Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Bed Arrest: End of Week 2

Today is exactly two weeks since my wife went into the hospital and then onto bed arrest, and the holding pattern continues. Still largely within the bed's clutches, she keeps herself busy to keep the time from getting the best of her. The girl seems to be behaving herself, thankfully, reminding us all that she's close through frequent kicks and bouts of hiccups. Soon, we believe, we'll get to see each other face to face, perhaps even without the plastic of the isolette between us.

Grandma is gone, and my son has noticed. Just last night he looked at the bed where she slept, looked back to us and said, "Grandma's green blanket." And still dripping from the bath, he discovered that his voice booms back to him when he talks into his stacking cups--perfect, then, for uttering "Grandma go." Indeed she has; she will be missed by us all.

The isolette--or as preemie-parent friends of ours call it, The Easy Bake Oven--is where I first had my idea of parenthood turned inside out--or rather outside in. Looking at our 3.5 lb. son in only a diaper and shortened goggles, lying under the bili lights (battling a tenacious case of jaundice), I couldn't help but think about a troubled future. And the nurse practitioner didn't help either. When we were finally allowed to visit our son in the NICU, she debriefed us on his situation. We were told that he didn't breathe on his own initially and that they had intubated him. (He was still on oxygen at this point.) We knew that preemies often experience bleeding in the brain, and that, starving for oxygen early, he could suffer significant long-term mental deficiencies. Little was known when we first huddled around him; he wasn't yet a full day old, and they hadn't conducted an ultrasound or MRI on his brain. The nurse practitioner tried to comfort us, I suppose--I'm trying to say something nice here--by pointing out, "Not all kids go to college."

What to do with that?

And but back to outside in: From talking with parents of non-preemies, they say that their children came out all fat with possibilities. Accordingly, the worries were all external--sticks and stones, missed deadlines for Ivy League schools, rabid dogs, balls chased out onto freeways, the usual stuff. A parent's job, then, is to clear as big a swath through the sharp-edged world as possible so that his child can be free to turn himself into whatever he chooses. For parents of preemies, it's all the standard worries plus something more insidious. We've been told, time and time again, that our son might have been changed in some way, perhaps large, perhaps small, by his coming early. As a full-termer, he'd have his pick of colleges (no doubt), but since 8 weeks early he might very well find lower grades a struggle. And college is a long way off, of course, which means that everything becomes a sign of everything and nothing. A delay in walking suddenly means that he has no future as an athlete, a little lag in sorting shapes correctly and we find ourselves fighting back fears that ideas will always be too big for his small hands. In other words, we've been reminded that lurking inside him somewhere, too remote for anyone to spot or to reach, could be premature limits. The children's books then turn into cruel jokes: He threatens to become the little engine that couldn't--and can't. And parents just can't protect their children from what's so deep inside them, what makes them; it's like chasing something lodged in your own muscles.

So we love and try not to think too much. He's made it easy.

It's nearly 80 degrees, the sunlight drips off everything, making the park grass pop and the river a table of glass. When he wakes from his nap, my son will want to scoop sand, and I will hold his hand across the street and down into the Pretty Playground near our building so that he can go to work. But before putting him down amongst the dumptrucks and the rainbow of miniature shovels, I'll hold him just a little longer and tighter than usual. For despite all the gloomy studies dug up on the Internet and the doctors and the books, nearly two years in his orbit have convinced me that the whole world is his to have.

More later perhaps.

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