Friday, August 23, 2013

List: Tootsie's Gifts

After my sister traveled from the Pacific Northwest to visit me and our baby, I wrote her to say how much I loved all our conversations while she was here.  She wrote back, "Me too.  Grateful for the one-on-one time.  It's rare...a sweet gift from Tootsie."

I had the epiphany then that my sister recognized something important about this six-week experience I've had with my new daughter:  it has strengthened relationships, given me time with people who are very very important to me, given my daughters time with people who are important to us, and facilitated some chance encounters with local friends with whom I wouldn't have otherwise caught up.

A dear friend and colleague wrote me an email suggesting that our journey (as chronicled here) may have influenced others as well.  "Pound for pound," he wrote, "Tootsie is having quite an impact."

We haven't endured a tragedy; I would not characterize our baby as a "miracle" unless we all are miracles in some form; the magic is in the reaching out and creating community, which she has encouraged me to do.

Tootsie has offered other gifts as well:

1.  Boston:  I thought, before we arrived in July, that I was more familiar with Boston.  It turns out that attending the Harvard-Yale game in 1990 (I mostly remember a discotheque called "Spaghetti," the tailgate area at the stadium, and the rocket MIT pranksters launched from a field goal post during the third quarter) and running the marathon in 1996 did not afford me many memories of the city itself.  My recent time here has, though, and I've joked that the little girl who brought us to Boston is still the only family member who hasn't gotten out and about in the city yet.  Massachusetts General Hospital is conveniently located within walking distance of just about everything.  While visitors were here, we used time between every-three-hour feedings to make field trips to the Inner Harbor, North End, Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, the Esplanade, downtown, Long Wharf, Beacon Hill, and Back Bay.  The other day I even gave directions to a tourist on the street.  I loved the city from the start, with its parks, family-friendliness, safety, incredible infrastructure, history, and warm people.  We will return here someday as a family to visit Tootsie's birthplace and all it has to offer.

2.  Empathy:  When Big Sis had surgery for kidney reflux six years ago, I wrote on this blog that one generally comes away from hospital visits feeling grateful and fortunate. This experience is no different.  Though we endured a scary time early on when Tootsie's meningitis was raging, she began showing remarkable signs of recovery and strength very soon, and continued her upward trajectory fairly consistently.  We are surrounded in the NICU by more sober stories--babies born earlier and with more complications.  I met two mothers during dinner in the lounge last night, both of whom gave birth to babies under one-and-a-half pounds at birth.  Both babies have serious lung complications and tracheotomies.  Both parents have already endured months in the NICU.  Both expressed empathy for me when I explained that we were from California.  There's no competition among difficult experiences, only empathy and understanding.  There's struggle, hardship, endurance, and hope.  We all feel it, and living with Tootsie here on the NICU has deepened my sense of empathy for all of us on our journeys, wherever we are.

3.  Patience:  While I've felt anxiety and stress and the desire to get home, I've practiced patience in new ways during the past six weeks.  My initial hospital bedrest foisted patience upon me:  there was nothing to do but wait and accept my circumstances.  And because I was no longer in control, I was able to do so.  No amount of yearning to be home with my children and husband made me want to accelerate our baby's exit from the NICU against better judgment.  She's been the captain of our ship, and I've been the patient first mate.  I feel a remarkable inner calm and lack of urgency now.  We will get home.  The next chapters of our life will unfold.  I am not pushing.

4.  My Littlest Sister:  After living on the east coast for seven years after college and teaching abroad in Kenya for a year, I made the decision to return to California and my family.  My youngest brother and sister were still in middle and high school--I'd left home when they were eight and five.  I have always been glad I made the choice to come home; I credit that decision for my close relationships with those two siblings (now my brother's wife is even my colleague!).  The plan for this trip was that the girls and I would spend time with my sister and her husband before and after a week in Maine.  Instead, my sister spent nights with me in the hospital and was by my side at Tootsie's birth, and I've shared weeks of meals and conversations with her and her husband.  I'm able to more closely admire the life they've built together, their marriage, and their generosity.  And this week I'm here for my sister as she copes with unexpected bad news.  I wouldn't have been otherwise.

