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Seven

January 12, 2012

Dear Col,

You are SEVEN.

All week my girlfriends have been shaking their heads in disbelieving solidarity. “Seven,” they utter, laying the heavy brick of this word gently in my lap. Because it’s easy for us Mamas to forget sometimes while we’re making meals and cleaning up meals and earning a little money and then dropping everything to tend to feverish bodies, that you children are growing as naturally as wild grass spearing up towards the sun. Because that is what you do.

But here’s the truth. Seven is fabulous. It’s like this twist cone of complimentary flavors. Sweetness and independence swirled together in a staggeringly lovely combo. “Kiss me here,” you instruct, pushing an unembarrassed puckered mouth towards my face when I drop you off at art class.

And then a blink later you and your friends disappear for an hour, roaming the alleyway behind our house, searching out snakes and dinosaur bones.

On this occasion of your 7th birthday, I’ve been re-reading my journals from your first few months, those 101 days you spent in the Neonatal ICU. I’m struck by what was our life at the time. “Col wears a C-PAP to keep his lungs inflated,” I wrote, as if I were simply filling in the baby book section on, say, chronic lung disease.

The first few weeks of your life, I found myself repeating, like a line from a script handed to me at your birth: this is my life. When I entered the NICU, past security, past the hand-washing station, into the sea of incubators where a symphony of alarms blared, I’d rehearse: this is my life, this is my baby, this is my life. When I returned at night to the Denver Ronald McDonald House, where volunteers served us mounds of spaghetti and tried to inquire inoffensively, “why are you here?” Because this is my life.

Eventually, we settled in. I pumped breast milk every 2-3 hours, setting an alarm to wake me twice in the night. Dan assembled the plastic pump parts at 2:00 am and I trotted the warm milk out to the freezer on the 3rd floor kitchen, where the speakers constantly whispered 80’s rock and the Denver skyline twinkled beyond the huge dining room windows.

We visited you 3x/day; 2 of those 3 times we got to hold you for one hour, which we looked forward to every moment we weren’t. It took 2 people to lift you from your incubator. One to portage your floppy body in two steady hands while another trailed behind with your tubes and wires like a wedding attendant carrying the bride’s train. We’d lay you on our chests, skin-to-skin, a warmed blanket cinching us together, feeling as if we were part of your life-saving team. You’d snooze while we told stories about the world outside, about our home. Each story—of the mountains, friends, our garden—was a prayer of hopefulness. Grow and get strong and we’ll show you all of this.

I’ve never shown anyone outside of our family this picture; it’s so vulnerable. This was my baby. This was my life.
When we weren’t at the hospital, Dan shot his bow in Denver City Park and we walked to Wild Oats to buy butter, eggs, kale and coffee beans. Dan flew home early on and drove our truck back, loaded with packages of frozen elk, which he grilled outside at the Ronald McDonald House, gaining popularity by feeding tender bites to the matriarchs of the 3rd floor (he was one of the few men at the RMD house). We pretended the legions of Canada Geese ripping grass from the city parks were truly wild. “You would love the Canada geese here,” Dan whispered while you slept, “you can hear their big flapping wings, squinch squinch squinch, as they fly overhead.”

back at home, safe and sound

Dan and I learned so much during those days. We learned to continue breathing when we showed up at the NICU to find an IV threaded through the soft skin of your tiny scalp, delivering a blood transfusion. We learned to celebrate small victories, like weight-gain measured in grams. We learned that a community can hold you up when you think you’re falling. We learned that families are adaptable and that love is a powerful medicine. We’d do it all over again in a heartbeat for you, darling boy.

Love,

Your Mama

ps: for new readers: background on Col’s amazing birth and early days here, here and here.

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49 Comments leave one →
  1. Audrey permalink
    January 16, 2012 4:24 pm

    Ack, will my heart ever stop breaking?
    Happy Birthday Col! So happy to have you and your compatriots turning that 6 over!
    XXXOOO

  2. Ellen permalink
    January 16, 2012 4:38 pm

    Such a beautiful, wonderful boy. So much joy to have arisen from such a heartbreaking beginning!

  3. Kelly permalink
    January 16, 2012 5:01 pm

    That was so beautiful to read…..what an incredible story…what an incredible boy….still wiping the tears from my face. Happy 7 Col!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. mwieser permalink
    January 16, 2012 5:08 pm

    Bless you and your family, Rachel. 7. Wow.

