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Waiting for the fairytale ending when you can’t bring your newborn home



Fabiana Santos - published on 06/29/17

When it's for our children, we're capable of the impossible.

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I’m the type of person who’s impatient with people who speak slowly. I’m also the type that gets speeding tickets (yes, it’s horrible). And I often act on impulse and then realize that if I had reflected a little, I would have been better off.

In one of the places where I worked, a colleague gave me the nickname “premature” and everyone was amused (including me).

But one day the premature woman had a daughter who was born before her scheduled time. Our 32-week-old baby, a little over a pound, was absolutely vulnerable, just like my husband and me at that time. Alice had some complications related to prematurity and underwent three surgeries while she was hospitalized for exactly two months.

In this time of true gestation inside the hospital, I had to lock my impatience in a trunk and lose the key. I had to breathe deeply every morning in order to just … wait. I have no idea what others do to bear it, but my faith in God was the key to staying strong. There is something supernatural in that place that can clothe mothers with inexplicable courage.

It was the most intense two months of my life. I saw mothers losing babies who were my daughter’s neighbors in the intensive care unit. I saw other babies simply stop breathing and then be brought back to life by the nurses. I saw my daughter fighting like a lion cub to stay alive.


Read more:
The day I almost died in childbirth

In the first week after she was born, I asked the neonatal unit doctor when my daughter would be discharged. He smiled with a mixture of camaraderie and experience and said, “Parents of premature babies can never ask this question. There is simply no right and immediate answer.” It was like a stab for someone who likes speed so much.

It was painful to go home without her. To wait … and wait. My routine was to go to the hospital three times a day. I took my place there in the morning, afternoon, and night. At every visit, I hummed softly in her ear: “Alice … Mommy loves you! ” It was all I could do for her. It was no use for me to fight it.

I became a kind of “public relations” person in the unit. I would guide parents who came in, write encouraging texts, and even signed a petition so that the hospital could have a space reserved for parents to sit in during visiting hours — a request that was met.

I did all of this more for myself than for others. I needed to feel useful and busy, as time was passing by so slowly. I needed to distill my anxiety somewhere.

We celebrated every bit of progress that my daughter made. Every ounce of weight she gained day by day was a step toward getting the green light. Every milliliter of breast milk, which I pumped alone in the middle of the night and she received by drops in the incubator, was an infinite joy.

Read more:
When a baby’s diagnosis is grim, there is a path of hope

To further test my endurance and patience, on the appointed day for Alice to go home, she simply wasn’t ready. At the last routine examination, the pediatrician discovered a hernia in her groin. It was necessary to operate on it, so we waited another three days until her definitive release.

Coming home with Alice in my arms was a fairy tale. It was almost as if we left the hospital flying on Aladdin’s magic carpet. The feeling of freedom was so magical and surreal. Never again would we have to see her only at certain times. Never again would we have to say goodbye when the time was up. Those things became absolutely fantastic just because I wanted them so much and they had seemed so impossible.

I have not learned to stop being impatient. I barely endure bravely. Do not think that I’ve become an example of balance and calm. I still do not count to 10, and yet, something in me has changed. At least, every time I share this story with someone, I remember that — out of love — I waited courageously. When it is for our children, we really do the impossible, don’t we?

Courtesy Fabiano Santos

Fabiana Santos and her daughter, Alice

Fabiana Santos is a Brazilian journalist who lives in Washington DC. She is the mother of Felipe, 12, and “little miracle” Alice, who is 6. The baby born at a little over a pound is now a very clever girl. She is bilingual, swims, does karate, has many friends, and is an avid reader.

This article was originally published on the blog Tudos sobre minha mae.

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