After slowly weaning the Monkey off medication and having him breathe warm, vaporized air for two or three days straight, the doctors said we could take him home Sunday morning — as long as he did well overnight, without his hood and vaporized air.
The Hubbs and I tried not to get too excited, to not think about it too much. But late Saturday night, just before we left, we both bent over his little bassinet and whispered our encouragement into his little ears.
We told him to be a strong little boy. That we’d be back in the morning to see him. And if he did well tonight and tomorrow morning, we could all go home together. The Hubbs added bribery: If the Monkey did really well and got to go home Sunday morning, we’d go out and buy him a new toy. Then we kissed his little cheeks, and I rubbed my nose against his little head while he sighed in his sleep, told him he was loved, and left for the night.
Sunday morning began like the others: I woke up around 6:30 a.m. and called the ICN. I’d often have to leave a message — a lot of the babies were being fed around that time. The Monkey’s nurse would call me back around 7 or 7:30 a.m.
We got dressed quickly, and were trying not to look at the clock when the phone rang around 7:30. It was the Monkey’s nurse. I asked how he did overnight and during the early morning, then held my breath. The Hubbs sat on the edge of the bed, watching me.
He had done fine. The hospital doctor had seen him early that morning and had given us the green light to go home. All that was left was for our pediatrician to look him over and for us to fill out the paperwork. My breath came out in a gust. I managed a thank you, and turned off the phone. I turned to the Hubbs and smiled. I didn’t need to say anything.
We stood there, grinning like fools, before I launched myself into his arms for a hug. It was nearly over. He was coming HOME.
Once at the hospital, we didn’t know what to do with ourselves. We were able to take our time scrubbing up, since the Monkey was asleep. We felt very self-conscious: We had brought the Monkey’s going-home outfit, a blanket, a hat, and his infant seat carrier. We were the first parents there.
Remembering how we felt, the Hubbs asked a nurse if he should stow the infant seat carrier behind the nurse’s desk in the lobby. She said no, to keep it by the Monkey’s bassinet. He was still closest to the door.
For the next two hours, we saw every parent’s eyes stop and linger on that car seat when they walked in the room. Several stopped mid-stride to stare — a blank haze on their faces — before moving on.
I felt guilty. I remembered how I felt seeing that empty bassinet just days earlier. I pulled the privacy curtain around the seat.
N’s Moms were the second to arrive. His birth mom came over first, a hopeful look on her face: “You guys going home today?” I practically squealed my “yes.” She smiled and squeezed my hands, and told us both how happy she was for us. She had gotten good news the night before, just after we left. If N did good that day, the doctors said he might go home on Monday.
“But we’ve heard that before,” she said, fingers crossed. I smiled back.
“Hopefully it’ll be the last time you have to hear it,” I said. She smiled and nodded.
So I signed my name on a thousand forms, initialed here, here, here, and there, hopped on one foot, and sang the national anthem before we were finally done. The nurses gave us some last-minute advice, and then we woke the Monkey up by disconnecting all the wires that had been attached to him for the past week.
He was not amused. Sticky tape, I’m looking at you.
Then we got him dressed as quickly and quietly as we could while feeling the stares of the other parents in the room. When he was ready, the nurse called for a wheelchair and the Hubbs ran to the garage to get the car. I buckled the Monkey into his infant seat for the first time, sat in the wheelchair, and held him in my lap.
As the volunteer wheeled me away, N’s mom raised her hand and waved one last time. I waved back and smiled.
There were tears in her eyes.
That ride home was the sweetest. The best. The most peaceful. It was filled with hope.
It wasn’t until we were pulling onto our street that I started to worry: What if he started having breathing issues again? What would we do?
For the time being, it didn’t matter. I was too excited. We were a family. We were finally home.