Let’s face it, preemie parenting and special needs parenting is hard and can be polarizing. There are days that it brings out the best in me and days it brings out the worst. I’ve found strength in several places. I’ve drawn it from the examples of several people and stumbled upon it in unexpected places. These are the examples that are in my thoughts while I write this.
1) My general chemistry professor.
My hands were shaking the first time I performed the tasks of my baby’s hands on care in the NICU. I was terrified to touch the baby that had dwindled down to one pound nine ounces. My first hands on care session was awkward, clumsy, and uncomfortable as I learned the finer points. The feelings of nervousness, self-doubt, and fear were familiar. It felt similar to my first chemistry lab class.
During my first semester in general chemistry, I was lacking even the slightest bit of self confidence. I was convinced that I was going to break something expensive, start a fire, or cause some minor catastrophe. In hind sight, I realize these things are impossible in a general chem lab. I was so timid that I had the guy at the next bench light my bunsen burner for me. My professor saw this and darted towards my bench. With out a word, he blew out my bunsen burner. He instructed me to light it. With my eyes closed and head turned away, I lit it. He blew it out and had me light it again. This was how things were between us. I was afraid to try and he challenged me to succeed. His class and labs frequently taught more than merely the chemistry I set out to learn.
The memories and lessons of this first lab experience provided the courage to perform my baby’s hands on care for the first time despite my doubts and fears. Even though the first diaper change was less than ideal, I was not afraid to try again and again until it was second nature like chemistry. Whenever my nerves would get the best of me before hands on care, I thought back to that chem lab and how silly I feel for being afraid of it. I knew one day I would look back at hands on care in the same way. So I kept at it despite my uneasiness.
Off topic: Charlie’s middle name, Allene, came from this professor. I wanted to honor someone who had made such a large impact in my life. He is also one of the Charles.
2) Bruce Hornsby
OK, other than a few hand shakes during meet and greet sessions after a show, I don’t really know Bruce. However, he is one of several live music acts that I have seen so many times that I have lost count (somewhere around forty times). He has inspired me in two ways that I am aware of.
His song lyrics are one such source. For example, whenever I come across someone who insists an idea won’t work or I can’t do something, I instantly sing to myself the lyric “You may be beaten down with your closed mind but don’t try to make it mine”. When Charlie was in the NICU, I would frequently say to my husband “All I want from tomorrow is to be better than today.” I know it’s strange but there are many of his song lyrics that I recite mentally for comfort and encouragement.
The second way he has influenced me was completely unexpected. It started when someone said something horrible to me about Charlie. I was unsure of how to respond and I thought about it the rest of the night. I contemplated a false dilemma of choices. Should I have lashed out in rage and chewed them out? Or rather, ignored it?
I scrolled through my Facebook news feed that evening while I considered the pros and cons of my options. I came across Bruce’s status update. Apparently, some writer or blogger had listed Bruce’s son, Keith, in an article as one of the “top ten white trash” looking college basketball players. Instead of the options I was pondering, he had posted a link to the article with the comment that said something like “We are so proud of our son for representing his southern culture.” I laughed as I realized this was another way of dealing with jerks.
3)My Organic Chemistry Professor’s Approach To A Challenge
My organic chemistry professor was a talented professor. Additionally, he was the most positive and optimistic person I have ever met. To this day, my lab partner and I use the term “Dr. C. happy” and know exactly what is meant. This is why I was concerned when during office hours he weighed in on a challenge I was facing by saying, “I’m not going to say you can’t do it. You can. But, it is going to be hard.”
I ended up barely succeeding. But, I did it.
Later in my schooling, he helped me prepare for a seminar I was presenting. I confessed that I was scared. He insisted I could do it and I needed to breathe. It wasn’t perfect but I survived.
During Charlie’s NICU stay and, less frequently, in our post NICU life, there are times that I think, “I can’t do this. This is too tough. I don’t have it in me.” I take a breath and remind myself… I can do this… it is just going to be hard.
I am very fortunate that I have a handful of magnificent friends. I am often astounded by their love, understanding, patience, and support. They are the ones who cheer me on. I find strength and comfort from grand gestures like the gift of Charlie’s crib to simple things such as a NICU visit or walking with our March for Babies team.
Off topic: Another one of Charlie’s namesakes named Charles is among this group.
While these people have been addressed in other posts, I feel this post would be incomplete with out mentioning the support from the professional world.