“There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in,” Leonard Cohen
As I watched my day old son get poked and prodded by a nurse that was in over her head my mind careened to a world without him. Just 30 hours ago this little baby boy had changed everything. Now he was in trouble.
Something about an infection in his lungs and rapid breathing were enough to turn the second day of his life into a train wreck. The game was familiar, but the players had changed and instead of me being the one everyone was concerned about it was our little Cody.
A NICU transport team was called and by morning our now family of three (four when you count the kitten) was in Springfield where we stayed for the better part of a week before Cody was given the green light to go home. Cody’s amazing mother never left his side. She nourished both his body and soul on an hourly basis while I whispered in his ear and told him that everything was going to be just fine.
Despite being sent to an intensive care unit (my second in less than two years) I really did believe everything was going to be okay. After that first night of chaos I settled down and centered everything I had on our seven pound bundle of joy.
A night prior while Cody was scared and screaming I was sobbing on the bed he was born on, unsure of what was going on and how I could help my son who was taken from our room in the middle of the night for reasons that still reside somewhere in between smoky and hazy.
What the trip to the NICU did was remove that new baby feeling from my mind and my heart so while we helped nurse our guy to health in Springfield I searched for that feeling and eventually found it. The new car smell gets most of the attention but the new baby feeling renders any superlative utterly underwhelming.
For me, the new baby feeling amounts to an overwhelming sense of anticipation for the potential of not only the little one, but for the world he currently inhabits. For days, despite our at times bleak surroundings in the NICU I couldn’t help be excited about the prospects of a massive reset of all the ills of humankind.
A few of Cody’s neighbors in the NICU were born many many weeks premature and addicted to various forms of drugs. To see these little hands and feet jerking and kicking while their bodies glowed under the blue lights that lived above them seemed to be a bit of a microcosm of society.
We all have our challenges and what may seem like an easy road to to someone may be a monumental mountain to climb for someone else. And to watch these little boys and girls fight every day to stay alive, some of their lungs paper thin and hearts seemingly jumping through their chests I again found a sense of hope for the world.
These little beings arrived in this world with the biggest of mountains to climb but they weren’t giving up, so why would we? My belief is that at some point one or both of their parents were good people. They were strong people. They were hopeful people. But a twist here and a turn there and they found themselves in a world so unforgiving that it can turn an angel into a demon on a dime.
When a baby is born, all babies, I believe they begin with the best of each of their parents before society introduces itself and the show begins. Even these premature babies were given qualities their parents were once admired for. Maybe it was their toughness, maybe determination or even imagination. It’s in all of them. I know because I saw it in their eyes.
When I think of our Cody in his hospital bed my eyes usually tear up. Not because he had to spend some time in the NICU but because for decades I wondered what having a child would be like, and it took the little man less than two months to have me throw out everything I thought I knew, and start over.
Nothing prepares you for any of this and yet everything prepares you for all of it. Your mind flips and flops over itself and day after day you find new reasons to believe that maybe, even for a minute or two, just maybe, the world makes sense.
You never realize how deep in shit you are in until after you shovel out. When you are in the middle of it things criss and cross and you use what you have to survive and advance and you are better for it. The challenges you face never seem that bad in hindsight and if you take what you need from those experiences when you set forth anew you have more firepower in which to handle the next one, and the next one after that. And the best part is that now you have a wingman that happens to look a little like you, to help you begin, again.
I received a text from an old friend while we were in the hospital. A friend I had not seen in a long time and one who has spent his share of time in the pediatric wing of Boston’s finer children’s hospitals. His advice to me was simple. He told me to breathe, in and out, breathe again, and again, and if I lost my place, simply start again.
If we can remember what it was like to hope. Remember what it was like to see the good in people and never forget that the most important value we can nurture in our young ones is to treat our fellow creatures the way we would want to be treated, we can march forward.
If we get knocked off track, lose our place, or simply forget what got us to where we are, we can take a breath, close our eyes and find the reason and the way. And with every child, we can start again.