Today is Father's Day, my very first. This should be a rather significant day for me, I suppose. It's the first time I'm celebrating Father's Day as, well, a father. But oddly, this day felt oddly ordinary. Maybe I'm just making too big of a deal of this holiday, or making it out to be something that it's not, but, I don't know, I guess part of me was thinking that I'd feel different as a father, but well, oddly, I don't.
I mean what is it exactly that makes someone a "father"?
I suppose technically, one could say that contributing to half of Alicia's genetic code makes me a father. But there has to be more than that. I mean, there are plenty of children who carry the genetic code of men who are absent from their lives or don't even know of their existence. Would you call these men fathers? I guess, as I said earlier, technically.
What about being a provider? Does that make someone a Father? Maybe. I think most would agree that a good father provides. He provides food, a house, clothes, the basic necessities of life. He provides love and security.
Fathers also play with their children. Fathers change their children's diapers. Fathers comfort their children when they are scared at night. Fathers teach their children right from wrong.
But for me, I haven't done any of this. Thus far, my experience of fatherhood is one that I could have never asked for nor imagined. Before Alicia was born, as Linda said, we had all these grand ideas of what parenthood would be like. We prepared ourselves for sleepless nights, and diaper changes. I never imagined that I would spend the first three weeks of her life visiting a hospital every day, and having to make decisions that could mean the difference between life and death. This is definitely not what I pictured fatherhood to be.
Where are the days of rocking my baby to sleep, of holding her and talking to her and singing to her? What about the sweet kisses and hugs and giggles? Instead, I've got beeping monitors and tickling her feet so that she doesn't fall too deeply asleep and forget to breathe. Something's missing.
But even as I write these things, there is a gentle whisper in me that says these things are not lost. In fact, no, Alicia's first few weeks may not be how I imagined them to be. But, fact is, she's going to live, and we're going to take her home. And those days of sleepless nights, midnight feedings and diaper changes, they're coming. Rocking her to sleep, holding her and hearing her giggle, we'll get there. We have just taken a little detour.
And as my sweet wife just reminded me, I am a father. Alicia is my daughter. I may not "feel" like a father, but that doesn't change the fact that that's what I am now. It's a part of me and part of my identity.
And truth is, Linda and I, while we've been ushered into parenthood in quite a dramatic unexpected way, we are still parents. And while, we can't perhaps yet do the things that parents of a full-term child do, we do do things that only we as Alicia's mom and dad can do for her. Only we could sign off on that surgery and give permission for it. Only, we were allowed to go into the NICU and talk to her before she went under anesthesia. Our singing and talking to her, though sometimes it seems like she's unresponsive, does make a difference.
I think the important thing for me is to remember that this time in the NICU is temporary. While, yes, Alicia's hospital stay is a lot longer than I would have maybe anticipated, it too shall end, and we too shall take her home in a few months time.
And the days when she recognizes us, and calls me Daddy and calls Linda Mommy? Those days are coming. And besides, even if Alicia were a full-term baby, it would still be awhile before she recognized us as her parents.
The trick is to continue to sing to her, continue to speak to her, continue to visit her and touch her, and believe and know that these things are making a difference, even if right now we don't see it.
That's a lot of the challenge of life, eh? To keep going even when we don't receive immediate feedback or gratification.
One of the nurses told us today that she feels like Alicia is really aware. She says that she notices that right before morning visiting hours arrive, Alicia will go through motions as if to wake herself up to prepare for our arrival. And I do notice that when Linda and I are there, her heart tends to beat at a slower pace and she seems to rest more peacefully and deeply. Of course, we have to be careful not to let her fall asleep too deeply. =) So I do believe that Alicia does know.
I do wonder what my relationship with my daughter will be like? Will she really wrap me around her little finger as so many people predict? Only time will tell.
In the meantime, I just celebrate my new identity as a father, and I ask the greatest father of them all, our Heavenly Father, to continue to give me wisdom on how to be the best father that I can be for Alicia.
Some prayer requests:
1. Alicia has recovered well from her surgery. Her blood pressure, breathing, oxygen levels and heart rate have all stabilized. Pray that they would continue to stay steady and strong.
2. Pray for her physical growth. Now that her PDA has been taken care of, the next thing we need to concentrate on is growth. Alicia is now drinking 8ccs of milk per feeding. They've started to mix in some fortified milk with Linda's breast milk to give Alicia some extra calories to help her pack on some meat. Pray that she can continue to eat well and that she'll start to gain weight.
3. Pray for her lungs. She still continues to have a lot of mucus that they need to suction out. This is normal in premies of her age. So doctors aren't too concerned. She should grow out of it as she gets older.
4. Pray for her breathing. She still has bouts of apnea. Again, something that she'll grow out of as she gets older. Pray that her body would quickly learn to breathe steadily on its own.
5. Pray for her brain. Doctors worry that she may have some brain damage as a result of moments of oxygen deprivation and also her needing to be resuscitated after birth. Pray that her brain would develop healthy and whole.
6. Doctors haven't told us about this yet, but I read in the premie book that most young premies of ROP which is an eye disorder that can be pretty dangerous if left untreated. They'll probably do an eye exam in a couple of weeks for this. We pray that it won't be there. But if it is, that the doctors would be able to treat it and that it would not cause Alicia to have any sort of visual problems.
7. Just overall that there would be no lasting physical problems as a result of her early birth, and that she would thrive.
8. Pray that Linda and I would have wisdom to know how to use our time that God has given to us while Alicia's in the hospital. That we would be productive and use our time well.