Why would I get in a boat being that far along? Probably because I was a moron, but at the time, I imagine it was because I didn't want to miss the experience with our two little boys. We weren't supposed to go fast, anyway.
What's the saying about the best laid plans?
When a boat sped across in front of us, sending us up and over their wake, I braced myself for a bumpy landing but couldn't imagine the sharp pain that incurred when we hit. Grabbing under my stomach, I shot a look to my husband telling him something was wrong. We landed much harder than we'd expected and being my third pregnancy, I'd never experienced pain like that before.
Heading to the doctor, what began as relief to hear the baby's heartbeat was regular, quickly turned to concern once the doctor noticed it had no fluctuation...no speeding up, slowing down...in fact, the doctor couldn't find much movement from him at all.
In what seemed as one swift jerk, everything began to spin. We were heading to the hospital with our two little boys in tow, hoping and praying for the safety of our third.
"If we get him out now, he should be just fine. He's 37 weeks now, so..." I lost track of anything else being said. I wanted to refute and stop everything, everyone. We weren't ready. Our two older boys were both born a week late, so we were still supposed to have four more weeks until our third baby. My head refused to process why everyone was scrambling to get us in for a C-section.
The minute my parents arrived, they whisked the boys away and a nurse with compassionate eyes held out a set of scrubs for my husband. She'd done this before. All the people who had gone through before us and who'd follow after, came through her in one single glance.
In what was the fastest length of eternity of our entire lives, hearing his cry was sweeter than any sound on earth. I'll never forget how tiny he was. Literally almost half the size of his brother's birthweight who both came in at nearly ten pounds. Preston's tiny fingers clenched as his feet stretched then tucked in. The nurses had him cleaned and swaddled in no time for Adam to gently introduce us to each other with soft kisses and tears.
It wasn't until they whisked him away, did we wonder what was wrong. Being our third time around, we questioned why we weren't getting to keep him. Adam followed, so I felt some relief knowing he was with him while I impatiently waited to get stitched back together.
The hours that followed were unbearable. They wouldn't let us see him. They had taken him to the NICU - Neonatal Intensive Care Unit - to run tests to determine if something was wrong. They said they felt his lungs weren't fully developed so it was difficult for him to breathe on his own - so Adam and I waited second by second to hear any news.
Adam circled back and forth between my bed and the window of the NICU, where he caught only glimpses of Preston's tiny fist off the side of an examining table while staff hovered over.
Falling to his knees, Adam begged God to keep his son alive while offering his life instead. We wept, we prayed. In what seemed like hours, a nurse arrived, stating we could enter the NICU to see our baby. She informed us he was stable and breathing with assistance until his lungs had a chance to fully develop.
Somehow, he was even more tiny in that bed. Monitors and cords all around. He wore only a diaper, so I asked for a blanket, anything to keep him warm.
"He's fine, hon. He's under a warmer, so don't worry."
Everywhere we turned, there were other sweet babies, monitors, wires, impossibly tiny fingers and toes. It felt both hopeless and miraculous at the same time.
After a few days, it was time for us to go...without him. I never thought what that might feel like. To go through the automatic doors carrying flowers and balloons while completely empty handed.
I wept the entire time, wanting to go back to be with him. He was days old and we were leaving him there, going against every natural instinct. I became in awe of the families who endured this for weeks and months.
His lungs continued to strengthen and his body gained as much weight as his spirit gained will. We were able to take him home and have been thankful ever since.
I'll never forget what one of the nurses said when we were leaving, "These are the fighters. You wait and see, they're strong from the minute they enter this world and they come out swinging."
She couldn't have been more right. It's been ten years and he's the toughest kid. It'd be so great one day to take him back to the hospital to thank them for all they did. The people who devote their lives to take care of those babies are in a league all their own. We are one story in a countless number who they care for, love, and protect each day.
Ten years later, we took the same boat ride. This time, Preston was with his two big brothers and now little sister, watching fireworks over the water making it impossible not to smile as their eyes lit under the sky.
Time continues to go faster than we can imagine, but we'll never forget that day and have been forever thankful, every second since.
Happy 10th Birthday, Preston. We Love You!