When we brought our four-pound bundle of a baby boy home from the Duke ICN about three years ago, I was standing on the tip of understanding much of what his early birth might teach me. After over two months of tubes and wires, beeps and alarms, we wrapped him up tight and said goodbye to the nurses and doctors, janitors and baristas of the hospital, whose faces we knew like the lines on our hands.
There were other faces that burrowed their ways deep into the hidden corners of my memory. These were the faces of the other mothers in that Intensive Care Nursery.
With confidentiality a highest priority, we never spoke a word, at most we shared a smile or a shy nod. But there was a knowing among us, a silent welcoming into a club of women in crisis. None of us wanted to be a member, but each of us needed to feel not so alone.
Curtains separated the spaces between us. Long drapes of fabric insulated the precious time with our little ones. And we closed our eyes behind those drapes, opened our shirts to press our babies’ skin to our own. As we held them tucked into our chests, we felt the deepest sadness twisted with the deepest love. The gravity of it all was our shared anchor.
During my time in the ICN as I held my son, I whispered Psalms and sang Joni Mitchell. I hummed Neil Young and read C.S. Lewis. Next to me I could hear the low, scratchy voice of my neighbor-mother muttering monotone chants in a language I did not recognize. I listened as her voice cracked just like mine did when I sang. I imagined her baby pressed against her chest.
I’ve heard that misery loves company. I don’t think that I believe that. But maybe there is something to the idea of knowing that another mother is chanting in unknown but understood words. Maybe there is something to the thought that we are all in this together, clutching our loved ones, begging that God will make it right.
I’ve never thought of those months passed in the Duke ICN as a particularly spiritual season. The truth is, I was running on empty, always torn between home and hospital.
But it sure did anchor me to the fragile ground. And I wonder if there is anything more spiritual than looking around to see that we aren’t the only ones lying low with our cheeks pressing into the very dust from which we came.