The Guilt of Leaving

I read this mural in Hank's room over and over wondering what it meant for us. Was darkness going to win or would our little star make it?
As we walked out of the NICU on Saturday, I was overcome with profound sadness. I know sheer joy should have left me walking on cloud nine, but I had seen so much sorrow and pain during our hours at Hank's bedside that I could not separate them from us.

There is the little baby that was born with only a brain stem. He looked as perfect as Hank. He cried, he sucked, he liked to be cuddled. The nurses all took turns carrying him around because the agony was too much for his parents. He was being discharged to hospice to die. There were too many extremely premature babies to count. One mother had been coming to see her baby for nine weeks and was still there when we left. There was the nurse who herself lost a very premature daughter in that NICU. Every night she came to work, she remembered where her daughter fought for her life and lost. This nurse went back to nursing school just to be a NICU nurse and now after two years of giving it her best was defeated by heartbreak and grief. She was going to stop being a nurse. Hank's neighbor, Andre, appeared to be born very early. All day and all night he would shriek. His parents had his twin sister at home and could only make it in after work from 6-9 p.m.. His cries would pull at my heart. I wanted to hold and comfort him. The nurses tried their best but had numerous babies that needed their attention. Andre would just cry. I don't know if I will ever forget his painful cries.

As we carried our healthy Hank past the rows and rows of very sick babies and terribly sad stories I felt a guilt so heavy. Why were we so blessed and not these other families? Why were we spared the sorrow of losing our son? These are things only God knows, but I am left with the guilt of grace and thankful in a raw and broken way that I have never been.


Anonymous said...

My dearest sister, you have a heart that I admire, and I hope that one day very soon this does not weigh on you so heavily. I KNOW you are overjoyed to bring your little man home. But I also know you and how you are. You feel, truly feel, for everyone you know and those you do not know. Your heart is a gift to this family and to our orchard, and your strength is something I will forever admire. Your girls carry the same heart, and I am sure that Hank will too. He already has your strength. I do not know many parents who deserve the gift you were given this last week more than you and Max. I love you both, we will pray for those you had to leave. Love - Mel

Anonymous said...

You sweet Mama, with a heart big enough for all of those babies in the NICU. I know it must have been so hard watching those wee ones fighting with each breath. We are so happy that your family has been blessed with a little fighter and a family with hearts of gold. Love you.


Steph said...

Katie, I'm so sorry you're having such a rough time. Just goes to show how caring of a person you are...there you are trying to get yourself through your own tough situation, yet you still worry for the others around you. Hank and the rest of your family are very lucky to have you! I am having a hard time knowing what to say to you, but please, just know that I am out here rooting for you and praying for you.

Monday through Sunday said...

Love the Lord, love your family, and hold little Hank tightly and thank the Lord..and then take those feelings you are having and see it as the Lord speaking to you to pray for all those precious families. You have in a small way an understanding..not completely..but enough that you can pray powerfully for them.

Laney said...

I came across your blog from Heather (SPLANEYO) and I really wanted to send you a private email, but I couldn't find it on your profile. So I hope it's okay for me to write all of this here.

I'm so thankful for you and the blessings God has gracefully bestowed on your family. I went through the pain of having my son in the NICU for 5 weeks after he was born and can definitely relate to the pain you talk about - with seeing your baby so sick, not being able to hold him or help him, the pain and sadness of the babies all around, and definitely the guilt of being one of the "lucky ones" who gets to leave with their baby. As happy as you are that God has blessed you, we can't help but wonder why these other families have to endure such pain and why some of these little babies have to fight so hard when they are just so tiny and innocent. Some things I guess we aren't meant to understand. But you are blessed with a beautiful, sweet baby boy who will continue to get stronger and healthier. My son is 19 months now, and despite being told he would possibly never walk or at least have severe delays, he is as perfect and normal as can be. He's walking, talking, and a just a happy, silly little boy.

You expressed yourself so beautifully - it really brought back vivid memories of our days in the NICU, and of leaving, of the happiness and guilt. Of the constant rollercoaster of emotions throughout the whole stay. I'm glad I was able to share in your story.

God bless,

And if you're interested...

Here are some of my son's NICU days we documented -

And here is is these days... as fat and happy as can be! :) -

Jessica said...

I found your blog through Steph. I am crying as I read your posts about your precious boy because it brings rushing back so many feelings. I am also a NICU momma to a healthy baby, now 8 months old. I had similar feelings when we left after 2 weeks and all those sick, tiny little babies were still struggling there. I am so thankful that you have your precious boy home! GO YOU for breastfeeding!!! We are still going strong at 8 months, largely due to the support and help of the NICU nurses and staff. What an amazing gift for you to be able to give your little man!

Anonymous said...

Hi Katie and hello and welcome home Hank!!! I read all the tragic events that you and other strong and beautiful women and familes have to endure. You are so amazing and special and Hank and all your beautiful children are so lucky to have a mother with your heart of gold. I am so glad that you no longer are in any sort of postion as those unfortunate mothers and I cannot even think of a reason why anyone has to experience such a loss. I am really glad you and Hank are ok! Life is funny and very unpredictable and not promised to anyone but I am sure glad you brought another special lil person into this world and I can only wish there were more special loving and blessed people on this planet like you and your entire family. I am looking forward to meeting lil dude and seeing you all again in September. Love you and you and your family are always in my heart and in my prayers. xoxox Love , Alexea

Leeann said...

I am so glad Hank is home with is family.

You will hold each of those families in your heart and each moment with Hank will be richer and even more precious.

God's love on all of you,

Kari (GrannySkywalker) said...

I'm here from Heather's blog. Your story is so touching and I thank God you have your happy ending. I know you're feeling that guilt, but truly, you shouldn't. My son and his wife lost their son, Conner, at birth in November of 2005. For whatever reason, she too didn't have enough amniotic fluid, but it struck her pregnancy in the first trimester. She carried him almost to full term, though. He was a beautiful baby that will always be with us in our hearts and even though they didn't get to bring him home to live with them, they have never, ever felt ill will or ugly jealousy of those who had healthy babies. In fact, seeing those healthy babies, while sometimes a little hard, always just reinforced the miracle of babies to them and to all of us. I confess, I had a hard time holding little babies after we first lost Conner, but then I'd see a sweet little face and my heart would melt.
Throw away your guilt, hon. Know that another person's sorrow at their loss only makes the miracle of your Hank that much more precious - to all of us.

P.S. I'm happy to say that my son and daughter-in-law recently welcomed home their beautiful baby girl, born April 17!