  5. Maribeth Harris permalink
    January 16, 2012 5:11 pm

    Thank you for sharing the picture Rachel. I had heard his story and tried to imagine just how tiny and vulnerable he was before but that picture brought me to tears. Hard to imagine that you all went through that. Happy 7th Birthday Col!

  6. abozza permalink
    January 16, 2012 5:13 pm

    Happy Birthday to your sweet, sweet boy. I can’t comment on your story, as it leaves me breathless and speechless. How much so many of us take for granted, Rachel. Makes each birthday of Col’s that much sweeter.

  7. Joy Frazer permalink
    January 16, 2012 5:24 pm

    Thanks Rachel. Cole is an amazing blessing. Happy Birthday little man! I have to go get some kleenex now…

  8. January 16, 2012 5:47 pm

    You’re bringing me to tears. Happy Birthday, sweet Col, and to you, also, Mama.

  9. dad permalink
    January 16, 2012 6:02 pm

    Beautifully written about a beautiful child who was so lucky to have such wonderful parents who knew just what he needed to thrive
    Baba

  10. January 16, 2012 6:02 pm

    Happy Birthday Sweet Col from your friends on the east Coast!

  11. January 16, 2012 6:16 pm

    so sweet! thanks for sharing such a beautiful story! happy birthday to Col.

  12. January 16, 2012 7:15 pm

    YAHOOOOOO!! To the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans, white with foam….. !!!!YAHOOOOOO!!!! seven.

  13. coleen permalink
    January 16, 2012 7:25 pm

    Happy Birthday sweet boy! Thanks for sharing the story and the picture.

  14. January 16, 2012 7:41 pm

    Col is an amazing soul…he is growing and knowing..the stories made me cry (for joy). Guess I’m just a cry baby!

  15. January 16, 2012 7:44 pm

    o RAch, what a telling and a genuine inspiration. Love `love

  16. Nana Judy permalink
    January 16, 2012 7:46 pm

    From those harrowing days of fierce hope and love to SEVEN years later, look how Col beams with confidence, inquisitivenous, creativity – and sheer joy!

    Blessings on you all.

  17. January 16, 2012 7:47 pm

    A beautiful birth story… of so many riches wrought from a fraught beginning… of a wonderful boy who began an incredible family…

    Happy Birthday, Col!!

    And thank you, Rachel, for what you tell, and show, us.

    Blessings,
    Stacy

  18. January 16, 2012 8:13 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story, Col’s story. He is such a beautiful young boy. He’s so lucky to have you as a mom. You were all meant to be together, to teach other.

    I just love that rainbow picture. The colors are so beautiful together.

    Happy Birthday Col!

    Love, Kyndale

  19. January 16, 2012 9:30 pm

    Happy birthday Col and good job mama- <3 Heather in Iowa

  20. January 16, 2012 9:48 pm

    wow. so beautiful. thank you for sharing. happy birthday col. i feel grateful to have been a part of a miniscule slice of your life.

  21. Emily permalink
    January 16, 2012 10:00 pm

    holy moly. that was so awesome. your writting hits me in the head and tells me to. pay. attention. thank you, as always, for sharing your sweet skills. and happy birthday to the 7 (yes, it is a great age) year old!

  22. Julie permalink
    January 16, 2012 10:12 pm

    Happy birthday mama and Col; he is one extremely lucky baby to have such an amazing family.

  23. January 16, 2012 10:18 pm

    Wow, so very special to read your words and see that picture. Happy #7 to Col and and Mama and Dad. What a gift our children are. Incalculable.

  24. Steph permalink
    January 16, 2012 10:52 pm

    No matter how many times, or from how many angles, I hear the story of Col’s birth and his days in the NICU, it never ceases to amaze me! Of all babies to come so early, Col was up for the challenge!!! And that photo- yes, it really does drive home some of the unimaginable vulnerability that you and Dan endured. You guys ALL deserve gold medals!

  25. Nasha permalink
    January 16, 2012 11:01 pm

    Oh, Rachel….this story makes me cry all over again. Then, it was for the intensity of what you were all going through and for that courageous and strong little boy to come home…now—because he’s the one teaching all of US to be courageous and strong and showing US the world! I remember him in the second photo—can’t believe he is 7!!!!! Love to you all and happy birthday little man! Blessings,
    Nasha

  26. January 17, 2012 7:32 am

    Happy birthday to Col! It’s such a beautiful contrast, that fragile tiny preemie and the deliciously chubby blue-eyed boy below… and now he’s seven!? You have come so far together, and as far as I can see from here it has been a beautiful journey!

