4/22/10 Tonight was the Maundy Thursday service at Holy Innocents, and there is a very sweet segment in which everyone shares about their year. This kind of group sharing can be a therapist’s nightmare but tonight it was like we were all little glowing souls getting warmer and brighter with each word people said. When it was my turn to speak, I told them of course how much I loved them, but that they became family when they showed up in the NIC-U after I had Olive.
If you have never had to go to the NIC-U, count your lucky stars, and pray you never do. Of course there is something magical about new life and I could sit here and find the beauty in it but really it’s just pretty awful. SICK BABIES. Desperate parents with ghostly faces, lots of scary machinery, and lots and lots of crying. There was one little guy, Baby Perez, who was hitting a new decibel of sound that literally drove a person crazy when exposed to it.
When I needed breaks from such auditory madness, I sat in the little waiting room with the other new moms, perfect strangers who commented on the size of my nipples and what that would mean for feeding my baby. We pumped milk for our babies and chatted about trivialities, never asking each other the unspeakable question on the edge of our lips, “Is your baby going to be okay? Is mine?” I found out later that we were in the part of the NIC-U for babies who were expected to be fine. I was relieved to hear this, but also horrified that there are actually sadder and more terrifying sections of the NIC-U.
We ended up in the NIC-U after a long but beautiful birth at Sage Femme Birthing Center — when Olive came out at last she was breathing very quickly, and it turned out she had inhaled meconium. I will publish my whole birth story sometime soon on this blog, you can know all the gory and fascinating (to anyone interested in birth) details. She was rushed off to the hospital, and since I hemmoraged and lost a lot of blood after the birth, I had to stay behind and regain my strength until I could go be with her. When I finally got there our priest was there, and I learned from him that another priest, a lovely woman named Genie who had become a sort of grandmother figure to us in the 10 months we’d been going to Holy Innocents, had sat with Olive in the interim. The cool thing about clergy is that they are like FBI — they can get in anywhere. So while Joel was passed out in the waiting room and I was busy eating placenta and resting up to get there, this priest was sitting with Olive, praying over her and keeping watch. To know that she wasn’t alone in this short time, that someone who knew her in utero and loved her already was by her bedside… this is immeasurably meaningful to me. And then in the next several days, priests and deacons from HI dropped in on us frequently, bringing us baby blankets they’d made, meals, and even doing communion with us. They told us that when they announced Olive’s birth that Sunday in church, a great roar went up in the congregation, and that they were all praying for us to get out of the hospital soon. I could feel their thoughts and prayers with me like little wings, sheltering me from despair.
Joan Chittester writes, “The purpose of Benedictine spirituality is to gather equally committed adults for a journey through earthen darkness to the dazzling light that already flames in each of us, but in a hidden place left to each of us to find.” When members of Holy Innocents showed up for our new family in the NIC-U, they showed me they were willing to walk in the darkness with me. They weren’t afraid to get too close, to see me messy, terrified, and fiercely protective of my newborn. They were that dazzling light to me, helping me find it in myself, which I would need in those early days of parenting more than I ever could have dreamed.