5.  Letting Go of Control:  I'm a planner and organizer (though my home and desk don't suggest so) and like to have a firm sense of what's coming.  2013 has been a year of unexpected events:  pregnancy (though wished for, not counted upon), a new house, and a new job.  I must be honest and admit that I've wondered if I could manage it all.  I planned to open the school year with enthusiasm and a little trepidation.  I hoped I'd resume parenting an infant with relative ease.  But I wasn't sure.  To cope with some anxiety and insecurity, I began carefully planning, mapping out the six weeks I'd be back to work in August and September pre-baby with to-do lists and calendars.  And then Tootsie disrupted my scheme--and my worries about "the other stuff."  I wasn't at work in July and August to hire new staff, to set things up and train folks.  I'm not there now to set tone, model, and represent our high school as its leader.  Because I'm not in control, I can only worry so much.  Instead, I focus on the tasks I can actually accomplish from afar, the ways I can help, the reassurances I can give, the questions I can ask on behalf of others, and the decisions I can make.  I feel trust in the team.  I feel confidence in our community.  I know that if I were there--if this hadn't happened--I'd be running on a few more cylinders, spinning out a little, perhaps.  And maybe that spinning is why our top landed here, idle for the moment.  I suspect returning to my job later this fall will be easier with my new perspective and acceptance of the unexpected.  We will see.  But I am grateful to Tootsie for helping me let go and be right where I am.

6.  Time:  Between the waiting upstairs and the pockets of time between infant care and long snuggles now, I've had time to read books, write, and think.  No house to clean, meals to prepare, others to care for except sweet baby girl.  Time, even alone with one's thoughts, but particularly with an infant, is a luxury indeed.

7.  Bonding:  I fell in love with our baby the moment she raised her arm high in birth and made the reassuring squawks announcing her debut.  I felt I could pick her out of a lineup after a few hours.  I believe I know her and her little personality--as tenderly developed as it is thus far--intimately well.  She takes long to awaken, grunting, stretching, wagging her head back and forth, sometimes for half an hour.  She rarely cries, but when she does, it's a sweet "ewww WAH" followed by a longer "WAAAAAH."  When she starts to breastfeed, she often stops to take in the view and contemplate her surroundings and task.  She stops everything when I sing to her, save for furious chomping on her pacifier.  She is "stingy with her burps," according to the nurses, but noisy when one is on its way.  She's alert and watchful and remarkably calm.  She can raise her torso by planting her feet on her bed and pushing upward.  She's learning to put her fingers to her mouth.  She makes the "ooh" face for which her older sister was known.  We've had precious bonding time--almost as if we were relegated to a cave together.  And because I don't live in the Boston area, I've had nowhere else to be and a laser focus on nurturing Tootsie's growth here in our NICU "home."  I suspect we'll long reap the benefits of this unique time together.

8.  Gratitude:  I've always preferred giving to getting, more comfortable offering others assistance than receiving it.  But circumstances sometimes dictate being open to the love and warmth of others without guilt, obligation, or anything but deep gratitude.  The doctors, nurses, therapists, and support staff have offered us such personalized, tender care.  I have been overwhelmed by the unwavering love and generosity of my family members, willing to fly far to be with me and our daughters.  Anything I've needed has appeared, or been offered or procured without question.  Friends and colleagues have sent messages of love and encouragement and thoughtful gifts, and cared for our daughters.  I've been particularly moved by those who've shared their stories of childbearing and parenting with me, memories and anecdotes unearthed through our own storytelling.  We feel so incredibly blessed, nestled in a nurturing cradle of community.

9.  Tootsie, Herself:  She's a caboose of a kiddo, with siblings seven and ten years older than she, but I can feel already the joy she's bringing into our lives.  I look forward to discovering all the other ways she will influence and enrich us.

Thank you for the gift of your presence, sweet baby girl.

1 comment:

aitchpea said...

Oh, the arm! The arm! You have a future actress/spoken-word poet/world leader/Olympic backstroker/slapstick comedian/superhero in the making. What a perfect moment captured!