Thirty Fingers, Thirty Toes.
What would we do without you?
Those words of thanks were penned on our first Grandparents Day card this past September. Just four months prior, our daughter, Laura, gave birth to not only our first grandchild, but to our first three grandchildren. We were blessed three times over with triplets and were happy to help them in any way we could.
Suddenly, with her being only 30 weeks pregnant, we received a call our daughter was in Abington Hospital, which is eminently known for their superior medical staff in handling high-risk pregnancies and premature births. All medical efforts were made to keep the babies in the womb for a longer period, but 24 hours later the babies entered this world.
A team of 13 doctors and nurses, along with other professional staff, crowded into the delivery room. Their orchestrated performance resulted in delivering two boys within a minute of each other, and a girl just two minutes later. The babies were quickly whisked away to the neo-natal intensive care unit (NICU) in a blink of an eye. 3 pounds, 7 ounces; 3 pounds, 3 ounces; and the third weighing 2 pounds, 14 ounces.
Within a few short hours, but seemingly like an eternity, we were able to see our daughter and son-in-law, Isaac. They were the proud parents of an instant family, and my wife, Joyce, and I, were no longer the parents, but the grandparents. Eli, Jeremiah, and Layla now were joyfully a part of our family as well. I was affectionately being called Opa.
Opa and Oma prepared to go to the NICU with our daughter and son-in-law to see our grandbabies. A friend, Joel, whose own daughter gave birth to premature twins just a few years earlier, advised us to be prepared. Joel’s straightforwardness and blunt words were always refreshing in today’s world of guarded speak. He came right out and said we should be prepared upon seeing the babies. “They won’t be pretty,” he said. I chuckled and shot right back to him, “Oh, come on. All babies are pretty.”
We scrubbed and then scrubbed again before entering the cavernous room where 60 incubators and beds were all neatly in rows. The number of monitors, tubes, wires, lights, and sounds was overwhelming. The staff all calm and carefully, yet routinely, were carrying out their tasks. Passing by incubators where name cards and vitals were attached, one could easily read 1 pound, 12 ounces, two pounds, 10 ounces, 3 pounds, 11 ounces. All appeared smaller than the dolls our daughter played with as a child.
In the middle of the room were our three grandchildren. Each with tubes and wires attached to their tiny bodies. Each with a knitted cap covering their heads. Their eyes were protected from the light of the lamps hovering above. A miniature diaper hung loosely around their midriff. Their arms and legs long and thin. Their skin, almost milky in color, was certainly not the glowing plump and pink skin of a full-term baby. Their fingers and toes all perfectly formed.
We were told we could touch them through the portals of the incubator. We scrubbed our hands again. The instructions were not to stroke their skin. Doing so would cause too much stimulation for them. We simply were told to touch them and hold our fingers in place applying only slight pressure against their skin. With three babies, there were many openings to choose from. We all gathered around them. I stopped breathing for a second when my finger touched Layla’s hand. No words or thoughts could be spoken. The quietness of us all remained. We all felt life in these three tiny bodies. The only movement was in switching incubators, ensuring all were able to touch each of the newborns.
As the weeks passed, the babies remained in the NICU. It was not only painful for our daughter leaving them, but for us as well. As our daughter recovered from her surgery, we transported her back and forth to the hospital to see the babies. Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months. But, they were all progressing and growing. All were over 4 pounds, with Jeremiah pushing 5 pounds.
Our world those first few months was consumed by the babies. Even though the staff so expertly handled everything, traveling to see them was rewarding and comforting. Yet, our worlds needed to resume normalcy. Isaac went back to work, Laura continued to recuperate, Joyce continued volunteering, and I went back to writing my manuscript about my fraternity brothers and the letters we’ve shared with one another.
Sitting at the desk in the home office staring at the monitor, my mind couldn’t always focus. So, I quickly opened another window on the computer and logged into the hospital’s secure website where I could see live all three babies in their tiny beds. Individual cameras were installed and attached to each incubator focused on the babies’ heads. How delightful just to see their tiny bodies and their torsos contracting and expanding as they learned to breathe on their own. Their tiny fingers and toes clearly visible. You desired to touch your own monitor as if to touch their hands.
When I finished watching my grandchildren, I returned to writing. Staring at my own hands touching the keyboard, I saw some sixty-year-old weathered hands, slightly scarred and ragged. My mind jumped back to the babies. What would their fingers in the years ahead be typing on their keyboard? Would they even use a keyboard to record their words? Their fine, delicate fingers have so many years ahead of them.
Joel, you’re wrong. All babies are beautiful. All gifts from God.
Thirty fingers, thirty toes. Yes, what would we do without you?