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… Celebrate Valentine’s Day in the NICU?

mom and baby in NICU on Valentine's Day

No mommy wants to have her baby in the NICU on Valentine’s Day. No mommy expects to be widowed for Valentine’s Day, either. Both happened, so might as well make the best of it… Our biggest helper was our dear Nanny Nancy, who had secretly printed a preemie onesie with a red heart, saying, “Mommy’s little Valentine,” and taken his wee footprints. As a surprise, the American Heart Association had placed red, knitted baby hats on each isolette (and after exchanging my “huge” hat for the tiniest one I could find, it finally fit my IUGR baby). And thus, we had the most beautiful Valentine’s Day you could imagine.

Nanny Nancy with Lyons Cub’s footprints and his heart onesie

Lyons Cub was 16 days old on Valentine’s Day and weighed 1,800 grams (3.97 lbs) and looked like a newborn. He was taking his tiny bottles like the mighty fighter he was. The doctor told me that he might be able to go home that very Sunday or the Sunday after! We had the hardest times behind us, and he actually did come home after 21 days in the NICU (at about 4.2 lbs). He just needed to learn to keep his temps, take his bottles, gain some weight, and pass the car seat and hearing tests. The end was in sight, mommy was hopeful, and love was in the air, just in a different way…. And my little Cupid was growing, growing, growing!

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So who was Saint Valentine? He was a man ministering to Christians, for example officiating at their weddings, during the Roman persecution and was imprisoned for that. While in prison, he is said to have restored sight to the blind daughter of a jailer. Before his execution on a February 14th, he allegedly wrote her a letter signed, “your Valentine.” I guess this is why nowadays, we made a romantic celebration out of it, giving roses and pretty cards to our loved ones and taking them for dinner.

I remember going to Kaya, our favorite Korean restaurant, for Valentine’s Day with my husband David when we lived in Carbondale, IL. For Valentine’s Day 2013, I composed the flute and piano piece, Valentine’s Day, for my then boyfriend, who was also my composition teacher (Maestro) while in the role of Collaborative Pianist at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. We recorded it with him on the grand piano and Joshua Armbruster, a gifted music student, on the flute (he hardly had any time to breathe, the way I wrote that piece, haha):

My past four and my future Valentine’s Days are mommy-and-son days filled with fun activities, food, snuggles, and love.

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To celebrate the day, Daddy’s cousin Cheryl wrote a lovely poem about Leander (his eye color has since changed to blue-green, but as a newborn, he still had brown eyes like his papa, David). His whole family was so gifted! David wrote nice poetry, too, with a sly sense of humor and a melancholic foreboding. Let’s read Cheryl’s poem:

Of all the wonders on God’s good earth
None can compare to a new birth.
Leander David, lovely boy
Brown eyed miracle, wrapped in joy.
God planned your life all along
A gift of joy, a happy song.
To sing forever in Mom’s embrace
Dad’s loving memory glows in your face.
Can’t wait to see your life unfold
With all the blessings your heart can hold.
But now just rest, dream and grow
In health and strength, no boundaries know.
God’s watchful eye will light the way
To guide your journey, day by day!
                                                                                                  by: Cheryl Cavanaugh

When I look back at our pictures, I noticed how thin Lyons Cub’s face looked back then. He filled out a little in the weeks to come. You can see how big the preemie onesie still looked on him. His tiny thighs are swimming in there. And his foot was “glowing” 😉 The skin on his arms was wrinkly, and the backs of his hands were bruised from having been pricked many, many times. We had transferred from the level IV-NICU in Vanderbilt, Nashville to our local NICU at Tennova in Clarksville, TN already. I can see on the photo that I even had had time to wash my hair (a rare treat for a NICU mom who is also working full time and spending every free minute in between teaching classes, at night, and during lunch break in the hospital, pumping and doing infant care). Leander was pulling on my hair, I can remember that (a few weeks later, much of it would fall out; did you mommies out there also lose a bunch of hair after giving birth??). And I’m sitting in this very comfy pumping chair that often served as a bed….

To all the other NICU mommies out there who have to spend Valentine’s Day in the hospital with their babies, I wish you a lovely Valentine’s Day, even if your significant other cannot be around due to Covid regulations, work, or maybe there isn’t one anymore. You have the most beautiful day with your little angel. Decorate his/her isolette with hearts (our nanny did that for us!), take some hand or footprints, have someone take photos of you and baby, and keep this day forever in your heart. Here’s to our little Valentines!

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