  27. rose permalink
    January 17, 2012 10:21 am

    beautiful. hugs to you mama.

  28. January 17, 2012 10:23 am

    Oh the tears….! Happy Birthday, sweet Col and happy Birth Day to you too, Rachel. You continue to inspire me with your incredible strength. Much love to you and yours. xoxo

  29. Melissa permalink
    January 17, 2012 11:14 am

    Thanks for sharing . . . especially the photo. I hope it’s as healing for you as it is for your readers. Beautifully written; I wonder if you would mind if I shared your link with my colleagues and/or current NICU mamas?

  30. January 17, 2012 11:28 am

    oh rachel, that picture, the special one. thank you for sharing it. i sucked in my breath, and everything stopped…one of those moments dharma teachers like to talk about, where there is sudden pause, and everything is suddenly very very real and stark. that was your life. and this is your life now. it seems to me that you walk it in beauty, no matter the terrain.

    happy birthday col! seven is the best ever! (until you turn 8).

    love, mary

  31. January 17, 2012 12:05 pm

    Col is beautiful.

    Oh, Rachel. That picture. I was already tearing up and then to see him so tiny in your hands brought me to heaving sobs, remembering the days in the NICU with my 2 preemies. Life is so precious. Thank you for sharing yours with us. XOXO

  32. January 17, 2012 1:31 pm

    In tears here reading your beautiful words about your precious boy. Happy birthday to Col and to you and Dan. xo

  33. Maggie permalink
    January 17, 2012 6:49 pm

    WOW Ray-Joy and Dan,
    I remember that tiny bundle swaddled in his bassinet not too long after coming home. What a joy to see him there just waiting for an amazing ride with you! He’s still precious. Peace and blessings, sweet boy!

  34. January 17, 2012 7:29 pm

    i want to hold you and cry with you. happy birthday dear col!

  35. Oceano's Mountain Mamma permalink
    January 18, 2012 7:25 am

    A beautiful life and a beautiful boy. <3

  36. January 18, 2012 9:45 am

    I especially love your posts about Col’s early life. You write so tenderly, comes from the raw place of a mama whose explored every emotion associated with parenthood (and did so in the first few months of being a mama!).

    I look forward to your book. :)

    And, I totally get the vulnerability in sharing that photo. I think I’ve only shared one of Ruby’s photos online. One of my picu essays will be published next month and they asked for photos to accompany it…wild to look at them and wild to attach those images to an email while Ruby hoots by my side.

    Love you,
    Nici

  37. teresa permalink
    January 18, 2012 9:54 am

    sweet loving blessings to your entire fascinating brood! and happy birthday to that beautiful young man! xoxo

  38. January 18, 2012 9:56 am

    Goodness you’ve got me crying into my third cup of coffee. Look what love & breastmilk did for that tiny wee babe. Rachel your heart is so full and inspiring and damn I just love reading what you have to say. xoxo
    ~stephinie

  39. January 18, 2012 2:12 pm

    happy birthday to your whole family. that picture is mind-blowing. seven years ago, wow. love love love to you.

  40. brigid permalink
    January 19, 2012 1:42 am

    i am truly moved to tears! this tempts me to hug him every time i see him.

  41. January 19, 2012 11:43 am

    “We learned to continue breathing” Sometimes this is the story of parenting.

    Thank you for sharing your vulnerable story with us. I’m embolded.

  42. January 20, 2012 10:30 am

    Happy Belated 7th Birthday. What a moment to cherish! What a blessing from God. We have friends who have twin preemies and are going through what you went through those 7 years ago.

  43. Dan permalink
    January 21, 2012 2:01 pm

    Wow, Honey, powerful piece and making me boohooo. Thanks for sharing! Love, Dan

  44. January 23, 2012 1:35 pm

    remarkable! incredible! miraculous! Col! happy birthday.

  45. Diane permalink
    January 24, 2012 6:22 pm

    Oh man, oh man, I’m in tears.

    Happy Birthday, you all. xo

  46. April 29, 2012 7:00 pm

    Thanks for sharing this beautiful story.

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