I called it the Long Winter, the one that barricaded me in my home with my preemie son. So far, it was the most challenging period of my life. People said that they felt sorry for us during the 150 days we had a preemie in the NICU, but as gut-wrenching as both NICU stays were, for me the Long Winter was worse.
When we left the NICU in October of that year with our son, we were inundated with the horror stories of RSV, the virus that could be fatal to a baby as fragile as J. He didn’t look fragile. In fact, he looked like a 6-lb newborn, not a 3-month-old born 14 weeks early. After more than two months on oxygen in the hospital, he was breathing on his own. He was even slightly chubby. Nothing about him suggested that RSV or the flu could cause life-threatening complications.
We had moved to a new city six weeks before J was born. Our closest family was a 5-hour drive away. I had no co-workers in our new city and no way to meet people. We were so alone.
During the Long Winter, we couldn’t go to playgroups. We couldn’t take J to church. I ran errands during my husband’s lunch breaks and at night while J slept. People didn’t call, because they said they assumed we were busy. I’d look up from a string of days and comment to my husband that I hadn’t seen or talked to an adult other than him in three days.
I thrive on human relationships. I need to interact with people to feel whole. Of course, I was overjoyed to have J home. He was a delight, and I relished his slow progress. But, I felt guilty at my conflicted emotions: gratefulness and despair. I felt that I had no right to complain when some moms didn’t leave the NICU with a baby, so I muddled through each day.
I wiped door handles with alcohol wipes. My husband changed his work clothes before he handled J. We were vaccinated. We washed hands, even after touching mundane items like our mail. For five months, we rarely took J to a public place and never to one where he had contact with other people.
If our family and friends thought we were excessive in our protection of J, only a few actually complained. We had a few “germs build immune systems” comments. And there was the time a houseguest kept suggesting ways to spend our Saturday, conveniently forgetting what the word public meant. Breakfast at Cracker Barrel? A trip to the Apple Store? It was a backhanded way of telling us we were being overprotective that cut me to my core. [Continue reading]