I had to leave immediately, the beeps and whistles of air ventilators and heart monitors were starting to give me a headache. My swollen breasts were engorged again, aching to be drained in the privacy of my own bedroom. Hours slipped by from breakfast to dinner, until the nursing staff said it was time for me to go home. There was nothing else I could do for her until morning. The thought of a hot shower and a few hours of sleep blanketed me in optimism, every morning was one day closer until I could bring her home.
“Mom, I’m ready to go home now,” I said blurry-eyed.
She was there within minutes. Her warm arms wrapped around me, easing me into the front seat, helping with the seat belt. We drove in silence for a few minutes, passing car after car of men and woman rushing home to their families after a busy day of work.
“Did she take from the bottle today?” asked my mom.
“No, not yet, ” I sighed, “She’s still taking breast-milk from a tube. Maybe tomorrow.”
“Every day she grows stronger, ” added my mom, “She’ll be home before you know it.”
It was a miracle my baby did not need an incubator or air ventilator. At 8 1/2 weeks early, and only 4 lbs 6 oz, she was one of the healthiest babies in NICU. Her biggest struggle was lacking a sucking reflex. Driving back and forth from my townhouse to the hospital was taking its toll on my nerves. I felt like a visitor in my own home, trying to maneuver around postpartum and house guests. The crib in the nursery was as empty as my body. My grief was inconvenient.
As we pulled up to the townhouse, I could feel my milk drop, slowly leaking through the double thick breast pads. I leaned over to kiss my mom, give her a quick squeeze, and say, “Same time tomorrow?”
“Of course, honey, ” she smiled weakly, “try to get some sleep tonight, okay?”
I nodded, stepping out of the car.
“And eat something!” her voice echoed through the closed door.
Walking up the steps, I tried not to think about my sweet baby sleeping all alone in her plexiglass box, but envisioned her surrounded by Winnie the Pooh blankets and floating butterflies in the room decorated just for her. My arms ached to finally hold her without wires and tubes, feel her heart beat against mine. Knowing a steamy shower and soft bed waited on the other side of the door suddenly did little to help ease my mind, and a few tears escaped. I absently stepped inside the house, still picturing the stark white walls of the NICU, wishing I was back at the hospital.
“Look whose finally here,” snapped house guest #1, “We already ate because we weren’t sure when you would be home.”
I headed up the stairs. Tears falling more heavily now.
“What’s the matter with her?” grumbled house guest #2, “It’s not like her baby died or anything.”
At the top of the stairs, I shut the bathroom door, turned on the water, and sat on the edge of the tub.
I tried to block out the rest of the world, find some joy in giving birth to my first child, then realized I was already home.
This week’s Red Writing Hood prompt was to write a 600 word, fiction or non-fiction post that started with the phrase “We had to leave immediately” and end it with “And then we realized we were already home.” Red Writing Hood is sponsored by Write on Edge (formerly The Red Dress Club), a place for writers to gather, exchange ideas and learn something about the art of storytelling.