The big day was a year ago. Charlie was discharged from the NICU. I had tried to imagine what the day would be like during her 88 day stay. Despite my attempts to predict what was to come, I was blindsided by what the actual day and following year involved.
I remember being buzzed into the NICU for the last time. After we passed through the heavy doors, the nurses and staff greeted us with huge grins while we scrubbed up. I wanted to share their enthusiasm for our big day. However, I felt l was going to burst into tears, laugh hysterically, hyperventilate, and possibly vomit all at the same time. It was not the victorious strut that I envisioned for the big day.
The discharging nurse was completing the last of the paperwork with us. She asked if we had any questions. I shook my head because I feared what would happen if I tried to speak. Besides, I felt confident that we would not have any problems caring for our baby at home.
Our last few weeks in the NICU was like a decathlon of events in which we had to prove ourselves. In addition to demonstrating our “regular” baby skills, we learned how to insert an NG tube, perform infant CPR, give epo injections, administer medications, airway maintenance, and more. My only fear was that there would be some last minute reason that Charlie could not go home. I was ready to take my baby and run.
By afternoon, we were ready to walk out of the NICU for the last time. We piled up all of Charlie’s things on her stroller and headed out. My husband carried Charlie out in her carrier, I trailed behind with the overflowing stroller. As we passed through the locked doors, tears started streaming down my face. I breathed a sigh of relief and thought, “We made it! It is over! We can get on with our lives!”
From what I had been told from other preemie moms, we were supposed to have many appointments at first. Then, they would taper off as she got closer and closer to “catching up”. A few months after discharge, we were supposed to reclaim the “normal” baby experience.
That did not really happen for us. Some things did improve. But those appointments were replaced by appointments for new problems. Charlie was even re-hospitalized. The roller coaster ride that was allegedly going to smooth out, continued on. It was hard at first to realize that our baby was not one of those anecdotal preemies that would quickly and easily catch up.
However, it does not mean that I’m any less proud of her. I couldn’t possibly love her more. We recalibrated our plans and our lives. It is still a roller coaster and things are tough at times. But, I dare say that we are happy. I am overwhelmingly grateful for the small things.
One of Charlie’s doctors admitted to me that outcomes are unknown with preemies. While there are ideals hoped for, goals strived for, and percentages documented, there is not a typical course. Every baby is different.
A year after bringing her home, I can not imagine things being different than they are now. The courage, strength, and cheerfulness that Charlie regularly exhibits challenges me to be better. Over the past year, our lives have been fuller and richer because of Charlie.
Happy homecoming anniversary Charlie Bear! I can not picture my world with out you.