Thursday, April 2, 2015

Tales from the Vault - Homecoming Day

Tales from the Vault is a feature where I bring back some of my favourite posts from the archived blog. All text from the original posts has been left completely unedited; however, where I think context is required it's been added.

Today is the FIVE YEAR ANNIVERSARY of the boys' homecoming from the NICU! While it will always be a day to remember and celebrate, I really feel some peace about it this year. In the past, I've always considered homecoming day to in many ways, be more important than the boys' birthday. I mean it really is an important day, certainly one of, if not THE, happiest days of my life. But in recent years I've realized that while they may not have come home from the hospital for five months, those five months cannot nor should not be erased into a black hole of "the horrible NICU", as worthy as today is of celebrating.

For this "Tales from the Vault" I am sharing two essays I wrote separately for a writing class in 2011, but both relate to homecoming day. The first writing spark was "New Beginnings" and the second was "Going Home". The second picks up soon after the first leaves off. I've added photos of moments I refer to for your visual pleasure :)

New Beginnings

I wake up with butterflies in my stomach, having barely slept. In fact, I haven't really slept for the past week with all the last minute organizing we have been doing. We have had months to prepare, yet somehow it has all been left to the last minute, maybe because we were never sure this day would actually arrive.

I dress my daughter in a new dress and I pay extra attention to my own appearance because I know there will be plenty of photos taken today. I also know that the tears I will shed will leave streaks of makeup on my face so I am careful to look pulled together but not too made up.

We have decided to celebrate the magnitude of this day by stopping for breakfast at our favourite restaurant. As we are leaving the house, my husband sets up the self timer and we take our last photo as a family of three. Looking at the pictures, I am happy to see that the excitement in our eyes is for once outshining the worry and sadness that are normally so evident.

We arrive at the restaurant and quickly review the menu even though we order the same meals each time we come. Like every visit, I show my daughter, now happily colouring her menu, where we sat the first time we brought her here - the table next to the unlit wood stove, with her car seat propped on top. 

As I turn to look at the new art display on the wall, I can't believe what I am seeing: a local celebrity who is known to love this restaurant too. Every time we come I hope to see him but never have, until now. I think it must be fate that we see him today of all days. I admire his wife and daughter - what a perfect family they are.

Then the realization hits me that people may be looking at the three of us and thinking we too are a perfect family. A beautiful, giggling three year old with her smiling, loving parents. From the outside, I suppose it is a perfect scene because no one can see us on the inside. No one looking at us knows how broken we are and what a toll the past five months have taken on our family. They don't see that despite this morning's happiness, this family's strength has been pushed to its limits.

We finish our meals and then sit quietly looking at each other. "This is it", I think to myself. "Are we ready?" my husband asks, and I give a hesitant nod. I know he is not wondering whether we are ready to leave, rather whether we are ready for what is about to come.

We drive in silence. Tears roll slowly down my cheeks as I look out the window on this quiet Good Friday morning. I am crying for what we have been through, I am crying for the uncertain future we have ahead of us, and I am crying for the joy that is in my heart today. As we walk in to the hospital I wipe my eyes and cheerfully greet the nurses for the last time. Today, 152 days after their birth, we are bringing our premature sons home. Healthy (enough) at last.


Going Home

I look down at the rough paper towel I'm using and cringe. I've been struggling with my cracked, sore hands, but no lotion can combat the amount of hand washing I do here. Every time I walk into the NICU I wash my hands, and then again each time I move back and forth between my twin boys. I have probably washed my hands a thousand times in the five months since their birth. I smile as I realize this is my last time doing this here; the first of many things I will do for the last time today.

We're totally organized to go home. Most of the boys' belongings have been slowly leaving with us all week. Their nurse and I review their complicated medication schedule and then our pediatrician arrives, ready to give them their well baby exam; it's strange to see after all the intense procedures they've been through. She graciously lets our three year old daughter help her, explaining everything as she goes along. She is kind and beautiful and our daughter is enamoured by her.

When both boys have been assessed, my husband and I excitedly dress them. For months they wore only a diaper in their hot, humid isolette; when they could maintain their own body temperature in a crib they graduated to sleepers with a hole cut in the leg, allowing for the wires connected to their monitors. Today they are free to wear whatever we choose and I have carefully considered the cutest possible outfits. When they're ready to be shown off we parade them through the nursery and everyone shrieks at the sight of them. We joke that babies are seldom big enough to leave the hospital wearing jeans, collared shirts and sweater vests.

As we're making our final preparations, one of the neonatologists comes in to say goodbye. "Can I hold them?" she asks, clarifying, "as babies, not as patients". The boys were at their most fragile, barely tolerating touch when they were under her care, so this is the most contact she has ever had with them. We snap a photo of her and our pediatrician before she hands them back to us, telling us how proud she is of them. I'm sure I see her eyes glossing over.

After strapping them into their car seats, there's nothing left to do but say our final goodbyes. Everyone is so happy for us, knowing what a long journey we've been on. The staff take a family picture and admire the boys one last time. 

They make us promise to visit and keep them updated on the boys' progress. We hug them and thank them and tell them how much they mean to us but the words aren't needed. They know.

And then we turn and walk out the door. It should feel surreal but it doesn't. We're all more than ready to go home.

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