Shell shock according to Wikipedia is "...a range of behaviors resulting from the stress of battle... The most common symptoms are fatigue, slow reaction times, indecision, disconnection from one's surroundings, and inability to prioritize."
Hmm... maybe that's what I've been experiencing.
You see over the past couple of weeks, ever since Alicia's birth, I've been struggling with . . . I don't know, a lack of direction? Or is it motivation? I don't quite know how to explain it. I just feel like I don't know what to do with myself. Somehow, this blog has provided me with an outlet and talking to Linda has helped a lot of course, but other than these things, I spend a lot of my days just kind of aimless. It's frustrating.
I come home from the hospital, and I tell myself not to watch TV, but what do I do? I sit down and I turn on the TV just for "a few minutes", and then I end up sitting there for an hour watching some mindless movie or TV show that adds no value to my life.
And as I'm doing these things, and I watch myself just letting time slip by, I get frustrated with myself. There's so much that I could be and should be doing with my time. And yet, somehow, I don't really want to. But I do want to. So there's this constant tug-of-war within me.
What's wrong with me?
As I was discussing my frustrations with Linda yesterday, she gently reminded me, "Honey, give yourself some grace. We just went through a life-altering, traumatic, stressful event. Our daughter was born 3 months early and she's in the NICU." And as she said that, part of my heart received her words with relief, while the other half struggled within me, "Yeah, but, what about the family? I need to provide! I need to work! I need to do SOMETHING!"
Even as I write this, it's hard for me to put into words everything that is going on in my mind and heart. I don't know if it's because I've tried to block it out, but sometimes I forget or just don't realize how much our lives have been altered by Alicia's early arrival. I mean, I don't know how I could forget such a thing, considering that our lives have been disrupted, our family has been uprooted from familiar surroundings and loved ones, our days are now regulated by visiting hours and pumping, and we're constantly wary of phone calls for fear that it might be the hospital with more bad news. And yet, perhaps it's because I'm a man, I can somehow shut all that out and forget about all that's happened and tell myself that I need to stop slacking off.
Last night, I was flipping through the premie book. By the way, the premie book I keep referring to is "Preemies - The Essential Guide for Parents of Premaure Babies: Second Edition" by Dana Wechsler Linden, Emma Trenti Paroli, and Mia Wechsler Doron, M.D. Great resource if you ever meet another parent of a preemie - apparently it's the "bible" of preemie care for parents.
As I was saying, last night, I was flipping through the premie book and found a whole section devoted to "The Father of a Premie." And it was really good. Again it was reassuring that I'm not crazy, and it helped for me to hear what I was going through from another person's perspective. In this section they shared some words from a father whose triplets were born extremely premature. He's an army officer, but he said that he's never been as afraid as when his babies were in the NICU. He said, (and this is quoted from the book) "Those days in the NICU are still the hardest of my life. I would relive the toughest moments in Iraq every day to never have to experience the NICU and see my girls struggle like that again. Rest assured, the NICU is combat. It is not like combat, it is combat. The difference is that in combat people are shooting at you, while in the NICU the bullets are the roller coaster of your own emotions. In combat, you're worried for the lives of the soldiers you trained. In the NICU, the soldiers are the children you created."
Maybe this is why I'm going through shell shock? I can't decide what I want to do with my time. There are so many things that I know I should do, but I really don't want to do them, and I can't decide what I should do first, so I just don't do anything.
Disconnection from one's surroundings? Yes. I've got that. I sit here and somehow, I am numb to the fact that we've just given birth to a girl. I mean again, I know that in my head we've just given birth to a daughter. But sometimes between visiting hours as we sit at home, somehow, I need to remind myself that we're going through a really intense situation.
And I'm ashamed to admit that as cute as my little girl is, and as much as I love her, I have fleeting thoughts while I'm in the NICU of "What if this isn't my girl? What if they mixed her up at birth? There were three other babies who came into the NICU that night. Maybe there's another girl in here who is my real daughter." Crazy thought. I know. She is my daughter. No doubt. But this just gives you a glimpse into my jumbled mind.
And thinking back on previous blog entries, I'm realizing just how real that "emotional roller coaster" is. I mean, one day, I'm up, one day, I'm down, the next day I'm all twisted up and confused. I wish things could just be normal.
But then again what is normal? We've really had to redefine normal over the past few weeks. I mean PDA litigations, pneumothorax, brain hemorrhaging, ventilators, blood transfusions, not normal for term babies. But for a preemie? Quite common. Tubes, incubators, wires, monitors and alarms? Again, not something you'll see too much of in the nursery of a baby born at full-term, but for us, normal.
And what I'm realizing is all this emotional chaos floating about in my psyche - normal. Again in the book, it talks about "coping emotionally" and as I read through the list of feelings that parents of preemies typically have to deal with, I couldn't help but marvel how I identified each one within me. Worry - check. Regret - check. Uneasiness - check. Guilt - check. Confusion - check. Sadness - check. Anger - check. Shock - check. Helplessness - check. A sense of spinning - DOUBLE CHECK. (Isn't what this whole entry is about?)
