Today was supposed to be your due date. Instead, it is your 3-month birthday.
You were born on a Thursday, after just 27 weeks of pregnancy. You spent the first 84 days of your life inside the sterile walls of a NICU, and I spent the first 84 nights of your life without you. I did a lot of praying in that time. Mostly I prayed, even begged, that you would not remember. I prayed that you would forget every injection; every procedure; every tube, lead and wire -- and every minute spent alone in a warm plastic box.
As I watched you grow, I began to realize that there are a few things about this nightmare that I don't want you to forget -- a few things about yourself that I want you to know.
1. You are strong.
I have watched you fight for breath. This is not a dramatized way of saying that you went through a lot. What I mean is that I watched you set your beautiful eyes in determined concentration as you coordinated your tiny muscles to push your diaphragm down and draw in air. I saw the relief in your face and your body as the air flooded in, and I saw the exhaustion as you let it out. Then, I saw you do it again, and again, over and over until your body learned its own life-sustaining rhythm.
There may come a time in your life when you feel weak or inadequate. Please remember what you were able to accomplish entirely of your own will and your own fortitude. You are strong.
2. You were ready.
You endured so much in your days in the NICU. One day, I watched you have blood drawn from your heel, then watched a dressing change on the central line that traveled from your wrist to your heart, then watched as your second of five echocardiograms was performed. This all happened in a flurry of a few hours, and the chaos faded from the room as quickly as it came. I was left standing beside you, with my hands extended through the two portholes in your isolette. I placed my hands on your head and belly, I held you as close as I was allowed, and I apologized. I told you how sorry I was that all of this was happening to you, how sorry I was that I didn't hold onto you longer, how sorry I was that you weren't still snuggled safely with your brother, protected from the world in the way I was supposed to protect you. Although I thought we were alone, I think your nurse for the day overheard my apology. Later that day, he told me, "In all my years as a NICU nurse, one thing I am sure of is that babies are very good at telling us when they need to come out." He is right. We have gone through hell together to get to this day, but, my sweet babies, you are perfect. You are strong and healthy and exactly where you are supposed to be. Only God can know what would have happened if I had carried you to term.
There may come a time in your life when you feel like you are not ready for what is being asked of you. You may feel scared, overwhelmed or otherwise ill-prepared. Please know that your instincts about timing have always been correct. You are ready.
3. You are privileged.
You missed an entire trimester of pregnancy. There are a number of reasons that, as I write this today, you are all right. You are all right because you were born in a country with the resources and technology to sustain your fragile bodies. You are all right because we happen to live in a community with access to exceptional healthcare -- just 10 minutes from a Level III NICU. You are all right because we had the benefit of comprehensive health insurance coverage. You are all right because a network of professional colleagues stepped in to donate their hard-earned vacation time to me, allowing me to be by your side every day while you healed.
There may come a time in your life when you encounter those who do not share your many advantages in life. Never feel guilty about those advantages, but always feel grateful for them. You are privileged.
4. You are never alone.
I don't know anything about what it is like to have an identical twin. I never will. What I do know is that whenever I held one of you alone, you were often restless, disregulated, or otherwise showing signs of all that you had been enduring, and that whenever I held both of you together, you settled into a calm heaviness as you drifted into deep sleep. I know that your heart rates slowed until they beat in synchronicity, and you matched each other breath for breath. I have watched as you opened your eyes to study each other with quiet focus. I have watched as you reached out to find each other's touch. I know that whatever it means to be an identical twin, it means that even as you fight through the most difficult days of your lives, someone fights beside you.
There may come a time in your life when you feel adrift or unsure of where to turn for help. Turn to each other. You are never alone.
5. You are loved.
Because visitation was restricted in the NICU, people had to send their love and support in very creative ways those first months. Your aunt would often leave us dinner or healthy snacks on our doorstep. One grandmother knitted you beautiful sweaters and toys, while the other grandmother mailed greeting cards to our house -- timed so that I would get one every few days. A friend I had not spoken with in 10 years bought both of your car seats. Strangers offered prayers for you.
There may come a time in your life when you feel that you are not enough. Please know that you have been wrapped in love from the moment you first drew breath. You were loved before you said anything, before you did anything, before you knew anything, before you were anything.
For the lonely days, for the difficult days, my sweet boys: You are loved.