Last week Ella got sick. And I mean, they’re all in daycare so germs and sickness are pretty standard fare, but she seemed really sick; hot and clingy and having trouble breathing. A trip to the doctor turned into a trip to an outpatient pediatric clinic in a hospital.
But, when the clinic was closed, the woman behind the counter said she would take me to the ER and when she saw me weighted down with Ella and all my stuff, she put me in a wheelchair and started wheeling me down the halls of the hospital.
When I looked up, the sign said NICU with an arrow pointing in the direction we were headed, and I looked down at Ella, snuggled into me, struggling to breathe, and I realized the last time I was in a wheelchair was the day after the girls were born and I was being wheeled down to see them for the first time.
It caught my breath and I had to struggle to keep it together, to act like this was just like any other visit to the hospital, we were just any other mama and babe. But then, ironically, when we finally got through to pediatrics, they sat us next to the only incubator in the place. As Ella snoozed on my shoulder, I marveled at how she couldn’t even fit into it now, and yet had spent almost her first three months of life tucked into one.
It’s amazing how things seem totally fine then something comes along and just knocks the wind out of you and it’s hard to regain momentum. After being physically and emotionally exhausted that night, I spent the next day in a downward spiral trying to pretend that I wasn’t immensely effected by my wheelchair trip; how ridiculous that must seem to someone on the outside. But, to those who have been there, any little thing triggers us; the pack of diapers on a trolley in the hallway, the sign saying NICU, the smell of hospitals. The dread, the hatred, the sick feeling, and the guilt. So much guilt. Guilt that she was sick, guilt that she had been born too soon, guilt that I’m a working mum. Just guilt and sadness and hatred and fear and nothingness and everything at the same time.
Ella’s doing fine now, she left chatting and giggling and demanding to listen to Elsa again and again. But her mama still struggles, is still exhausted, still feels guilty. I wonder, will I randomly find myself remembering the NICU twenty years from now, when my girls are grown? Will the smallest thing be like an instant time machine back to that moment of the unknown? Or will that moment slowly dissipate until it’s only a fraction of my memory? Will I continue to stroll down hospital memory lane or will I eventually close that door and walk the memory lane of love and hope and tranquility?