By: Tyrese L. Coleman for mater mea
"Oh, look at those tiny babies! What did they weigh when they were born?" an older lady sitting on a bench outside the hospital asked. We'd strolled by her and others, drawing attention because of my twins' luggage, small oxygen tanks, and oxygen saturation and heart rate monitors. She was pleasant, but I wasn't in the mood for talking to strangers.
Mid-May in the Washington D.C. area is nothing like spring. It is humid, dank, and oppressive, the dregs of summer, just preterm. As soon as we exited the hospital air conditioning into the real world's heat, alarms erupted from their monitors for unknown reasons. I'd wanted to go unnoticed, wishing the journey from the neonatal intensive care unit, the NICU, to our car would've at least been uneventful. I needed something to be uneventful as our lives had not been for over three and half months, the time it took for them to recover from their premature birth at 25 weeks.
But the alarms blazed, alerting the world outside of the hospital's protective womb of their release. People stared at the caravan: a double-frame stroller cradling two car seats, severe beeping with each roll down the concrete curb, and two miniature babies, tubes everywhere. I should've expected someone to say something.
I ignored the woman. The answer to her question was none of her business. Over time, I realized, as most parents do, that not everyone is going to know what to say, keep thoughts to themselves, or respect your privacy when it comes to your children. But I was sensitive -- still am -- especially about their prematurity. I expected attention and anticipated questions, even generating snarky responses for the most ignorant:
"Were they born naturally?"
"As opposed to the pods they hatched from?"
"Do you breastfeed?"
"No, but my husband does."
"They're so little, how old are they?"
"Are they sick?"
"No, just born early."
This last question always got my goat. A baby born prematurely isn't necessarily sick or born early because of some disease or drug addiction. Preterm labor can start for any number of reasons. In my case, I had an incompetent cervix that couldn't carry the weight of two growing babies at once. I went into labor and was admitted to the hospital at 24 weeks. Eleven days later, they arrived, breathing with sturdy, albeit tiny, beating hearts.
Regardless of how one may look at faith, no one can deny that my children are miracles. Langston, born the size of an average 23-week-old fetus, received medicine for one minor condition the entire time they were in the hospital. His only job was to eat and grow until it was time to go home. His brother, however, received surgery in his heart and eyes and suffered from an intestinal infection, but he made it. My boys, in merely surviving, had accomplished more in a few months than I had in all my 33 years.
The older lady approached me and asked her question again. This time, she was visibly angry at my attempts to disregard her. She reached out as if she were going to grab my arm, but pulled away.
"I just want to know because my daughter's baby is in there, too," she said.
Without looking her in the eye, shame-faced, I stammered, "One pound three ounces and one pound 13 ounces."
She backed away from me to get a good look at my boys. They were either near or over five pounds each -- little -- but to me, they were huge. Despite the heat, they both wore knit caps, bare feet stuck out from blankets, pacifiers covering their entire faces except the eyes. She didn't say another word, just looked for a moment, hands crossed in front of her, and then walked away.
I understood at that moment that not all strangers ask questions just to be nosy. Although I had often gathered inspiration from my children's resiliency, I had not considered that others may benefit from experiencing their miracle, too. I was lucky. I could hold them in my arms and feel the constant reminder of hope in their warm skin, see it for myself every time they smiled, and know that if they could make it, so could I.
For someone going through their own journey -- whether it be the NICU, cancer, coming out, or just the struggle to get up in the morning -- my children's story may inspire them. What happened to them should not only belong to us. So now I share when asked about their birth. Once we walked out of those hospital doors, we left the privacy of our incubator. And the sensitivity, or insensitivity, of strangers is not always a one-way street.
Tyrese L. Coleman is a writer, wife, mother, and lawyer. She is also a master's student with the Writing Program at Johns Hopkins University. Her writing has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Buzzfeed, PANK Magazine Online, the Tahoma Literary Review, Quaint Magazine, and elsewhere. Follow her @tylachelleco on Twitter.
mater mea is a website that celebrates women of color at the intersection of career and family. Visit matermea.com for more great articles on work-life balance from a Black woman's perspective.