Her room was small and dark. Cramped, even. But it didn’t bother her. She had room to stretch her skinny legs when she awoke.
The walls were fashioned of smooth, sturdy plastic that sealed in the warmth she so desperately needed. Every so often a portal would open, cold hands smelling of sanitizing gel reaching in to gently move her, adjust her leads, check her wires and tubes. Sounds that were once muffled and almost unnoticeable now startled her. The cold hands reassuringly stroked her head quickly before retracting again, closing the portal door. She felt the warmth surround her again as the soft muffled sounds lulled her to sleep in the darkness that was meant to mimic the womb in which she still belonged.
Her sleep was disturbed once again when a larger door to her little room opened. Another set of hands reached for her, this time warm and loving, caressing her tiny body, naked but for an oversized diaper. The voice she had always recognized greeted her with soft “good mornings” and “I missed yous.” The hands dutifully changed her diaper, then slowly lifted her from her warm and cozy bed, wrapping her in heated blankets and being cautious not to tug on the feeding tube that ran from her nose.
As she emerged from her room, she closed her eyes tightly at the brightness of the lights, so dim to everyone else. The once muffled sounds became louder, although she had no idea what they were: hushed conversations, water running in a nearby sink, the dinging of the monitor for a neighboring baby, and somewhere off in the distance, joyful laughter. These unknown sounds were comforting to her. They were all she knew so far in her short life.
The warm hands still surrounded her, adjusting her blankets, caressing her face, stroking her fuzzy hair, and the familiar voice continued to speak lovingly to her about things she didn’t understand. Things called “home” and “Daddy.” Her still sleepy eyes attempted to focus on the face from which the familiar voice came, then closed again as she snuggled up close to the warm body holding her, taking in the scent of the milk and relishing in the warm breath on her face. She drifted back to sleep as they began to slowly rock together, fading out the beeping of machines and chatter of nurses.
She had no idea how long they dozed together, the two of them. She was awoken by a nurse kindly informing her that it was time for shift change. The unit was closing for an hour. She gazed at the tiny red baby in her arms, sleeping so soundly.
As she stood up, her eyes squinted from the daylight flooding in through a nearby window, though the room was still dim. Nurses quietly bustled around the unit, preparing for the changing of the guard, busying themselves with filling out charts and performing last minute checks on other patients, asking her if she needed any help. She didn’t. She’d done this so many times in the weeks since her emergency delivery.
She opened the door to the isolette, the heated air enveloping her baby in warmth. One more kiss, one more stroke, one more “I love you…I’ll see you soon.” Then she closed and latched the door, pulling the blanket over the plastic walls, creating the darkness that mimicked the womb in which her baby still belonged.
Lifting her bag, she said goodbyes and thank yous to the nurses and exited the bay, falling in line with the other parents also leaving their babies. They exchanged knowing glances and shy smiles as they all shuffled towards the exit. She waved to the receptionist at the front desk and pushed through the large double doors.
Walking towards a nearby bench in the quiet hallway, she breathed a deep sigh, relieved to be away from the beeping, the darkness, the quiet busyness of the NICU. She set her bag down and reached inside for her sandwich and her book, ready to pass the hour until she could re-enter the unit and surround herself with the sights and sounds that were her baby’s home. For now.