“A couple times. It’s definitely weird to get together with them and talk about what the future would be like for their child with us. They want us to raise their baby in the church, and send it to private school, and all that. That’s another reason I think they’ll change their minds. They are so sure and exact about their desires for their child.”
“You’re still on the list at your agency, right?”
“Yep. Hopefully something better, or…righter will come along for us down the line, if this doesn’t work out.”
“You’ll keep me posted, right?”
“Does Paige need anything? Is there anything I can do for her?”
“It’s so sweet that you’re worried about her. Don’t you have bigger problems?”
“Do I? Anna’s doing well. Ben and I are okay. I’m in a holding pattern until they tell us that things are better or worse. There isn’t much for me to do at this point.”
“I think Paige is okay. For now, at least. She’s trying to figure out work and childcare stuff.”
“I could watch him.”
“Sure, while you’re out on leave. But you’re going back to work, right?”
“Huh. I hadn’t thought about that yet.”
My FMLA leave was halfway over, my daughter still in the hospital indefinitely. Going back to work hadn’t really crossed my mind. I’d have to start thinking about that, start thinking about childcare for Anna if I decided to go back, or figure out whether it was feasible to stay home if I wanted to do that, or if daycare wasn’t a possibility with her weakened immune system and possibly handicaps. I’d always planned to go back to work, but actually seeing my daughter, and more to the point, seeing her so fragile, might have changed things.
“Will you keep working?” I asked. “Once you get a child?”
“Probably not, but we haven’t worked the numbers out yet. We want to know more about the child first. The time and money demands differ so much by age.”
“So you’re willing to take an older child?”
“Of course. The pregnancy part was never really a priority to me, and the sleepless nights with a newborn don’t sound that great either.”
“Yeah, I’m skipping that myself. For now, anyway.”
“Seems like the way to go.”
“Except for the various health concerns.”
“Yeah, except for that.”
The alarm on my phone sounded, reminding me that it was time to hook myself up to the breast pump in an effort to provided Anna with enough milk to keep her growing big and strong. I said good-bye to Julianne, and set myself up in the pumping room that the hospital thoughtfully provided for us NICU moms. I was glad that I didn’t have to leave Anna to go home to pump.
I entered the room, settling in the armchair, putting the rented hospital-grade pump on the table in front of me. I was surprised at how soothing I found the pumping room, which was softly lit, and quite cozy. The armchair was far more comfortable than any of the chairs in the NICU, and the table was the perfect height. Tucked into one corner was a bookshelf with a few paperbacks, in case the moms got bored while pumping, and a handful of brochures about the lactation services that the hospital offered. I could have a lactation consultant stop by at any time, if that’s what I wanted. It was nice to know that if anything went awry on my breastfeeding journey, the hospital was ready to help.
While I was hooked up to the contraption, I thought about everything Julianne and I had talked about during her visit. It had been a crazy week since Anna was born, I realized. While we were here, worrying over every slight change in her condition, life was continuing on outside the hospital for everyone else. Of course it was. I couldn’t believe I’d let myself get so wrapped up in Anna that I’d forgotten about everything else in the world.