I'm at work. Things are going along just fine. Kids getting better. I like my job. Colleagues are funny. Gotta hurry. Start time. Lunch time. Home time.
I see them. I can pick them out in a crowd. My senses are so tuned to them that even in the crowded elevator, or in line at Starbucks, I know they are there.
Those NICU parents.
Working with their babies for years has schooled me in exactly what they look like.
They are a younger than middle-aged couple. Both look tired, but walk with purpose. Mom has a pouchy, post-pregnancy belly, and is wearing a flowing maternity top, as she still can't fit into her old clothes. She wears little makeup, and her hair is brushed, but not styled. Dad stands especially close to mom, often carrying whatever bag needs carrying. He is alert for her every movement, ready to steady her if she stumbles. They are wearing the hospital issued badges that identify themselves as parents, but their child is absent from the space that surrounds their feet. They walk, unencumbered by stuffed toys or mini backpacks, yet they are so obviously parents it might as well be tattooed on their foreheads.
And despite, knowing how sick some of their children are, how no parent would ever wish their child's first few days, weeks or months to be spent in the NICU...
I am jealous of them. Massively, green-eyed, forked tailed, envious.
They still have hope. Their child is still breathing (even if it's done at the behest of the respiratory therapist who sets the ventilator rate that keeps their child's chest moving up and down, forcing air mixed with pure oxygen in and out). Their child might pull through. Might be okay. Might.
And mine will not.
I look at these parents and think "You are the reason that I cannot go back to my old job. You have forced me out. You with your hope...and me without".
I also wonder as I look at these parents, "Which of you will join me here in the land without hope? Which of you will fail to dodge that bullet? Do you realize you are tottering on the brink? How life will not revolve around this NICU forever? How things will move forward, one way or another?"
I stare at these parents. Quickly glance away. Look back.
Why them? Why them and not us?
I do not wish Aidan into the place of their children. Well, maybe into the place of those whose NICU stay will one day be a distant memory, whose lives will continue on happy and healthy, belying how close death sat by their bed. Into the place of the babies whose NICU stay constitutes an upwards trajectory. Sick, better, even better, healthier, heavier...home.
I do not wish Aidan those sad, dulled, old soul eyes of the sickest babies. Whose bodies are failing. Who are in pain. Who if they could talk would say "no more, please just let me go". I would never wish that for him. I am glad he never knew the pierce of the needle. Or the ache of the fever. Or the tube in his airway, gagging him, choking him.
Or, at least I'm glad he did not feel those things if the result would have been the same.
But I do envy the hope the NICU parents have.
I want Aidan back, with a side of hope.
What do you think?