"Seeing those photos instilled hope in my bones."
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I remember seeing all the pictures that hung on the walls in the hallway of the NICU when my son was born.
There, in frames, were photos of tiny babies covered in tubes and wires, their bodies almost hidden under all the medical equipment attached to them. Next to each of these was a contrasting image of their growth - these pictures showed happy, smiling toddlers and young children who had overcome their early struggles. It all seemed so surreal to me when my son was lying in a humidicrib at a mere four pounds, too small and fragile to wear anything but a nappy, and even that was still far too large.
I tried to imagine how it would be, fast forwarding in my mind to a few years ahead, to a time when this little baby before me would be a big kid.
But I just couldn’t picture it. The beeping of the monitors he was hooked to invaded my brain and I could barely imagine how life would be in a few hours from now, let alone in a few years.
Jess and her beautiful baby. Image: Supplied
Looking in at this tiny baby who I couldn’t touch, it was simply impossible for me to even dream of what the future would hold for him. I was still wrapping my mind around the fact he was already here - I hadn’t expected he would arrive for another seven weeks. He had been whisked out in an unexpected emergency caesarean, and both my body and my mind were still trying to process that fact. Honestly, I’m not sure they ever really did.
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'I found myself praying to God.' Image: Supplied
When my son was born prematurely, what there was of my cool, calm, collected self was thrown out the window and replaced with a jittery, nervous and worried woman. I would call the hospital at all hours of the night, just to make sure everything was alright. My son was in the hospital for almost a month, and I was unable to drive because of his birth. I worried about him every second we were apart, I found myself praying to a God I hadn’t believed in since I was a young child, clinging to any kind of hope that this little fighter of mine would make it through and one day grow to be like those kids from the pictures in the hallway.
'I worried about him every second we were apart.' Image: Supplied
Even though I never could imagine into the future back when my son was born, I now find myself living in that land of tomorrow.
That little baby boy is almost six years old now.
And somehow he has overcome every hurdle so far. I know that scared and worried woman that I was would never have believed me if I could somehow have told her he would become one of those success stories on the wall. I still find it difficult to look at the early pictures of him. When I stop and really think about the journey we have travelled together from day one, I get a lump in my throat and find tears welling in my eyes, now I can truly see how far we have come.
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It’s ok that I never could imagine what life would be like, because reality has been kinder than my best hopes. My son is a healthy and happy boy.
This week, he starts kindergarten with the other kids his age. Meeting him now, no one would ever dream of what a true fighter he is. They’ll never know what a curveball he was thrown at the very start of his life, or what a treasure he is to this world, or the warmth it brings to my soul when I think of how he was then and who he is now.
I know that my son and I are some of the very lucky ones. I will forever have a special place in my heart for all the mums and dads who have ever found themselves walking through those bulky doors to visit their baby in the NICU, not knowing what tomorrow will bring.
'We never knew what tomorrow would bring.' Image: Supplied
Although I found those pictures on the walls daunting and upsetting at a time when I was unable to imagine a future ahead, I will be forever grateful for them. I never realised it then, but seeing those photos subliminally instilled a hope deep within my bones, and it was exactly what I needed to get through one of the most difficult times in my life.