I’ve been psychologically preparing for the rigors of new fatherhood for a long time. The late nights. The interrupted sleep. Being tethered to our baby at all hours. The worry. When your mother was on bed rest in the hospital for two weeks and we came to expect an early delivery, I thought that the experience of having a micro-preemie newborn would be radically different than a full-term newborn. Strangely, it hasn’t been. Not very much. We need to bank plenty of milk for you so we’re still waking up every few hours to pump breast milk and deliver it to the nursery. Also, even though there is little we can do for you, we hover over you at every free moment, every opportunity. And the worry? Magnified one hundred fold.
But parenting a full term and parenting a micro-preemie have their differences. While the stress and strain is still there, the physical contact and intimacy of new parenthood has been painfully stripped away, in your case. These are the things, in many ways, that are most rewarding about having a baby. For us, they are entirely gone. We can’t hold you. Can’t cuddle you. Can’t sing you lullabies that aren’t muffled by the wall of acrylic that surrounds you. Or kiss you on the forehead. The nurses occasionally suggest that we can put a finger on you, but this would introduce risk, and what is the point of a gesture of love if it can only hurt you?
Its only worse for your mother. To nurse your baby is to realize one's own motherhood, and if you live, she won't be able to do it for months and months. For the better part of the week, your mother couldn't even look at you. Her infection kept her from the nursery. Most new mothers give birth and shortly after are soon cuddling their child. But Rani? One minute, you were kicking around in her womb. The next? She was alone, writhing in a hospital bed, separated from her child. A child who might not have many days ahead of her. "I don't feel like a mother," I remember her saying through clenched teeth.
Being a parent to a micro-preemie is kind of like eating flavorless ice cream. All of the calories, none of the pleasure.
But maybe that’s a bad analogy. All we can do is watch you, but simply watching is a thrill I never anticipated.