Homecoming Day

J was supposed to be born in October, a wonderful month to celebrate birthdays. Changing leaves. Cool, crisp air. Carving pumpkins and anticipating the coming holidays. What is not to love about October?

M was supposed to be born in March, another great birthday month. Where we live, it’s the beginning of spring. The greenest of green leaves. The excitement of gardening. Everything fresh and new. And plenty of cool weather.

I always secretly felt sorry for kids with July birthdays (like my mom). And I wondered who has babies at Christmas?

I do.

(This is a lesson in judging others. Don’t do it, even if they are just thoughts in your own head.)

J was born in the depths of a hot, humid summer. He won’t have class parties. His friends will be on vacation. He’ll have pool parties every year, because it’s far too hot to do anything else.

M was born just 8 days after Christmas. I’m sure she’s destined for joint Christmas presents. Poor thing. Who wants to party at the end of the holidays? Her birthday hits just after people have recommitted themselves to exercise and diets, to changing their lives, to getting back on whatever bandwagon they fell off of the year before. On M’s birthday, people go back to work after the fun of celebrating the holidays. I am sure she’ll feel overlooked.

Birthdays for preemies are hard days for their parents. I’ve decided they will always be bittersweet because I’ll always return to that black hole when I thought I’d lose them. I can’t help it. What I can help is that I make the day fun for them, that I keep my dark thoughts to myself. I don’t want to spoil their day.

A day that is full of joy for me is the day we brought our babies home. We waited 91 days with Jay. 91. And with M, it was 59, which comes to an even 150 days. We traveled more than an hour roundtrip through downtown traffic more than 150 times just to see our baby. More than 150 times, we walked out the hospital doors without our baby. For more than 150 days, my husband tried to balance a demanding job with the stress of having his baby in a hospital. For more than 150 days, my job was to watch over our hospitalized baby. And I still stressed over everything I missed when I had to go home.

Can I put words to the feeling of walking out of the hospital with our babies? With J, it was such a long-time coming, so hard-fought, the pinnacle of an arduous mountain climb. With M, it was so hurried, a rush in the dark of night, such an exciting surprise.

Nope, that’s the best I can do. All the words I know do nothing to touch the rush of emotions I felt actually pulling away from the hospital with our babies.

So, for me Homecoming Day is lovely. I see it in the faces of people who don’t have NICU babies. They don’t really understand what it means to me. It is untarnished by fear. It is a lovely day to celebrate all that is good about having babies. It is a true celebration, not just of the beginning of a life but of the resilience of a little body who defeated the odds.

Our Homecoming Days fall in October and March. Great months to celebrate. It’s just that in my initial planning, I got the celebration wrong. I thought we’d have birthdays then, and I had never heard of Homecoming Day.

Homecoming Day will be our own special family tradition. I’ve decided it’s another way to honor my kids, another way for us to celebrate all that is wonderful about preemies. When there is so much darkness surrounding their birth stories, I want them to see the light too.

And it begins with M in March.

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