You never realize how deep the desire to be known and understood is until your find yourself with a group of people who know and understand absolutely nothing about about you.
|A 2 year-old Johnny walking by the entrance to the NICU where he spent his first of life.|
That was me this past weekend as I went to tour the hospital where baby number 3 will most likely be born this summer. For a variety of different reasons it won't work out for me to deliver at either of the hospitals where my other two children were born. So, I spent my Saturday afternoon with a group a strangers walking through hospital wings and peering into delivery rooms.
As we waited for the tour to start I felt on edge, not because I'm uneasy about delivering this third baby, but because I didn't want the people around me to think that this is my first baby. "No, no" I wanted to say, "I've done this before. I have two kids already, they're at home with my husband. I'm married. See my ring? It's nap time so they all stayed home. But since this is my third it's not super important for my husband to come along. We know what we're doing."
The tour began, and each step along the way brought up memories and experiences that reminded me of all the profound ways becoming a mother has changed me. And it bothered me that no one else knew these things about me. At each turn I felt compelled to blurt out something personal about myself.
We entered a spacious room with a giant free standing tub. Water birth. My daughter was born in the water and it was a wonderful experience. My main objective in attending the hospital tour was to scope out the water birth accommodations. As I listened attentively to everything the tour guide was saying about water births, I noticed some other members of our group eyeing the tub suspiciously, others glazing over as the information was being presented to them. I wanted to shout out to them, "it's not weird, this is not a joke. I did this and it was amazing!"
The tour guide talked about what kinds of things you might do if your labor goes on a while and you're at the hospital for more than just a day or two.
"That was me with my first" I wanted to say. "I was in labor with him for 50 hours. And yes, it was terrible."
Next she covered the infant screening that takes place in the hospital. She spent several minutes explaining the hearing test, telling us not to worry if our baby fails the hearing test. "Many babies fail that first test because they still have amniotic fluid in their ears. It can take several days to drain out. You'll just repeat the test with your pediatrician and everything will be fine."
"Unless your baby is one of the less than 1% of kids born with hearing loss in the US, like my son. Then he or she will have to have more comprehensive testing done and be fitting with hearings aids as soon as possible. And then you'll have regular audiology appointments to monitor their hearing, and you'll want to find a good speech therapist, and you may want to consider learning sign language too....."
The tour ended with a walk by the entrance to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, which shares a floor with Labor and Delivery, and which is the very same NICU my son was transferred to when he was one day old.
It's been almost 5 years since my baby was taken to the NICU, but of all the sorrows in my life that one feels freshest and stings the hardest.
The tour guide talked calmly about the close proximity of Labor and Delivery to the NICU, and if in the unlikely event that your baby will need to go there, it is very easy to come visit him or her.
"But you have no idea what it's like to hobble down these hallways with fresh stitches in your body and legs still unsteady from the trauma of delivery"
She explained the layout of the private NICU rooms and mentioned the fold out couch available to parents who want to stay with their babies after they themselves have been discharged.
"Sure, it's a private room. But nothing feels more public than carrying your pads and peri-bottle to the unit's shared bathrooms every time you need to need to relieve yourself."
Hopefully you never need to go inside the NICU, she said, but it's nice to know it's there if you do.
"But if you do, it's ok to be upset, it's ok to cry and to feel like your world as falling apart, because it's really really hard. It might be the worst thing you ever go through. And you might not ever get over it. And that's ok too."
And that's when I realized I was doing the very thing I didn't want done to me - making assumptions.
Since the start of the hospital tour I had been making assumptions about every other person in the group - first time parent, inexperienced, naive, uninformed, too natural, not natural enough - even though I knew nothing about them, or their experiences.
And how could I? We can't see experiences, we can only learn about them through increased intimacy over time.
It's ok that I didn't share my life's story with my hospital tour group. And it was probably best for my ego that I didn't. But the experience was a good reminder to me that you can't possibly begin to scratch the surface of a person at first glance. I could no more know what scars and memories those other people brought with them to the hospital that day than they could know mine. We are, each of us, incredibly complex, that is a part of the beauty of humanity. Each person I encounter deserves not my judgement, but the dignity of my compassion and understanding. Who knows what I would find out about them if I could take the time to scratch the surface.