About a month after L came home from the NICU, I took him to the grocery store for the first time. I was still very anxious about taking him anywhere in public, given our heightened awareness of germs coupled with his tendency to make alarmingly large messes of one type of bodily fluid or another, but we needed groceries, and I needed to feel like a competent mother who could at least handle taking her child to the grocery store, for pete’s sake. So I packed up all our many supplies, and timed it just right, and loaded us up in the car and set off.
I had heard friends talk about random strangers approaching them in public places to fawn over their baby and pinch chubby cheeks, so I braced myself for the onslaught as I walked through the doors with my adorable little granny-magnet. I was fully prepared to slap an old lady’s hands if she got too close; it was flu season, after all, and that sweet old lady’s germs could be devastating for L.
But nothing happened.
When we walked through the doors, no one noticed. As I pushed our cart through the produce section, not a single shopper looked our way. L wasn’t hooked up to his TPN backpack and he wasn’t currently spewing any fluids from either end, so we had no reason to draw curiousity or disgust or alarm, and he was approaching six months old — not tiny enough, anymore, to be irresistible. He looked like any other baby in the supermarket with his mom, strolling down the banana aisle on the way to the salad greens.
I found a strange urge to scream unexpectedly welling up inside me. I wanted to throw my head back and yell, “DON’T YOU KNOW HOW HARD THIS WAS?”
Not just physically getting to the store, although that had been hard enough. I had timed it during that precious 6-hour window of freedom he had off of TPN each day, and in between naps and pumping and doctor’s appointments and therapies and feeding sessions that could take up to an hour apiece, just to get him to finish off two teaspoons of breastmilk. I had loaded up diapers and wipes and spare clothes and medical tape and saline syringes and sterile gloves and a g-tube extension and a spare dressing change kit, trying to prepare for whatever hurdles might come our way. I had mustered the courage to take him out in public in November, and to brave the many things that could go wrong outside of the safety of our house.
But beyond that — nearly six months of constant struggle had led up to that simple trip to the store. The yell I stifled was made up of countless sleepless nights, countless hours wondering if we would ever find normalcy again, countless days when I’d had to buy my groceries solo, because my child was not allowed to leave the hospital. It was made up of six months of fear, six months of learning to cope, six months that had dropped me into a life I barely recognized.
That simple act of normalcy – pushing my baby in a cart through the produce section – was so utterly jarring, on the heels of our struggle, that I felt like I didn’t belong, like we must stick out like a sore thumb, and I couldn’t quite wrap my head around the fact that no one had noticed us.
It’s been one year since we became a family of four. I’ve barely blogged since G was born. Partly, that’s because our lives and hands have been so full; where I used to sneak time to write after L was asleep, I’m now doing back-to-back bedtimes for two and often falling asleep before the end of the second one, because I’m exhausted from middle-of-the-night escapades; where I used to sneak time to write over my lunch break, I’m now pumping and pumping and pumping some more.
But a big part of my long mostly-silence comes from the fact that things have been so gosh darn normal that I’m not sure what to say. And it’s not that there’s nothing to write about — it’s just that it’s difficult to explain, in a quick blog post about how everyone is doing well, the enormity of that normalcy for us, when for a long time we didn’t know if we would ever get here.
We are happy. We are well. And I am still awed and stunned, every single day, by the enormity of our normalcy, in a way that I’m not sure I quite have the words to describe.