Putting Together The Pieces

Owen had already been in the NICU for 5 months, to the day, to be exact.  He had just become the second oldest baby in the NICU and we had recently been warned that he may not be home before Thanksgiving, or even Christmas.  During this time, I typically ate my lunch as quickly as I could and then went back to Owen, he was hitting an age that he knew if I was gone and he would only settle for me.

On this particular day, the family room was quiet.  It was just me and one other couple who was quietly being debriefed by one of the surgeons. Their discussion wasn’t any of my business, so I choose the seat furthest away from them and focused on my food.  The surgeon left the room and then I heard the mother in the calmest, most matter of fact voice bravely explaining into the phone that their daughter was very sick.  Her intestines had perforated and she was just out of surgery.  She hung up the phone and the room was silent.

Typical Tatum fashion would have been to finish my lunch as quickly as possible and give them their privacy.  However, something overcame me and I heard myself say, “that’s the calmest I’ve ever heard anyone describe NEC”.  I let them know my son’s intestines had also perforated.  I showed pictures of how he swelled after the surgery and told them how he was doing now.  They explained to me that their 23 week 5 day twins were only one week old.  My heart sank.  I imagined how fragile she must be, never even having the time to stabilize after birth before getting so sick.

Even after our conversation ended, I couldn’t stop thinking about this family I had briefly talked with in the family room.  Two days later I ran into the parents in the hallway.  I cautiously asked how things were going.  The mother took a deep breath and told me that Angene had passed the day before.  We were nearly strangers, I didn’t even remember her name, but we looked at each other, both with tear filled eyes and I asked her if I could give her a hug.  I told her I would continue to pray for her son and we went our separate ways to our baby boys.

Over the next month, this mother and I rarely saw each other but I did figure out her name was Betsy and we bonded on a much lighter note; we are both Packer Fans and both of our boys donned lucky gear on game days.   A month after we first met, Owen was discharged from the NICU.  I thought about Betsy from time to time and we eventually connected on Facebook and through ANRC, we exchanged Christmas cards, but only casually kept in touch.

Fast forward to my bucket list and my admission that I was afraid to start quilting on my own.  Betsy sent me a private message and told me she would teach me.  Over the last three weeks we’ve gotten together three times to work on my quilt.  You would think, not really knowing each other and not seeing one another for almost a year and a half that there might be some awkwardness.  Nope.  Not with us.  By lunch time we were reminiscing about that first meeting and we were both wiping our eyes.  We also laughed and made fun of one another and discovered that she went to high school with my last serious boyfriend before Kyle and that I had lived in her husband’s hometown after college.

In many ways, it felt like we had known each other forever, but in reality, we only met when we needed to meet each other.  Betsy needed that hug that day and I needed to focus on someone else at that point.  Later, when I needed help, in a very different way, she came to return the hug.  And together, we put the pieces together and made a beautiful (even with its flaws) quilt.  Kellen thinks it’s his quilt and wants to take it to school, but I told him it’s too special.  I didn’t elaborate to him, but I will to you.

It’s my preemie mom quilt and a small example of the impact that Angene made in her short time here.

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Making Sense Of It…Or Not

Last Wednesday I smiled at the pictures on Facebook of our friends glowing with their brand new, healthy baby boy, Noah.  His mom’s joy radiated through the pictures, it was such a beautiful moment caught in a photo.  These are people who you know are going to be great parents.  You know the future is bright and their child is smart and funny and a lot of fun; just like his parents.

Unfortunately, we will never get to see Noah become that child and adult.  Instead, he will forever be remembered as the perfect newborn that left a lasting impact in his three short days.  Noah and his mom spent two routine days at the hospital and then on his first overnight at home he became unresponsive after a feeding.  He was rushed to the hospital, but the doctors were not able to save him.

“Tragic” doesn’t seem enough.

It just shouldn’t be.  A healthy baby should not die.  A parent should not have to say goodbye to their child.  It’s just not how it should be.

I’m not going to get into the theology of life, but I do want to…need to…talk about how seemingly senseless life can be.  There are no shoulds.  There are no guarantees.

A first trimester doesn’t guarantee a second.

A second trimester doesn’t guarantee a baby.

A third trimester doesn’t guarantee a healthy baby.

A healthy baby today doesn’t guarantee no illnesses or accidents or some other tragic event in the very next moment

At the very same time, a critically ill child doesn’t mean there is not hope for the next moment.

It’s really hard to reconcile the fact that there are children, like many of our preemies, who, by statistics, “shouldn’t” be here; but (thankfully) they are here and they defy the odds each day.  And then there are others, like Noah, where things are perfect and then, in a moment, perfection is a memory that we forever hold in our hearts.

There is a randomness to the moments of life.  The perfect mixed with the tragic and everything in between.  I hate that Noah’s parents didn’t get more perfect moments with their beautiful son.  I hate that they didn’t get what they were “supposed” to get.

I can’t, and won’t try to, make sense of it.  I just know that each moment is important.  Each moment has the possibility to be perfect and those moments (or three days) that are perfect, deserve to be cherished.