If you read this blog, you know that when our expat experience in the Netherlands came to a close in 2014, I felt like the doors of the world had shut in my face. It was worse than the worst breakup of my younger years, and in some ways strangely similar. There was the moping. The tears at the sight of a photo, or a friend’s reference to the Lost. The feeling that nothing mattered due to the Loss. (Maybe you handled your breakups better than I did?) There were too many mornings when I sat on the $40 brown couch we bought used on Craigslist (maybe you buy better couches than I do, too) and stared out the windows at my own definition of suburban bleakness and couldn’t figure out how to get started, or where to go, or why. The world, it seemed, had gotten small.
But it wasn’t stagnant, and in October we found out I was pregnant. There are missing chapters from this blog on our years overseas, that were too personal at the time to write— unsaid posts on Dutch hospitals and healthcare, hopes for a baby in a bakfiets that never quite materialized. And then (I kid you not) six months to the day from our move back to the US, a positive test. We held our breath, and we waited.
Things were well, and then gradually and quickly they weren’t, and in March I was admitted to the hospital in early labor at just shy of 24 weeks. Delivery was averted and a sleepless night spent and in the morning we realized, I wasn’t going home. I had a host of problems and a high risk pregnancy and no idea that when we’d walked in the doors the afternoon before, I wouldn’t walk out for more than a month. Tim went home and got my things and I was moved to bed rest in the area of the hospital called antenatal— a surreal, numb world I had no idea existed, and I hope you didn’t, either. For more than a month I sat in a hospital bed in a room that was tiny and private, with a window that looked over a construction project. Winter was stuck on play and the scene was always drab. The nurses who came and took my vital signs and listened to the baby every four or five hours or who called transport to wheel me in a bed for an ultrasound two times a week (the only times I left the room) repeatedly informed me that I wasn’t missing any good weather. As far as I could tell, they were correct, but it didn’t really help. You might think that being on bed rest would give a person a lot of time, but my mind didn’t work. I discovered Instagram (we never had smartphones overseas) and followed anything I could find relating to Paris, Amsterdam, cooking (hospital food making traditional Dutch cuisine look innovative, spectacular). My phone would flash the weather from my favorite cities and I would marvel that all of these places were existing, somewhere, right now, while I sat in a bed and watched Boston’s dirty snow melt. I couldn’t help thinking that this was all a very cruel joke. I’d thought the world was small before? Now I knew what a loss of freedom really meant.
We knew she would come early and she did, at 29 weeks. I had a gut sense that given everything, she would come on April 24—a year to the day since our move. I told Tim, and it should tell you how weird everything had gotten that he admitted he’d thought of this. We were spared whatever strange symbolism this might have had when Lucy was born via “planned emergency” C-section on April 20. (This means they gave us four hours’ warning and time to get some more drugs in my system.)
Our world, in the extremely short span of time a C-section actually takes, zoomed down to 3 lbs, 5 oz. She was whisked away to a little plastic incubator which around her appeared gigantic, and for 10 weeks she stayed, not always in the plastic incubator but always in the NICU at what we had to admit we were glad was a first-rate American hospital. In July (her original due date was July 1) she came home, with an oxygen tank (now gone) and a tiny little cry and the bluest blue eyes in the world.
Though at first it was hard, we leave the house now—going “out in the world,” I always tell her. She looks at me and laughs and I think she understands. The world, I would whisper to her in the hospital, is not a tiny room with beeping and lights and needles and cords. Tell the other babies.
She isn’t ready yet— for airports and bicycles, unfamiliar bus routes, food on forks at a foreign cafe. And so we learn patience together, and remind ourselves that the world is always both smaller—and bigger—than we expect.