Photo: Lindsey Althaus

If you’re a mom you know there’s a phrase that you cringe when you hear your husband say it: “Ask your mother.” It’s one that I hear and I think, “Nope! Why are you setting me up for this?” A lot of times I feel annoyed that I have to answer a basic question and Jeremy gets out of it.

But then I’m reminded of our NICU days. It’s this moment I always go back to. I can remember the site, the smell of a sterile hospital room, I can remember the feeling in my chest, the emotions all of it. It’s when Jeremy held Whit for the first time. Whit was on life-support we were hopeful but didn’t know what the next day could bring. We had had a long day. We weren’t approved for the Ronald McDonald house so we were driving almost an hour to and from the NICU every day.

I was the human milkmaid who wasn’t handling the NICU life the way I felt I should. As if that’s a thing. As if they hand you a book upon entering called: How to handle the NICU and other fun facts to get you through this sucky time. I was constantly crying only able to hold my son once a shift because he becomes too unstable. None of this situation was ok. NONE of it.

I remember going to my parents to eat and my phone broke. I lost every NICU picture. Every contact. Everything. I had four days of exhaustion, trauma, and this feeling of guilt that I couldn’t shake and I lost everything. Whitman could easily die and I’d be left with 22 stitches in my lady bits and no video of Jeremy giving Whit his first bath, or a picture of me holding Whit for the first time.

During my meltdown, we decided to go back to the NICU one last time before heading home for the night. We walked into the room and the NICU nurse was in we introduced ourselves and she asked if one of us wanted to hold Whitman. I said let Jeremy. And Jeremy didn’t dare argue that logic. I remember the nurse and I moving the tubes and things around and Jeremy sitting in the chair. I remember how delicately he was placed in Jeremy’s arms and I remember this almost calm that had on his face. A weird relief. That maybe, just maybe, we’d make it through with minimum PTSD. We had been through so much in four days. Our lives weren’t anything that we had planned. I was working through a lot. Like how it’s the week of Thanksgiving and I wasn’t going to get to gorge like the big pregnant woman I dreamt of because Whit was here. I was working through the feeling of failure, I’m his mom and I couldn’t even take care of him the right away. I shouldn’t be this guy’s mom. I’m not qualified. He deserves so much better than me.

But at that moment though, when Jeremy was holding Whit the nurse said: “Mr. Althaus he can hear you talk to him.” Jeremy isn’t a man of words so I was expecting his usual: Hi and that was it. But in this deep confident voice, he said: “Hey I’m your dad. It’s not supposed to be like this. But we’re here. I love you. I don’t have any answers but your mom does. Ask her. Always ask her.”

I stood there sobbing which was my new persona those days. The nurse stood there sobbing too. Even though I felt like I failed Jeremy didn’t think so. Even though I was convinced that Whit would be better off with someone else Jeremy didn’t think so. NICU life is a lonely life. No one gets it until you’re there. There are so many roller coasters of emotions. Your sweet babe takes two steps forward three steps back. On days when I feel like I’m failing, I think of the day that Jeremy said ask your mom for the first time. Though today those words can drive me crazy I never take it for granted because there was a time when we weren’t sure that Whitman would be here. The NICU saved our baby and helped make him the thriving 6-year-old he is today. And for that I’m grateful.