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A Postpartum Mother Remembers
Painting My First Born, a NICU survivor, and Greeting Death with My Second #birthstories
My firstborn just turned 2 in April. Even though it took us about 3 weeks to finally write in her birthday book, being busy with two kids has not dulled the memory of my first birthing experience…the one that brought me so much joy and pain that it is worth reposting here, after I had already shared it once on IG, when this painting was on exhibition:
The longest most painful cry I have ever had was the day I was discharged from the hospital after ~60 hours of labor, with no baby to bring home. She had to stay behind in the NICU to be monitored in a glass box, and was forced to be formula-fed until I can produce enough breast milk to keep her alive. As I wailed into my husband's arms for this beautiful stranger that I had only met 2 days ago - who depended on me for survival - I knew my life would never be the same.
Throughout her 9-month residence in my womb, she gave me no trouble at all. To this day, I still don't know how morning sickness feels. So, when we were told that our little one would stay in the birthing room with us after delivery, we believed it. When we were instructed on the importance of the first few minutes of skin-to-skin contact, we expected plenty of it. As I was encouraged to put my baby to breast for this "liquid gold" called colostrum, I intended for her to catch every drop of it.
Instead, the few droplets of colostrum I could collect into a syringe weren't sufficient for the syringe to push into her mouth. Our very first skin-to-skin contact lasted a blur of a split second, while my body shivered in shock. Then she was immediately relocated to the opposite end of two buildings, which I could only get to because Tom wheelchaired me there - bouncing on my fresh stitches - every opportunity we got to hold her tiny hand through the armholes of her incubator.
I can honestly say that we went through hell to be blessed with our happy, strong, and brilliant baby girl. And we would do it again in a heartbeat for her. We were truly fortunate that she turned out to be the healthiest kid in the NICU.
Every time I think about her life that would've been lost if she were born in a different era, I am reminded of my inability to control what happens to my baby girl. Since I cannot protect her from the world in which we live, my hope is that by giving her a glimpse of the world that I've seen, she may be more equipped to take it on herself.
Until then, the beginning of her journey starts in my arms, drinking fully from my breasts.
So far, baby #2’s painting only consists of his 3-month-old footprints, stamped the day before he turned 4 months old. I didn’t think I’d have the energy/time to paint another one of these, but it’s funny how perspectives change once your baby starts giving you ample sleep again.
Hallelujah for graduating from the “Parents of Two Under Two” category! …Enter Terrible Twos.
T was born January 2020. This painting didn’t make it onto xuan paper scroll until September. That’s how long it took to get some “me time” back…and that’s because I milked my In-and-Out date for as long as I could.
Unlike his sister, he was ready to come out 2 days AHEAD of schedule, prefaced by lightening crotch and a much-needed mani-pedi in a mechanical massage chair…see Traumatic Parent Fails.
It took 30 minutes to get an epidural, another 5 for the anesthesiologist on the midnight shift to administer it, and he came out 20 minutes later, after 10 minutes of pushing. He just couldn’t wait to meet the world and show us how little we knew about parenting.
We thought we cracked the code after basically doing everything opposite to how #1 would’ve wanted it. That lasted until he was able to walk, then run, then jump. And while learning to jump from the windowsill, he accidentally popped the screen from his bedroom window, FALLING 15 FEET ONTO CONCRETE FROM THE 2ND FLOOR!
Many “firsts” happened that day: Calling 911, welcoming the police and fire department into my home, being strapped inside an ambulance to keep my then 2-year-old calm - he was strapped to a stretcher, visiting the ER at Cottage Hospital. By then, it was already my 3rd tumble down the stairs in my lifetime…nothing a little PT couldn’t fix, once I recalled it happening several weeks later.
Fortunately, the screen was dented, he wasn’t. He came out of that one merely grunting for a few days, and that was in part due to the IV drip (which actually drew blood to insert). My child-who-lived was apparently “nothing short of a miracle” according to the pediatricians who have had to deal with a few fall-out-the-window incidences. They all expected surgery at the very least. But no, no surgery, no concussion, nothing. Knock on wood! I haven’t stopped.
The months after that “fall” ultimately jump-started our lives post-COVID…starting with a sabbatical leave in Taipei. Taiwan became code for giving our kids an immersive Chinese-speaking environment and traveling throughout various parts of Asia.
If there’s one thing Tom and I are determined to impart to our children, it’s the ability to survive under any circumstances. F the straight A’s. I’m serious…And seriously grateful I still get to be a mother of TWO.