Motherhood shatters my identity.
My face felt heavy as I stumbled out of the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). My baby was connected to so many tubes and wires. Questions raged, and my heart raced, sweaty palms pulsing with anxiety. How could this be my life? How had this happened?
That morning, I had driven the car down the ramp into a dark underground space where the lights flickered above the ticket machine. While the machine beeped and printed, I’d tried to breathe slowly to steady my heart. I glanced at my husband Evan, his face gaunt and skin pallid. There was nothing to say, and the silence was deafening.
The gate finally lifted, and I followed the signs down endless ramps to find an empty car space. When we got out, I took a photo to remember the car’s location, among all the details we would rather forget. To retrieve our phone chargers, Evan sorts through presents and bags of baby clothes.
We’d ridden up the almost overflowing lift. There were mums with young children in prams, people dressed in scrubs and business attire.
I asked a man dressed in scrubs what level the NICU was on. His look of pity made my stomach turn, but he pressed the button labelled six on the wall.
“Good luck, love”, he replied.
The hospital was busy. It’s recently been renovated, and the sunlight streaked across the tiled floor. The smell of coffee brewing mixed with disinfectant was peculiar but memorable. As the lift moved slowly towards the top floor, everyone exited. The doors opened onto a long white corridor with a sign indicating the direction to the Butterfly ward. We came to a large room with animals, flowers and trees painted across the walls and stopped at heavy glass doors with an intercom.
It’s a neonatal intensive care unit for the sickest of babies. While we wait at the glass doors for the intercom to be answered, I looked around, imagining the designs are intended to make the hospital feel less sterile.
“Hello”, a voice asks.
“Umm. Hi, we’re here to see our baby. Ah, he was transferred”, I stumble.
“Are you Carla and Evan?” the voice asks.
I felt hollow then as if frozen in time. Evan glanced at me with a pale complexion. How could they know who we are?
“Yes”, I finally answered.
We were then led along the hall into the NICU, which opened up with several wings. The most critical babies surrounded the glass-walled office area, which was teeming with doctors and nurses. Suddenly, we realised the reason for the familiarity through the intercom is the small number of babies here. The nurses would know every family, and a new family would not enter too often.
The nurse showed us to a desk and asked us to fill in some paperwork. All I wanted was to see my baby. How could I not know where he was? 48 hours ago, he was still safely growing in my womb, and now he was separated by an unimaginable distance.
Finally, we were led to his room, and we walked into a clinical space looking out over the park. Our baby laid on an open cot, with his intubation tube, heart and blood oxygen monitoring cords, blue lights for jaundice, plus IV lines in each arm. His heels were pinpricked with tiny dots of blood from the four-hourly blood tests.
I felt myself fall heavily into the chair offered to me by the nurse, Sarah. I felt my stomach churning and my heart racing as I tried to make sense of the scene in front of me.
The nurses had made a printed sign with our baby’s name and placed it on the top of the machine keeping him alive. It was navy blue with polka dots and seemed so out of place.
Two days later, my eyes were stinging from the irregular sleep, my breasts in pain from the hourly pumping for expressed milk. We had family visiting each day, asking questions we couldn’t possibly answer. The doctor’s rounds at 9am made us feel invisible.
We asked ourselves, ‘who are we?’. We couldn’t answer our own simple questions.
Who was the child in the cot? Why did it feel so irregular, so distanced, so strange?
Five weeks later…
We waved goodbye to the nurses and doctors and took our tiny baby down the lift to the car, waiting for us patiently. Putting the capsule into its tether in the car was surreal. A moment we’d dreamed of but not known when it would occur. We drove home listening to the noisy breathing of our five-week-old son. He was smaller than most newborns, but he was alive.
We began our new life as a family of three.
Two years later…
I read the words again and again. ‘Who am I?’. I couldn’t really define myself. My journey into motherhood had completely changed my perception of life, let alone my own idea of my innermost desires and dreams. I knew that the driven force of my pre-motherhood being had been replaced by a slower and more deliberate sense of existence. I valued space and time now in a way I could never have appreciated before.
The trauma of having a baby in a life or death situation shattered any notions I’d held of motherhood and life. I finally felt a sense of peace and serenity. I felt free from expectation and obligation.
I am a new type of woman, a newly crafted woman more relaxed and freer to be herself. I am decisive and nonchalant about things that don’t matter.