Reading a book 200 times is a surefire way to find out whether you love it or want to throw its rhyming llama couplets into the diaper pail. Children's books especially do a tricky dance for an audience of squinty-eyed parents and wide-eyed tots: the best ones, like a syringe of infant-suspension Tylenol, have a little something for the parent at the end. These are the ones we are celebrating in This Book Belongs To — the books that send us back to the days of our own footed pajamas, and make us feel only half-exhausted when our tiny overlords ask to read them one more time.
Have you ever started crying before you even started a children's book? It was the day before my daughter's first birthday. I was an emotional wreck. I picked up the board book and began, "On the night you were born." Tears swelled in my eyes. Already!
I tried again.
As I started to read aloud Nancy Tillman's beloved book, memories of my daughter's birth flooded my mind. Her birth is something I think about every day. But when my daughter turned one, I felt the significance even more. This birthday was a milestone and a miracle.
On the night my daughter was born (2:33 a.m. to be exact), nothing went as planned. I woke up with stomach pain and a few hours later found myself lying in a hospital bed, anticipating news from the nurses. I was already three centimeters dilated and, suddenly, my water broke. I was given medicine to slow down my labor since I was a little over 33 weeks. I felt my contractions in my lower back and the pain was becoming unbearable. I didn't know what to do or what was going to happen. I just wanted my baby to be OK.
After I received an epidural, time slowed down. My baby and I were being monitored. The doctor told us the baby would probably show up that night. I was terrified that she was going to be born early. This was not what I envisioned for her birth. I thought I would last nine months, that I would complain of being so huge and just wanting her out. But that wasn't meant to be.
My daughter was born early in the morning.
A few days later, I went home without my daughter. I was rolled in a wheelchair to our car, which had a brand-new car seat installed.
She was whisked away about a minute after she was born. I didn't get to hold her. I didn't get to look deep into her eyes and get that instant connection after she was born. That still bothers me to this day. Since my daughter was a preemie, she was taken to the NICU to be monitored. I was relieved that she was at least OK at the time, uncertain of what was to come.
A few days later, I went home without my daughter. I was rolled in a wheelchair to our car, which had a brand-new car seat installed, but there was no baby in my arms. I felt empty inside. Like I left a piece of my heart at the hospital. The two weeks my daughter spent in the NICU felt like an eternity. We had a few scares with her in the NICU, but once she was healthy enough to go home, I knew in my heart everything would be OK.
Last year, my daughter turned 5. She has left behind her baby toys. My once tiny baby has turned into a beautiful young lady who loves playing with dolls and drawing. She doesn't like to be held as much anymore — I am shocked when she actually gives me a hug.
But every year, when I pull out On the Night You Were Born at bedtime on the day before her birthday, my daughter knows it is our time together, and a time to understand just how much she means to me. And as she gets older and understands more, I can better explain to her why she is my little miracle.
For now, she enjoys the pictures of the animals and is starting to understand a little about how I felt when she was born. She knows she was born early but it isn't a topic we have talked about a lot yet. All I want her to know is that she is loved and always will be.
I know that most parents think their children are special. And I know this to be true with my daughter. She was born a fighter with the will to live and give my life purpose. Each year, our family donates time and gifts to parents and babies in the NICU at the same hospital where my daughter was born. My experience with her birth is the gift that keeps on giving.
"Life will never be the same because there had never been anyone like you ever in the world."
As the crackling in my voice subsides and the last tear comes down my cheek, I look at my daughter and smile. She asks me why I am so sad and I tell her that she just means so much to me and I will never forget the day she was born.
I will read this book to my daughter every year. Even when she is an adult, I will go to wherever she is (hopefully close to me) and I will read this book to her on the night before her birthday. I will use FaceTime if I have to. And I'm sure by then we'll both have memorized the words.
I hope someday, if my daughter decides to have children, she will carry on this tradition. Most of all, I just hope she treasures the time we spend together reminiscing about her birth like I do when I read this book to her.
All our kids are miracles, but if you have preemie it's a truth you know a little harder.