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As I sterilized my hands, I took a deep breath and prepared myself to walk through the door. The door was heavy because it carried the weight of so many parents’ worries. As I passed each baby, I would say a prayer for them and their families. I wondered if anyone else made the drive to this place with a lump in their throat, if they needed to fill the hole in their home with baby cuddles from behind this door like me. Did they feel the weight this door held too? I wondered. 

I arrived at his section in the room behind the door. My home away from home, for now, did not have four walls, and I was surrounded by silent strangers. But a part of my heart was here. I picked up my baby to hold him

I felt blessed and guilty at the same time when our skin touched. I wondered, as I looked around at the silent strangers, how many felt conflicted too. I felt blessed to be able to hold my baby and guilty that my baby was able to survive outside of his glass-like case. Some could not. Some babies were still too fragile. I felt blessed to be with him but guilty for leaving my other children behind. They were not allowed passage through the door.  

The sounds of the machines, monitors, and hushed voices overwhelmed me. They were not loud, but they rattled through my soul.

As my baby’s machine helped him breathe, it was a reminder for me to keep breathing too. It felt like we were breathing as one again. I rocked my baby gently. I prayed over him. 

RELATED: Dear NICU Parents, I Pray For You

As I breathed, I inhaled his new baby smell. I tried to not let it be tainted by the sterile smell behind the door. I looked over every finger and every toe. As he wrapped his little fingers around one of mine for a moment, I forgot to wonder and worry, until the reality behind the door interrupted. It was my baby’s turn again for hushed voices, tests, vitals, and poking. I did not want to, but I had to let go.

The wait to have him back was always grueling. Today was no different. I wondered if my baby was making progress and how long he would have to live within the restraints the door held. I wondered how long these other little ones would have to wait as well. I wondered who would, and who would not, make it out of these doors todayor maybe ever. I wondered about the silent strangers and their babies before us. I knew some would get to take their baby home, and the others would have to say goodbye too soon. I ached for the current, past, and future residents behind the door. 

Finally, my baby was returned to me. I held him longer. The hushed voices told me about his report for the day, but the words were distorted as they hung and twisted through the air. The minutes felt like hours, and the hours felt like minutestoo long that my baby had to stay but never long enough before I would have to leave. I hated time. I despised the clock on the wall ticking slowly and too fast at the same time. I wondered if anyone else hated this surreal space behind the door as much as I did, if it stretched them in ways that felt painful and unbearable

The door made it almost impossible to communicate. I wondered if others’ words were also stolen once they walked through and if they felt lonely too.

I wanted to be outwardly supportive, but the door was so much to bear. All I could do was pray for them. I wondered if the silent strangers could feel my love for them and their little ones. Did the weight of the door leave them speechless too? 

RELATED: I Left My Heart in the NICU

The lump in my throat returned as I packed up to go. The mix of feeling blessed and guilty rush over me again. I was blessed to go home with my other children and husband. But I felt guilty that part of my home was being left behind in a glass-like case. I kissed my baby goodbye. As I lined up to walk out the door with the silent strangers, I wondered if they felt inner turmoil as well. How did they keep these feelings at bay? I knew my only way was to pray.

I braced myself and took another deep breath. I started to pray for us all. I did not have to wonder at that moment, for I knew leaving their baby had to be the hardest part for every silent soul. The door always felt the heaviest to me, standing on the outside without my baby, when the door closed.

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Lindsay Criswell

Lindsay Criswell is a daughter, a big sister, a wife, a friend, and a mother of three young boys. Her middle child is autistic. As a visual artist, instructor, writer, autism advocate, business owner and now a cancer survivor, Lindsay’s mission is to share knowledge, encouragement, and love. Fueled by much faith in God, a hubby she can count on, and ample amounts of coffee, Lindsay balances the time challenges of family and running Branch and Stone Studio, a creative haven and blog for all ages and abilities where everyone is celebrated. She is thankful for the opportunity to serve her family, friends, community, and readers while doing what she loves.

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