It’s hard to find a place to start, a moment in which to pinpoint the change; the feeling of going from pregnant me to mother, the moment in which my son went from being a part of me to being a person in his own right.
I ached walking back to my hospital room alone, my baby in the neonatal intensive care unit, the feeling of emptiness heavy in my belly and arms. Outside my door a small houseplant from the florist on the ground floor sat; a gift from the hospital while Graham lay in NICU. I would’ve traded the plant for him. I would’ve traded my sight, my breath, my bones.
Inside dinner waited on the tray table, covered with a cream plastic dome. Who knows how long it had been there, expectant and uneaten. I’d lost track of the time.
Sitting on the edge of the bed I realized I hadn’t eaten in hours and removed the cover. I didn’t feel hungry, didn’t think I was. I took a bite, then another, and I couldn’t stop. I cried eating chicken and dumplings. I cried through the banana pudding and watery iced tea.
When a woman came in to collect the tray I continued to cry. She smiled at me, one of those tight, quick professional expressions and refused to meet my eye. I croaked thank you and sat, motionless as she picked up the tray. The click of the latch signaled her departure and my seclusion.
Through the door I could hear a nurse making rounds, the wail of an infant farther down the hall, the shuffling walk of a pacing new mother. The taste of soggy Nilla Wafers lingered, the floor cold beneath my swollen feet. Behind me, through the wall to wall windows, Northwest Oklahoma City glowed.
I glanced at the board with my nurse’s name, the list of medications and the last time they were received. In my hand the crumpled card with Graham’s feeding schedule, the NICU nurse’s handwriting bold, strong. She’d sent me away to sleep but I couldn’t bring myself to close my eyes.
I lay down, watching the clock.