I am trapped. Standing pressed up against the ice machine in the little nook staring desperately at the nozzle that dispenses water. Hoping that I can just keep my shoulders from displaying the heavy sob that threatens to expose me. I am pretending to not notice, playing the role of unknowing stranger despite having just made brief eye contact with the mom, I am not sure I am pulling this off. But I stand there desperately hoping they pass quickly before I crumble. Moments before I was walking through those doors into the woman’s care recovery unit where they had so graciously allowed me to keep coming to refill my silly giant hospital cup while I was here. I’m walking holding my mug when the sudden sound of the lullaby that is supposed to be a bright spot through the hospital goes off. I have come to know this song as a warning sign for us NICU moms. “Steer clear,” it says as it taunts us of what was not meant to be. But here I was directly in front of the hallway where they press the button and push the women from the birth center into the recovery area whether they are with their babies or not. I was not. My turn was confusing, and angering. Why did I get a lullaby so they could pretend that this was a happy moment for me crossing through that hall without my child in my arms? Why would I want to announce my entrance from the birth room into the world where I was not with my child? My bodies dysfunction that caused my baby to be taken from me at birth, my shock and sadness now proclaimed throughout the hospital as a happy event for all to smile at. The lullaby announced my new life of having had a baby and having nothing in my arms to tend to but rather a new address to visit my infant while she grew. My new role of NICU mom. I was the unknown mother, the one who hid from the other new moms in their celebratory joy. Like a leper so aware of their unique and unhappy repulsion, I was a bizarre version of new motherhood and everyone knew it. I am the unexpected outcome. The other mothers and hospital employees would recoil from me so that they too would not catch NICU. At least, this is what it feels like. The requirement pressed upon me now is to allow others the joy that I am denied and to hide my desolation and resentment. So there I am, right there, in front of another woman’s exultant moment and her song that announcement of her new motherhood. It is a proclamation to the hospital to join in her celebration. The doors swing open and I have two options, to turn and run or to quicken my pace to beat them to the cubby where the ice machine is so I can hide. But I was not quick enough to avert my eyes as I made that eye contact with the mom, happy smile on her face and new born infant snuggled in her arms as the joy abounded around them. And I nearly collapsed in the presence of her euphoric moment. My sadness overwhelms me and for a brief moment I freeze. I am trapped. But my strength, pride, and embarrassment of my jealousy, brought to me to the cubby, where I turned my back and pretended to be filing my mug for an unusually long amount of time as they passed. I want to avoid my reality as much as I want that mom to experience all of hers without the burden of my sorrow. Shoulders shivering through my sobs as I am trying to quiet and hold still. And then they are past. That mom, with her happy moment, that lullaby and their joy all passed me by.
Update: It took several weeks in the NICU before I quit cowering or raging at that lullaby (usually that came in the form of tears or me flipping off the speakers). Sitting in the NICU awkwardly holding my wired and tubed infant as the lullaby played, often felt like a slap in the face. But it got easier, especially as things became a little less scary with Fern. Then I just was jealous that I never really got that jubilant moment. I wanted that happy moment to leave with my baby alive and healthy and thriving. If that was meant to be, when it happened I wanted it shouted to the world or at least trumpeted to the rest of the hospital. When that day came for us to go home we exited that NICU door hugging nurses along the way. We entered the Woman’s Care Unit and as I said goodbye to one of my favorite nurses I joked that now was when I needed my lullaby played. She quickly got on the phone. And as we passed through those wide double door exits from Woman’s Care…… I got my lullaby at the appropriate triumphant moment.