By Sharon Cupp Pennington
The timbre of the neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU…flashing lights and the abrasive buzz of an alarm jerking parents to attention, the tentative smiles and collective sighs of relief when it turns out to be nothing but monitors keeping cadence with tiny heartbeats and respirators circulating life-sustaining air for lungs not yet able to. Every few spaces there’s an occupied incubator or small metal crib. Between these sit haggard mothers or red-vested volunteers, crooning, consoling.
A father rushes in seeking the reassurance that will carry him to the end of another workday. A nurse, one of many resident angels, logs notes at her station. A doctor continues his morning rounds, here one minute, there the next.
I can’t name another place filled with more love and faith and courage, the absolute will to survive.
My husband sits across from me holding one of our two new additions, and I wonder if we’re thinking the same thing. Probably not. By the goofy grin on his handsome face, I’m sure he’s caught up in the miracle grandbaby in his arms.
I’m thinking what a year we’ve had, what with our daughter’s difficult conception and pregnancy, then the severe injuries I suffered in a hit and run accident. One crisis after another, stripping away the mundane, reminding us how important family is.
But for God‘s grace, I would’ve missed all this.
During my recovery people often said, “There’s a reason you didn’t die that night.” I smile at the memory.
Amid the buzzes and bleeps of life support I hear my husband whisper to the fussy infant in his arms, “What a big girl you are.”
Though she isn’t. The older of our daughter’s twins by a single minute, Sasha Grace entered this world at a wailing four pounds eight ounces. Shane Gabriel at four pounds, three. How blessed we are. Born just under thirty-five weeks, our grandbabies are tiny but healthy -- and I’m here to enjoy them, to savor this treasured moment with the man I‘ve loved for so many years.
I could expound on the feelings we share for these spirited wee ones, but it’s babies en bloc I consider as I look around the softly lit room. The valiant Tug-O-War between life and death so evident here.
I silently pray that every child in this unit survives, that none of these devoted parents go home empty-handed. Empty-hearted.
In a few days, our babies will move from their isolettes to cribs. They’ll do forty-five minutes in their infant car seats. A final test in preparation for the long ride home where they’ll be transplanted into a nursery decorated with whimsical carousels and ballerina bunnies, cowboy bears. Immersed in that wonderfully familiar, magical smell only babies possess.
They’ll grow and graduate, love, marry. They’ll have children to raise and worry over, become old and revel in grandbabies of their own. I wouldn’t have missed this for the world, and I’ll be eternally grateful I didn’t have to.
A longer version of this story ran in the Adam's Media anthology, The Rocking Chair Reader: Family Gatherings, fall 2005.
Sharon Cupp Pennington’s short stories have appeared in numerous online and print venues, with anthology contributions to The Rocking Chair Reader in the Coming Home edition (2004) and Family Gatherings (2005), A Cup of Comfort for Weddings: Something Old, Something New (2007), and Good Old Days Magazine (March, 2007). Draumr Publishing released her debut romantic suspense novel, Hoodoo Money, in May 2008 and the sequel, Mangroves and Monsters, in November 2009. She resides in Texas with her husband where she is currently working on her next project. For more information on Sharon, visit her website.