I. C. U.

Sherie Guillory


At the stainless steel sink, I scrub my hands with the bristle brush until they are raw and aching. The smell of the antiseptic is strong, lingering. It should be; this is the routine all visitors must go through to kill any germs; germs that could kill our babies.

Slipping on the blue smock and the suffocating face mask, I am now ready for my visit with my daughter. Heart thundering, I begin the long journey to where my baby lies in a plastic bassinet.

As I walk along the spotless ceramic floor, I see a woman sitting in a rocking chair. I've seen her many times since my own baby came into the Neonatal I.C.U. Her husband stands behind her, his head hung low, with his hands resting n her bone thin shoulders.

They have visited every day, just like me, just like all of us, and though we've rarely talked, we share a common bond. We are all waiting-waiting for one of two things: for our babies to finally come home or for our babies to finally die. It's an unspoken understanding as we glance at each other's eyes, smile, talk about the weather.

I stop in the hallway, knowing I should just keep walking, but unable to move from the spot. I glance at the bassinets lined up against the wall, only a few feet separating them, each in its own small world. Wires run from the wall to the babies as if the newborns are simply extensions of the machines. My stomach churns.

Her weeping is low and heavy as it reaches my ears, but I can see the tip of the pink blanket clutched to her chest, the wires running to the wall. A glimmer of hope rushes through me. The wires are still connected, surely the baby is still alive.

Then the doctor walks up, his white coat clean and crisp as though he hasn't seen death yet today, and leans toward them, whispering. The mother's weeping escalates and the father squeezes her shoulder. They form a statue as one by one, the doctor flicks off the machines, unhooks the wires, and wraps them up for the next baby who needs them.

My heart plummets as though it weighs a thousand pounds. She begins rocking, gently cradling the pink blanket, and I can see the miniature hands peeking from the edge, pale and still now. The mother touches each finger, counting them again as if to make sure there are still ten. Her dark eyes flit like a trapped bird from the rolled up wires now lying neatly on top of the machine to the bundle of lost hope clutched against her heaving chest. Her weeping plunges into wailing until I can no longer stand to look.

I rush past this section, search for my own bassinet, my own baby, silently praying the wires are still connected, the machines still beeping. I see her, lying on her stomach, the wires criss-crossed over her like a barbed-wire fence, barring me from touching my child.

"She's doing fine," the nurse says, her voice reassuring as she touches my arm.

"Wh-when can I hold her?" My arms ache for her. She is two weeks old and I've yet to hold her. Opening the lid on the bassinet, I reach a tentative finger in and gently touch her foot. She stirs slightly, but doesn't make a sound. I've never heard her cry.

"Not too much stimulation, remember? She's still very sensitive to touch," the nurse says gently.

"I only wanted to feel her...." I move my finger away, then sit down in my own rocking chair, eyes glued to the sleeping baby that fits into the palm of my husband's hand.

I wonder if the other mother is still rocking her baby, and I say a silent prayer for her, for her family. As I watch my baby, motionless but still alive, I wonder if tomorrow I will be rocking her. I wonder if she'll grow up to look like me-or if she'll grow up at all.

Counting her tiny fingers, now curled against her pale cheek, I ache to hold her against me. But I know it is better to leave her in the bassinet with the wires until she is strong enough to live on her own. I will wait until that day, hoping that she will finally come home.

~~

Today, my precocious three-year old, auburn hair pulled into a high pony tail, deep blue eyes inquisitive, laughter so musical it brings tears to my eyes, is the light of my life. I often touch her chest while she sleeps, feel it rise gently beneath my fingers as she breathes, and remember the day I saw the mother who'd lost her baby. My heart still aches for her loss because the common bond is still strong.

I will always remember: it could have been me.


© Sherie Guillory


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