When Olivia was a baby, my friend Julie (everyone say hi to Julie) suggested to me that I join the support group she’d joined years before when her daughter was a newborn in the NICU.
I went to the site, read a few stories and told Julie that I didn’t fit in at that site. I told her that Olivia was only in the NICU for eleven days and she didn’t seem to have any major health issues at that time, other than the near-constant screaming…oh the screaming.
Julie gently told me that there is no such thing as ‘only’ when your baby is in the NICU. She asked me if I’d expected my full-term pregnancy to end with a baby in the NICU.
Well, duh, I replied, of course I didn’t expect my full-termer to end up in the NICU. She was the result of a 41 week, 2 day pregnancy. I thought I’d bring home a giant, healthy baby and all would be well.
Instead, my five pound, two ounce baby was taken three hours after her birth from the hospital in which she was born to a larger hospital an hour away where they had a NICU that could help her.
Julie pointed out that the whole reason I belonged to the group she’d mentioned was because my pregnancy didn’t end the way I’d expected.
Hers didn’t either. No one expects to give birth at 25 weeks. No one expects their baby to die at any point before or after birth.
And yet so many women I’ve met through this group have experienced just those things. We’ve all come together to support each other when things don’t go as planned.
I’ve been a part of this group since the early months of 2007. Back then we didn’t know that Olivia has 5p- syndrome. We didn’t know why she cried all the time, why she was born so small for her gestational age, why she had trouble breathing when she was born. We didn’t know why she had low muscle tone and didn’t sit up until she was a year old, didn’t crawl until she was 17 months old, didn’t walk until 29 months.
But even without knowing why, the women (and men, there are a few men) were so supportive of my struggles. They read my vents about sleep and feeding. They shared their own fears and celebrations. Together, we all felt so much less alone.
This weekend, I get to go to Chicago and see all these amazing people. This will be the seventh year I’ve been lucky enough to attend the conference known as ShareUnion. It’s a place for real hugs to replace virtual ones. It’s a place where it’s okay to try ugly tears. It’s a place for laughter, healing, community such that I haven’t known since my days in Residence Life in college.
I will be forever grateful to Julie for leading me to this place, these people. My people.
Because you know the saying, right? When the going gets tough, the tough create a support group.