The Longest Week

The Longest Week

From Chicken Soup for the Grandma's Soul

The Longest Week

A sweet new blossom of humanity, fresh fallen from God’s own home, to flower the earth.

Gerald Massey

It was a wintry Saturday morning and I was still asleep when the phone rang, but the urgency in Matthew’s voice startled me awake.

“Esmaralda’s water broke,” my oldest son told me. “We think she’s in labor.”

I felt my heart sink. As a longtime childbirth educator and breastfeeding counselor, I knew all too well the potential risks and challenges of a baby born two months early.

We spent the next hours walking the halls of the hospital as Esmaralda’s contractions grew ever stronger. Finally, the midwife knelt in front of her, Matthew sat behind her supporting her back, and Esmaralda’s mother and I took our places, one on either side, holding her legs. In just a few pushes, the baby emerged—pink and healthy, a beautiful boy.

Beautiful, yes, but oh-so-incredibly tiny. Sebastian Rhys Pitman weighed just four pounds, six ounces.

Esmaralda’s face glowed with joy as she held him against her. But within minutes, his breathing began to falter. We could see him struggling to take in each breath, and newborn Sebastian was moved to the nursery and placed in an incubator.

I was a grandma! But although I’d been there to rejoice in his arrival, I had barely seen, let alone touched, my new grandson, and my heart ached with worry.

By midnight we had even more to worry about. His breathing had continued to deteriorate, and eventually the pediatrician decided Sebastian needed to be transferred to a larger hospital where he could be placed on a respirator. An ambulance arrived to take him away, and a team of health-care professionals put tubes down his nose and throat and hooked him up to monitors for the trip. It scared us all to see this tiny, scrawny baby with so much of his little body covered by tubes and wires.

There wasn’t room for my son in the ambulance, so I drove him to the hospital, an hour away. Matthew’s a foot taller than me, but he leaned his head against my shoulder and wept as we drove through the dark and snowy night.

We were fortunate there was a Ronald McDonald House next to this larger hospital, offering a place to stay for parents whose children had been admitted. It became Matthew and Esmaralda’s home for the next few weeks as Sebastian struggled to stay alive. They spent most of their time sitting alongside his incubator, talking and singing to him so he would know he was not alone.

The nurses encouraged his parents to participate in Sebastian’s care from the beginning. He was too frail to tolerate much handling and needed to be on the respirator to keep him breathing, but when his diapers needed changing or when he needed to come out of the incubator for a few minutes, Esmaralda and Matthew were the ones who changed and held him.

I longed to cuddle him just once, but I knew that it was far more important for his parents to have that connection with him. I remembered how hard it was for me, as a new mother, to hand over my baby to someone else. I didn’t want to steal even one minute of the precious time these new parents had to hold their son.

I could be patient. But my arms ached to hold him.

I was used to being the mother—the one who had that very intimate connection with the baby. I didn’t know yet how to be a grandmother, and it was hard feeling relegated to the sidelines. Maybe if I held him just once, I’d feel more like a real grandma.

But I could be patient. I saw the happiness in Esmaralda’s eyes as Sebastian responded to her touch and her voice, familiar to him from the months before he was born. I would wait.

After four days, he was growing stronger. He began to breathe on his own, and the respirator tube was removed and replaced with a smaller oxygen tube. The nurses began to feed him the breast milk Esmaralda had pumped, and she was able to hold him longer each day.

I continued to drive there daily to encourage them and to marvel in Sebastian’s progress. Sometimes, as Esmaralda cuddled him to her, I would stroke his tiny hand or gently touch a foot that peeked out from the blanket. But my arms ached to hold him.

When he was a week old, the nurses informed us that he was almost ready to return to the hospital in the small town where we lived and he had been born. Yes, he still needed to be kept warm and fed by a tube for a few more weeks before he could come home, but he no longer needed all the special equipment.

As we celebrated this good news with smiles and hugs, the nurse said, “Now that he can be out of the incubator longer, would Grandma like a turn holding him?”

Would I? Would I?! I’d dreamed of little else for the past seven days.

I settled myself in the rocking chair and the nurse handed him to me. He was so light in my arms . . . such a tiny bundle. But he nuzzled his face against me and snuggled close. I felt a rush of love and emotion surge through me, and the tears flowed down my cheeks. Here he was, my beautiful little grandson, in my arms at last, breathing on his own and healthy and one step closer to coming home. I couldn’t speak. All I could do was cry. My arms no longer ached as I held him near and took in the magic of the moment as I held him for the very first time.

Teresa Pitman

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