Willa Hope. From the moment I woke up in the hospital, I was asked what her name was. I don’t know! I thought we had more time! When I heard the NICU Dr had started referring to her as “Princess” I knew we had to choose quickly.
Over the last few months, we’d been keeping a dry erase list of possible first and middle names. The kids contributed heavily to this list, but their suggestions were not given equal weight. You’ve heard about Cupcake. Well there was also Ece (Rhett), Everett (Rhett, who saw no problem with having two Everetts in the family), Flower (Lucy) and Aslaug (Patrick). At some point early on, Willa popped into my head and onto the list it went. Patrick didn’t love it but looked like he could be convinced. We never got very serious about narrowing down the list though. We thought we had more time.
As soon as I was lucid, Patrick brought the list of names into the hospital. It wasn’t a question for me, most of the other names just fell off the list. Willa stood out. I think Patrick would have agreed to anything I wanted at that point. But he seemed to agree. Before deciding on her first name, we found that we’d both decided separately that Hope would be her middle name. Then looking at Willa, Google told us that the name meant “valiant protector.” It seemed to us that our baby girl definitely had one of those watching out for her. And so Willa she became. Willa Hope.
Willa Hope is amazing. When we met her, she was a tiny, scrawny little fighter. There was no fat on her body and her skin just kind of sagged on her. Her torso was small but her legs and feet were long. She had strawberry blond fluff on her head. I can’t tell you what her face looked like because she had so many tubes and wires for the first little while that she was pretty covered up.
While I was recuperating in Irvine, she was charming her nurses in Downey, 30 minutes away. Those first few days she had the privilege of bonding with Patrick. He visited her often, sitting by her bedside and reading to her, laying a hand on her so she knew he was there. She would wake up when she heard his voice and clutch his finger with her little hand, squeaking if he let go.
When I was transferred to Downey, it took me a little while before I saw her. I couldn’t wait to meet her, but I was also a bit afraid. We had both been through so much. Would she be sick and fragile? Would we bond? We’d been apart for four days. And the secret fear in my heart that I can’t bring myself to type. I was afraid.
When I was wheeled up to her isolette, all of those fears and thoughts disappeared. Here was my baby girl, right in front of me. I started crying, wishing I could reach through the isolette, grab her and cradle her to me. She looked so small and vulnerable, this tiny creature in a large box, covered in tubes, her diaper reaching all the way up her back. I recognized her immediately. She was my tiny creature, there was no doubt.
The nurses explained all the wires and monitors to me, told me the plan, and reassured me that she hadn’t had any setbacks and was responding well. They showed me the chart on the wall that told her current weight, her nurse’s name and notes like “I have a hard time when my diaper is wet.” and “My pain tolerance is 0.”
I rested my hands on her head and whispered a mother’s blessing. With my forehead against the glass, I sat there and memorized all her little features. I only had about ten minutes with her before the pain started making me dizzy and I had to return to my room. Before I left, the nurse said that they would be removing one of her tubes that afternoon and we would be able to hold her after that.
That evening, Patrick and I returned to her nook and each took turns cradling her to our chests, her thin, warm skin against ours. She squeaked and hummed and nuzzled in peacefully. There, with a curtain isolating our little family from the rest of the room, we sat in sacred space.
Willa has since been transferred to the NICU at Baldwin Park, only a 20 minute drive away. I see her every day. She is almost 36 weeks/7 weeks old, and just hit 5 lbs.Her hair is definitely red, but whether it will darken or fade remains to be seen. She’s increasingly more awake and likes to look around with a puzzled expression, as if she can’t quite remember where she is. Her eyes are the dark blue that babies start with, though they seem to be moving towards green. I think they’ll probably settle with Patrick’s hazel. The rest of the kids were born with my dark brown eyes and never changed.
The only tube remaining is her feeding tube. Her current milestone is getting off the tube and being able to take a bottle or nurse for all of her feedings for 48 hours period. Once she is able to do that, they’ll start to look at the possibility of discharging her.
This morning she nursed for about ten minutes, which is the most she’s been able to do. I just called in to see how the rest of her feedings today have gone. She was too exhausted for her last feeding so they had to use her tube. The clock resets.
I’m trying not to get my hopes up in terms of her coming home. I did that a few weeks ago, convinced myself that she was doing so well she’d be home in a week. When one of her nurses told Patrick that they probably wouldn’t send her home until her due date, I was emotionally crushed and didn’t recover for days. So now I’m taking it day by day, trying to appreciate that she has fantastic care where she is and trying to enjoy the amount of sleep I’m getting, knowing it won’t last. But still, I ache for her.
Our Willa already had a personality, as many of her nurses have delighted in pointing out to us. She’s a little bit of a diva, stubborn and willful, just like her older sister. She lets everyone know when she’s not happy. When she is happy, she charms them with her coos and squeaks. Her occupational therapist loves their time together. In her little wing of the NICU, it is her and three baby boys. The nurses make up little dramas about how the boys are all trying to impress her and she is having none of it. These amazing women (and man) are superheros to us, patron saints of small babes.
Someday soon, Willa will come home to us. We’re slowly preparing, gathering her gear, washing her little clothes and folding them in drawers. On days like today, when it’s hard for me to leave her bedside for the day, I cope by stopping at Target and picking up small random things for her, like diaper cream or washcloths.
It’s not natural for a mother to be separated from her baby. I ache for her to be closer, to look at her whenever I want to, to be the one there when she cries. When I’m holding her at the hospital, I wonder if when she wakes me in the middle of the night at home I’ll resent it like I always have with my other babies, or if I’ll cherish it, knowing she’s my last, knowing I waited so long to be able to hold her in the quiet night. Probably both. I look forward to finding out.