Everyone keeps saying it: "I can't believe that K is turning one!"
I can't believe it, either. Denial has been my best friend these last few months. I thought that, if I ignored her first birthday, it might not happen. Maybe she would stay a baby forever. But that's not the case. Regardless of how much I try to ignore it, it's still going to take place. We get reminders of it daily: friends and family talking about how they can't believe it's been a year, school telling us about the transition to the toddler room. It's here. It's as if I woke up and realized, "Holy shit. She'll be one in less than a month." And I don't know how this happened.
I still remember the first night that she was "ours" - officially in our custody. After our attorney left the hospital, we waited to drive home until the nurses moved K to a new NICU floor. It was late by the time she was settled into her new room, and we knew we needed to get back and get some rest before driving back to the hospital the next morning. But I didn't want to leave. I remember looking at her, so tiny and frustrated in her incubator, and I started to cry. I knew she wanted to be held, and I wanted to be the one who held her. After all, who would hold her and comfort her while I was gone? Who would dry her tears and rock her to sleep?
Today, when I sit K down in her crib, I get instant standing and TEARS, often coupled with outstretched arms. Her face begs, "Mom, pick me up! Where are you going?"
It's not too unlike that night in the NICU, save for appearance sake. She's bigger and stronger now. Healthier, too. The cry is different. It's not a cry of pain. Instead, it's simply a cry of separation anxiety.
But deep down, it's the same concept: she needs me to hold her.
And me? Well, I need to hold her, too.
I needed to hold her in my arms long before that first night she was ours, but she just wasn't ready for me yet. This is a hard concept to grasp when you're infertile and you'd gladly accept the first baby someone handed to you.
It's a much easier idea to handle once you've met your child - to see his or her face looking back at you and realize that this is who you were supposed to parent all along. You watch his or her personality grow, and you laugh about how much that tiny little person fits so well into your family. She fits into another family, too. Her first family. I don't ever forget that, but I also know that for whatever reason (fate, the stars aligning, etc.) she is our child and I would endure that same waiting period all over again if it meant her at the end of it.
This is bittersweet, for me, to watch her turn one year old. On one hand, I'm incredibly happy and grateful for the progress she's made. She was born with many odds stacked against her: 5 weeks early and a host of health issues. She's overcome all of them to this point, meeting and exceeding all of her development milestones. I've loved watching her personality blossom. She's such a fun little girl.
On the other hand, I'm sad that she's no longer a tiny baby. I still get snuggles, though it's getting harder to trap her and sit her still long enough for them. She will still nap on my chest occasionally. But as she continues to grow, she'll need me less in a physical sense. As she learns to walk and talk, there will be less that I can do for her, less that she will rely on me for. Of course, she'll need me in many other ways. I know this. She will need my emotional support, my intellect, my wisdom and experiences. Yet, I hope she will still need my touch. I hope that when there's a thunderstorm late at night, she knows that she can crawl in bed with us and hide under the covers. I hope that she will let me sneak in a hug or a kiss when her friends aren't looking.
Because the simple power of touch has done so much for us. It's made me feel like a parent. Holding her, rocking her, comforting her - these are all things that made her being ours seem that much more real. Drying her tears, bathing her, brushing her hair, feeding her, swaddling her, dressing her, carrying her - they are things we take for granted on a daily basis, but they've helped me establish a connection with her that I didn't get to establish when she was in the womb. It's also touch that I think helped heal her, helped to bring her out of the NICU faster than other NAS babies. It helped show her that she wouldn't always be in pain. It made her feel warmth and comfort.
And it's her touch that helped heal me, too. It made me feel needed. It made me feel important. It made me a better person, to be able to hold her in my arms and give her the love that I'd held inside of me for so long.
It made me whole again.