As we prepare for our oldest son’s birthday, I can’t help but feel all weepy and emotional. No, it’s not Baby #3 hormones, but how far Caleb has come in 5 years. That boy has endured more in five years than some adults have in five years.
In 5 years, Caleb has:
Moved four times
Went to two schools
Traveled to seven different states
Coped with a deployed parent 3 different times
Been separated from a parent for almost half of his life
Racked up thousands of miles flying back and forth from the West Coast to the East Coast
He has stood up to bullies, succeeded, fallen down and gotten back up, jumped off things fearlessly, tried new foods, failed, tried new things, went from “big brother” to pseudo-dad when my husband was deployed, learned to read, learned to write, and opened doors like a gentleman while being a gross booger picking toddler all at the same time. He continues to grow, learn, and drive us crazy each and every single day. But most of all he makes us proud to be his parents.
When Caleb was first born, “proud” was not one of the first words that crossed my mind. Words like “helpless”, “uncomfortable”, and “pity” flooded my thoughts instead. At 32.5 weeks Caleb had to make his debut into the world earlier than expected.
I had to deliver Caleb early because I had severe preeclampsia, my kidneys were shutting down, and Caleb stopped growing at 30 weeks. My blood pressure was super high, paired with an incredibly painful headache – I thought my students were just working my nerves, but no… it was actually my body telling me I’m really, really sick.
I remember the drama of my check up. We just got married the week before. Jay left the the day before to go back to his unit to finish up some re-deployment stuff. I had to go back to teaching. It was about the end of my doctors appointment and I had approximately 29847987 things to do that night.
Doctor: Hey Justine, what are your plans for the rest of the day?
Justine: Oh, I really need a haircut. So I'm going to go to my friends salon up the street. I've been really craving some In N Out and after that I have to go home and finish up some lesson plans. What about you?
Doctor: I'm going to deliver your baby.
Justine: Haha. Shut up.
Doctor: You are sick as a dog. You need to go and check yourself in to that hospital now. Call your husband. Call your parents. You need to have this baby. Now.
Justine: *immediately starts crying* Jay is in Kentucky.
Doctor: Well. Get him to Vegas.
I begged my doctor to push back the surgery until the next day so Jay can be there. His best friend, Ellis, (and the godfather to all of our kids) came and stayed with me until my parents and my mother-in-law arrived. Our ENTIRE DANCE TEAM showed up in the waiting room. Jay's plane landed at 4PM, by 6PM I was in the Operating Room, and by 7PM Caleb was out. I was immediately put on a Magnesium Drip for 24 hours.
Because of my circumstance, I wasn’t able to visit Caleb in the NICU until two days after I delivered him, and even then I wasn’t able to hold him. My husband had to wheelchair me from Recovery to the NICU. I felt so helpless seeing Caleb’s little body and ginormous head. He was hooked up to all of these cords, machines beeping, machines whirring, I can see adhesive residue where cords were, and I can see where he was poked.
I felt so much pity or this little human. But mostly I felt like a failure because...how could I allow this to happen? I was mad at my body for not carrying my baby to full term, I was mad at my doctor for cutting me open instead of trying to labor then deliver my child like a “real woman”, I was mad at the situation because it wasn’t supposed to be like this. I had a plan, and this totally wasn’t it.
Caleb was in the NICU for 17 days. Some days were good, some days were bad. There were certain times were able to see and take care of Caleb. The NICU nurses and doctors were incredibly compassionate. They didn’t mind letting us help to feed or change him, and after he was clear to touch, we were able to give him unlimited snuggles.
There were times where I thought we would be ready to go home, but then something would come up – he stopped breathing, he couldn't regulate his body temperature, his blood sugar was low, he couldn't seem to get the hang of drinking from a bottle, or he wasn't gaining weight.
As NICU parents, we were incredibly lucky to have such a short stay. There are families who share their stories, visit their babies every single day for months with no word on when the baby can come home.
"Proud" doesn't even come close to how we feel towards this boy.
Words like: inspired, amazed, shocked, adored, motivated and other indescribable words replace "pity", "helpless", and "uncomfortable".
Five years has flown by. It's crazy how far he’s come from a little helpless baby in a The box to this gross, caring, hilarious, smart, little man.
While planning Caleb’s 5th Birthday Party, we were talking about party favors. Instead of doing a goodie bag full of candy and little toys that end up getting thrown away, we decided to do a donation.
In a Word Document, I found cute font, some clip art, and printed this:
I glued it to a piece of construction paper, hole punched it, tied it to a Blow Pop, and that was the party favor for every guest attending the birthday. We made a monetary donation of $2 in each attending guests name, which ends up being a donation of about $50 to The March of Dimes Foundation.
It’s a little more expensive than rounding up all of the supplies for a goodie bag, but knowing it’s going to a good cause, helping out babies that had similar beginnings as Caleb, and supporting families of babies in need, I feel good knowing that it will help.