In a way, writing this blog is cathartic, it helps me to acknowledge and process the emotions. And yet, there's still a lot of confusion. It's almost as if I'm on the outside looking in. It's as if it's all happening to someone else, to another family.
But thankfully, as I've said in the past, we have a rock. A firm foundation that steadies us as the craziness circles about us. He is our anchor and when I feel completely out of control, I can return to him and he steadies us. When I fear that I'm being too lethargic, I know that his grace can cover it. I know that he will provide for our family, he's promised it and he always keeps his promises.
I'll end this post with a couple of things that God has been showing me.
First, numbers. Linda's birthday is November 29 (11/29) and she's always had this thing where anytime she sees "1129" on a clock, a license plate, a sign or anywhere, she feels that God is sending her a message that he is thinking of her and that he loves her. I'll admit when she first told me about this years ago, I thought it was a load of poppycock. But then I thought about it, and realized, well, why couldn't God speak to us in this way? It's his own private message for her. And that's sweet.
Well, for some reason lately, I've been seeing a lot of times like 10:10, 5:55, 2:22, etc... and it's been happening a lot, too often to be mere coincidence, and when I asked God what it meant, I felt like he was telling me that it was a message of "fullness" and "completeness." Some of you may think "that's just cray talk." Well, maybe, I have been kind of crazy lately. But you know what, I don't care of it's coincidence, or if it's crazy or whatnot. I will receive the message of fullness and completeness and I will say thank you, Lord. Bring fullness and completeness to your healing of Alicia. Bring fullness and completeness to our family.
Second, yesterday in the middle of the night, I woke up and had a hard time falling back asleep. While I was lying there in bed, I was kind of talking to God about all that was going on, and my struggle of not knowing how I was going to provide for our family. And I saw an image in my mind's eye of me in the midst of a storm. It was a lightning storm and what I saw was that I was standing there like a lightning rod and the lightning was striking me continuously. But it wasn't hurting me, in fact it was charging me up and filling me up with power. And my sense is that this "storm" that we're walking through right now is being used by God to give me supernatural strength and power for some greater purpose ahead. And again, this isn't me trying to get all puffed up and say that I'm going to be all powerful. I'd readily pass up on this "power" if only my daughter could be healthy. And I know that in and of myself, I am nothing, completely weak and wrecked. But if I'm willing to submit to God and what he's doing in my life, I believe some great things can be accomplished, so bring it on Lord.
Onto Alicia, as of this morning's visit, she's doing well. From what the doctor can tell, they've been able to suck out all the excess air from Alicia's chest, and there doesn't seem to be any more leakage, praise the Lord. So they're going to observe her today and if all goes well, they're going to pull out the tube from her chest that was helping to remove the extra air. So it seems, at least for now, the pneumothorax is gone. Phew.
Her color was pretty good this morning and she continues to eat well and has even gained 20 grams since the last time they weighed her two days ago. Yahoo! =) Only a few thousand grams more and she can go home. (Funny, but I'm not exaggerating.)
When we arrived at her incubator this morning and removed the cover, her eyes were wide open and it was as if she was waiting for us. She even had this perplexed look like, "Where have you guys beeen?! I've been waiting?!" Of course, the look could have just been a reaction to me pulling the covers too quickly, and her eyes needing to adjust to the light. But as we visited with her, she watched us for about a minute, then she started to fall asleep. It was like, she saw us and felt like she could finally relax and rest. It does a father's heart good to see the comfort that we bring.
As for prayer requests:
Pretty much the same things as yesterday.
1. The nurses keep reminding us each time that we go that she has a lot of mucus buildup. But that's completely normal in preemies of her size and age. It should go away as her body gets bigger and stronger and develops the ability to clear out the mucus on its own. Pray that this would happen in God's time and that the mucus wouldn't affect her breathing too much.
2. Her apnea. She still has bouts where she forgets to breathe. But according to the doctor, these bouts are fewer and farther between. That's good. Pray that the part of her brain that regulates breathing would develop quickly, so that she would remember to breathe without help.
3. Speaking of her brain. Continue to pray for its development. Young preemies like Alicia are susceptible to brain damage from various complications. Pray that Alicia's brain would develop well and that she would have no damage and no impairment. And in fact that her brain would be better than the average.
4. Pray that she would continue to get big and strong. Most of the problems that she faces are simply because she is really young and her body is immature. As she gets older and stronger most of these problems should and will disappear.
5. Pray for Linda and I to continue to have peace in our hearts and to have wisdom as we deal with all the new information that gets thrown at us. Pray that we will be able to process all of the emotions and thoughts that are circling within us. Also, pray that God would prepare us well for when Alicia comes home that we'll know how to take care of her and raise her.