It has been seven months since we left the NICU but I still think about it often. Is it weird to say that I miss that place? How could someone miss having half of your heart at home with the toddler and the other half in the hospital with your tiny little one? Those three weeks were definitely some of the hardest in our lives but also some of the best. I cried more tears during those weeks than I have at any other time in my life, and while some of them were tears of anger, frustration or sadness, quite a few of them were tears of joy.
We were blessed to have amazing nurses who became some of our favorite people and dear friends. They loved our little one and brought sunshine and hope to some very discouraging days. Each one of them brought something into our lives that helped us weather the storm and not feel quite so gloomy. We miss hanging out and laughing with them on a daily basis.
I have never recognized my Heavenly Father's hand in my life as much as I did those three weeks. We had lots of little struggles amidst the larger trial of having an eight week premature baby. The majority of those rough spots came about because of Emmy's time in the hospital, but a few were unrelated and normal parts of life. We were so much more aware of the blessings we received and how some of those blessings came to us in the form of a trial. I miss pondering on the overwhelming exhaustion, love, peace and happiness that I felt during my drives to and from the hospital every day.
Most of all, I miss how that crisis made it so easy to set aside everything to make room for the things that really mattered. Everything that we did revolved around caring for both of our little ones and keeping our relationship with each other strong. Our priorities were clear and nobody questioned the decisions that we made because of those priorities.
Joe worked the early shift every day so that he would have time to spend at the hospital with Emmy and to eat dinner with me before he needed to pick Bensen up and take him home to bed. I spent every morning at home with Bensen, dropped him off with family just before his nap, stopped by Joe's work to give him his lunch, and made my way to the hospital to spend the rest of my day with Emmy. I would drive home late every night to sleep in my own bed and be there when Bensen woke up in the morning. Every once in a while Bensen would come to the hospital to visit or join us for dinner. Once a week Joe and I spent an hour or two alone together, leaving Emmy in the care of the amazing nurses while we went out on a date. It was busy and it was chaotic, but it was good.
Joe and I had less than an hour of time alone together each day, but that time was quality time because we were making the most of each of those precious minutes. Despite the stress of our situation and other forces out of our control, I felt like we were a stronger, more cohesive team than we had ever been before. We laughed together on a daily basis and enjoyed every moment that we had together. I was very aware of the little things that Joe was doing to buoy me up and keep each member of our family healthy and happy. Every day brought new challenges and obstacles that we had to work together to overcome. Finding a routine that was balanced and kept our toddler's routine as normal as possible while still allowing us to focus on our preemie's needs and keep our relationship strong was an adventure.
We wouldn't have been able to do any of it without the help of our families and friends. All of the homemade meals that we enjoyed at the hospital were a huge blessing. I never worried about Bensen while we were at the hospital because he was with family members who I knew loved him and would keep him happy and safe. The nurses were constantly cheering us on, providing encouragement when I was feeling inadequate and encouraged Joe and I to take care of ourselves and get the rest that we needed to be the best parents we could be. Those three weeks in the hospital made us aware of just how blessed we are to have the people that we do in our lives. I know that our situation was a burden on those closest to us, not just because they were worried about us, but because they picked up a lot of our responsibilities so that we could be where we needed to be. We are forever indebted to the friends and family who took care of our family in small and giant ways those weeks.
In those three weeks, I learned how to say no to things that were important in order to make time for the things that were urgent. I said no to being at the hospital when the doctor's made their rounds each morning so that I could be home with Bensen who needed time with him mom every day to find some semblance of normal when his world was turned upside down. Emmy's caregivers knew that my time at home was important, so they made sure that I was called after rounds, notified of any changes and consulted before any final decisions were made. I said no to spending every minute of my time at the hospital in Emmy's room so that I could rest and do something for myself. Emmy and I cuddled lots, but it was important for her to spend time resting in her bed as well, so I would spend that time taking a nap, watching a movie or working on a personal project. I said no to times when family or friends wanted to come and visit because it was the only time that Joe and I had together. We appreciated the love and the people who came to see us, but having visitors more than one or two days a week would have made it impossible for Joe and I to be together and work on our marriage relationship.
These days I feel like life has gotten crazy, I've forgotten how to say no, and some days my priorities are all out of whack. On days when things get crazy and I feel overwhelmed, I put myself in a "crisis" mindset to help me determine what the most important things are. Time with my husband and my kids can sometimes seem like the easiest thing to push to the side in order to make room for other things or people who I don't want to disappoint. In the end, I know that the needs of my family, although they might not seem urgent, are always the most important in my life. If I haven't gotten to spend quality time with Joe in a few days, I might cancel previously arranged plans or say no to a request from family so that the two of us can hang out.
If you are determined to put your marriage and your family first, think about how things would change if you were in crisis mode. You don't have to stop working, going out with friends or spending time with extended family, just work to find a better balance. I love this object lesson about what happens if you try to fit the important things into your day or your life after you've taken care of other, less important things or people.
At the end of the day, the house might be a disaster and nothing on my to do list might be longer than it was when the day started. Work tasks might have been put off and I may even end up using an hour of my vacation time. If I spend quality time with each member of my family, make memories and fill their love tanks, it will all have been worth it. I love a clean house, empty inbox, and completed to do list; those are all things that make me happy. But I'm happier if I have spent time cuddling and playing with my toddler, giggling and exploring with my baby, or laughing and dreaming with my husband.
Those three weeks when Emmy was in the NICU contain some of the sweetest memories, all stemming from simple moments that we spent together. Our lives had been turned upside down and our daily routines were nothing like we wanted them to be but overall, we were happy. I don't wish for more trials as big as or bigger than that one, but I do hope that we can always remember how clear our priorities were during that time.
Photography by KB Photography