I walked into the NICU, excited to see you and be near you

I walked into the NICU, the room they told me was yours, and looked down at a beautiful baby, but something was wrong.

I didn’t know if you were mine.

They told me this was your room

They said you were sleeping

They said you were doing fine

I was in the right room

The baby in front of me was sleeping

The monitors agreed that the baby was doing fine.

But I didn’t know if you were mine.

I looked at this baby, so quiet and still, and felt a confusing wave of emotions wash over me.

They said this was my baby, but shouldn’t I know that by looking at her and not because someone told me so? Shouldn’t I know you from all the other babies, the same way you know me from all the other mothers?

But I didn’t recognize you.

After you were born you were taken away

I didn’t get the chance to count your toes or kiss your head or let you latch onto the body, the home, you had just left so that I could feed you.

I walked into the NICU and didn’t recognize you.

They said you were my baby, but what if they were wrong?

My heart felt both hopeful and broken as I lifted your tiny foot to look at your hospital bracelet, to look at your name.

Questions kept ringing in my ears— shouldn’t I know if you are mine? Shouldn’t there be a biological, instinctual mechanism that tells me you are mine? Shouldn’t I recognize the one who was created and formed within my own body?

The name on the hospital bracelet matched the one we gave you, the name we had been saying and singing for months.

Baker, my Baker. This is my Baker.

I stared at your face and it all felt too formal and foreign. This meeting where you are asleep, swaddled by someone unknown, and covered in wires. This meeting between mother and daughter where I look at your hospital bracelet to know if you are the one I gave life to.

Did you instantly know that I was yours even though I didn’t know that you were mine? Did you miss me while you slept alone in a room, only surrounded by beeping machines and strange faces in scrubs? Did you wonder where I was as they poked you with needles and fed you milk that was not mine?

I didn’t know if you were mine. But Baker, my Baker, now I know. I spend every day learning you, memorizing you.

I am memorizing you so I could pick you out of a sea of babies. I am memorizing you so I will never again have to wonder if you are mine.

I studied you this morning while you cried, while you ate, while you slept. I didn’t break my focus, was not open to distraction. I am trying to memorize you but you change so quickly, my Baker.

I commit your lines and your shapes to memory before putting you down for a nap.

A short while later I lift you from your bed and things are different yet again, it looks like we better start over.

Is this part of being a mother? Constantly rememorizing your face, your arms, your belly, your toes? I’m learning how to be a mother each day, each hour, and this seems to be an important part of the job, an essential part of the job. A joyful part of the job.

There’s laundry to do and bottles to clean and sheets to change, but it’s nearly 10 AM and I haven’t yet committed to memory your nose today, or the new line forming on your wrist as you plump and fatten

Your belly button looks different and the color of your eyes has changed. The squeaks and chirps you make in your sleep aren’t quite as they were yesterday, and your full head of hair is lighter in some places and darker in others.

Yes, I can see I have a busy day ahead of me.

5 thoughts on “Memorization

  1. Wow! I found this through a completely different blog while researching a completely different topic. As a NICU mom, this beautifully illustrated the “ differentnes” of NICU parenting. That Disney-perfect birth where a healthy (typically much larger and older) baby is immediately placed on your chest while you fall instantly in love… was so not my experience. I struggled to watch those movies for many years. It’s just a very different bonding. And it takes a lot more brain than instinct some days when you have to logically look for clues that a baby is yours. AND trust that someone didn’t swap them out! Nine years later, I still question that on the hectic days 😉 Thanks for this.

    • Jessica, I’m so glad you stumbled over! I also struggled with the “Disney birth” images, and even still it’s a little hard for my husband and I to see birth scenes on TV and in movies. I feel you!! More brain than instinct is so true.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment. NICU mamas certainly understand each other on a whole other level it seems ☺️

  2. I never have to share the memory of the one that got away, the face and hands and belly and hair of the one that only I knew so well, before she left early. I keep the memories of the others in all their growing and learning and leaving, but that I get to keep alone the memory of the one that got away, that left this changing world to stay the same.

  3. One of the hardest tasks I have had to perform as a mother was and has been to not only recognize but nurture the concept that your child is her/his own separate and unique person, even beginning as young as your Baker, and on until she/he is fully grown. In a tiny hidden corner of my heart my child, now a grown, healthy, independent adult, still appears as a baby or young child. Not an original thought, of course, but I learned long ago that parenting if done properly is a self-terminating employment — bittersweet, at least for me.

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