Friday January 9, 2009 6:03 pm
Alijah’s 5th birthday: Looking back
Today, my son Alijah turns 5 years old, such an amazing milestone in life for any child. This is actually why I’m missing about 70% of CES 2009, since the event pretty much always falls on his birthday. I wanted to be sure I was home for this one. It’s special in so many ways. First, this is the first birthday where he really “gets it” and has a high level of excitement. In fact, this morning when he woke up, he immediately came to tell me that it was his birthday, he is now five, and that he wants to eat at Red Robin. Can’t really argue with that logic. I know, right?
Besides all that though, thinking back to Alijah’s birth, it’s such a reminder of the true miracle that he is here with us, and that he is okay. For those that don’t know, Alijah was born almost 3 months early, and spent 11 weeks in intensive care, the first 9 of which were spent on a respirator that did his breathing for him. He weighed in at less than 2 pounds when he was born, and the entire situation just looked dire. Like every parent out there, I remember that day as if it were yesterday. Monica was having painful cramps, so we went to the emergency room at what I think was around 3 AM. The pain was getting worse by the minute, and by the time I had parked (after dropping her off at the front door with a nurse) and got to the floor that she was on, I could hear her screaming from the hallway. Easy way to find her room, if nothing else.
A couple of hours later, they were moving her to another hospital that was about 40 miles away. She went in an ambulance that drove fast, and I drove our car and had to observe the rules of the highway, which was fairly difficult. Later that day, they told us the baby had to be delivered, or they’d both die. That is what it came down to. They did a C-section, and I wasn’t able to be in the room, so I had no clue what was going on for quite a while. Finally a nurse came and got me, and scared the ish out of me when she said “Your son was under 2 pounds.” Obviously, the word “was” probably isn’t the best word to use in this situation. As she kept talking I realized that he was still alive. Sheez.
I couldn’t go and see him because they had to get him stable. He was under a lot of stress, and couldn’t breathe, so they were working fast to get him all clean, set up on a respirator, get his temperature to where it needed to be, etc. When I finally was told they were going to being me to meet him, I could barely think. I had to go alone since Monica was recovering from surgery, and when I first went into the NICU I got a lesson on how to wash your hands and arms to an insane degree. It was no joke. After washing and scrubbing three times, I went into the room and couldn’t even believe what I was seeing. So much early life, all hooked up to various machines, all of different sizes, and a mixture of pain and hope on the faces of the different parents that were in there. We got to the room where my son was, and I remember looking at one bed with a tiny baby with all these tubes, and my first thought was, “Please, don’t let it be that one. I don’t know how those parents can handle that.”
Sure enough, they brought me right to that bed.
And I immediately fell in love.
Nothing else mattered. It didn’t matter how other parents would handle it, all that mattered is that we would. That was the moment I truly became his father, even though he had been in this world for a couple of hours by that point. The nurse started to carefully give me all sorts of information, and her bedside manner was excellent. I still remember that nurse to this day, but I could barely comprehend anything she was saying. I was looking at my son, born 11 weeks early, literally on the brink of death with only machine and a complicated mess of wiring keeping him alive. There was no way I was going to take in the information she was sharing.
Then she told me it was okay to touch him, and asked if I wanted to. I certainly heard that part. All of a sudden I had an odd fear. Without going into too much backstory, the way I grew up made it difficult for me to connect with people on a deep level, because too many times they ended up leaving my life due to various circumstances, and I would end up hurt. It happened too many times. So over the years it became natural for me to fight against getting too close to people. So here was this tiny life, no longer than a Barbie doll, completely dependent on the world, completely dependent on me, completely innocent, and I needed to take the first step and reach out to lay my hand on him—a move that was (in my mind) the final step in making all of this “real”—it was almost too much. What if he died? It would be another in the line of loving relationships that ended and left a hole in my heart.
Now all of that I thought (or felt) in, like, 2 seconds. None of it mattered. At this point, it wasn’t about me, at all. My son needed me, and needed to know I was there. I put my hands on him, and was absolutely filled with something I had never felt before. This little life, whose body was covered completely by my hand, belonged to me. No matter what, we would get him through all this - and if not, it would certainly not be from a lack of effort. That was my promise.
We were given a laundry list of things to expect from a child born this early. Blindness, deafness, severe mental handicaps, severe physical limitations, and that’s just a few of them. Okay, that meant we would have to make some changes. Fine.
And yet none of them came to fruition. We got to take him home, and test after test came back successful. Sure, he has had some small challenges, but really, they are nothing compared to what could have been. We’ve got a vibrant, energetic, curious, loving, playful, bossy five year old running around today, making sure everyone knows it’s his birthday, singing the Happy Birthday song to himself (he once did it for his great grandmother), and dying to go to Red Robin. At this point, it is all I could ask for.
Happy Birthday, Alijah.
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