He looked up and smiled. “Well, you began to have difficulties and then we found out about this.” Lifting his phone again, he said, “This is Ethan, Nina. Born two minutes after his sisters, he’s over three pounds and nearly sixteen inches long. And look, just like his sisters, he has your adorable pout.”
“Three? Three babies?” I asked as I began to feel like my head was swimming. Three children. Triplets. A boy.
Tristan nodded and beamed down at me. “Three. He was hiding on all the ultrasounds, so that’s why we never knew. He was probably the one kicking you.”
“But why did they send you away then?”
“Things got a little dicey there for a while. The doctors didn’t want me to be there if things got bad. Don’t worry, though. Dr. Michaelson says you’ll be fine now. They had to go in and stop the bleeding, but you were out a long time. I didn’t leave your side, except to go see the kids. Sorry about the pictures being so far away. They don’t let you take cell phones in. Not sterile enough.”
“So you named them all without me?” I asked with a pout, a little disappointed I hadn’t been a part of that first important event in their lives.
Tristan’s mouth twisted into a sly smile. “No, not officially. I waited for you since I didn’t know what we wanted the middle names for the girls to be. I had no idea about Ethan’s either.”
“Ethan. We have a son, Tristan. Your dream was only partially true.”
Shrugging, he said, “Well, I never promised it would be one hundred percent true. Dreams are funny that way. Like the one you had about your mother.”
“That wasn’t a dream, Tristan. I talked to her for the first time since I was a little girl. I touched her, and she was real.”
I saw he didn’t believe me entirely, but it didn’t matter. I knew what I’d experienced. After all those years, I’d finally gotten the chance to tell my mother how much I loved her.
There are some things a person never forgets. Their first day of school. Their first kiss. The first time they fell in love. For me, the day I met those three incredible souls will always be a moment in time that changed me forever. Tristan followed as the nurse rolled me up to the NICU in my wheelchair, his hand holding mine. If we’d been alone, I would have told him how my heart was pounding in chest at the thought of meeting my children. I didn’t say anything, though, keeping my fears to myself.
I’d spent hours reading my pregnancy books, but nothing could have prepared me for the reality of the NICU. Instead of a softly lit delivery suite, the setting for the first time I saw Diana, Tressa, and Ethan was bright and sterile. And cold. No matter how warm the temperature may have been, all the room made me feel was cold. White walls, bright lights, and all those people milling about made the NICU intimidating, and I wished I could run away with Tristan with our children in our arms to a kinder place where no machines beeped and buzzed and no barriers kept up apart.
The nurse chatted with Tristan about how exciting our lives would be from now on as we entered the area just outside the NICU, her perky happiness almost too much for me. We donned masks and gloves, making sure to cover every inch of our clothes before we entered the room the children were in. It felt like I was being prepped for going into one of those radiation chambers they always put in disaster movies. This wasn’t how a mother should see her children for the first time.
Even worse, I realized I wouldn’t be able to hold any of them. The nurses spoke their rehearsed laundry list of do’s and don’ts for spending time with the babies, the most important one being we couldn’t touch them too often to avoid upsetting them. I knew they weren’t trying to ruin this for me, but all I could feel was sadness. No matter how hard I tried, all I wanted to do was cry the entire time I sat in that NICU room.
For Tristan, just being there clearly meant the world to him. I watched as he gently stuck his fingers into the incubator to touch Diana’s tiny hand, all the time beaming a smile that lit up the room. So patient, he stroked her little arm with his forefinger as he whispered how he couldn’t wait for the day she’d be able to sit on his lap and how he’d tell her the story of the day she was born.
The nurse explained how I could touch Tressa and Ethan just like Tristan was with Diana, but it felt awkward when I put my gloved hand in my daughter’s incubator, like I was an intruder in her tiny world invading her space. My finger grazed her wrist, and I recoiled at the thought of possibly hurting her tender body.
I looked around to see if anyone had seen me and noticed Tristan coming toward me. He’d seen my inability to bond with Tressa. I wanted to run and hide.
As he took his place behind me, he leaned down to whisper, “It’s a little difficult at first, isn’t it? Don’t worry. They love it as much as we do.”
I forced a smile as my hands sat in my lap. I didn’t love this. In fact, it took everything in me not to break down and cry. “She’s so tiny, Tristan.”
He slowly slid his hand into Tressa’s incubator and touched his fingertip to her pinky. “Tiny Tressa. Something tells me she won’t like it if that nickname sticks.”
The way he so effortlessly bonded with both girls when I seemed incapable of even touching Tressa’s arm made me wish I could be like him. All I felt was failure.
A nurse slowly moved Ethan’s incubator back into the room, and I watched as Tristan’s eyes lit up with joy. “There’s my little guy. How’s he doing this afternoon?”
I closed my eyes to stop the tears from falling as the nurse explained how well Ethan was doing, and like all the others, congratulated us on our new family. Tristan made his way over to his incubator while he chatted the woman up about needing one more of everything, every word filled with so much happiness.
“Nina, come over and see him. He’s as gorgeous as his sisters,” he bragged.
Slowly, I made my way to where he sat and stared into the incubator my son lay in. Tristan’s finger touched his wrist, lightly stroking the skin in a way that seemed totally foreign to me. He talked about what they’d do when he got older, and I sat there silently, unable to say anything for fear I’d explode into tears.
“Tristan, I don’t feel well. Can you get the nurse to take me back to my room?” I quietly asked, sure everyone heard the truth in my voice. I didn’t know what to do with my own children—how to even touch them.
“Sure. It’s probably a good idea we leave now anyway. We don’t want to excite them too much.”
He was trying hard, but he didn’t understand why I wouldn’t want to be there. Why should he? I didn’t understand, to be honest. All I knew was that if I could run away, I would.
* * *
By the end of the first week, I was released from the hospital, but Diana, Tressa, and Ethan had to stay so Tristan and I continued to live in the penthouse. Day after day for weeks, I walked hand in hand with Tristan down the NICU corridor to see my children, and day after day, I went with a smile on my face but on the verge of tears. I had no idea what was wrong with me. At first, I’d thought I’d just been unsure of myself as a new mother. All the books had said that could happen and not to worry, but every day I waited to feel better, and I never did.
I knew Tristan wondered what was wrong with me. No mother who cared about her children felt like this. I was broken, defective, and no matter how much I wanted to be the right kind of mother, I wasn’t. I didn’t know why. I just wasn’t.
Even visits from Jordan felt forced. Her happiness for us was so genuine, but every time I saw her, I felt like a fraud. I wanted to feel the happiness she felt. I just didn’t. I didn’t know why either. By the time Christmas arrived, it was all I could do to get out of bed each morning. Jordan came over to spend the holiday with us, but I begged off as soon as I could, claiming to be sick with the flu so I could go hide away in bed. At least there, I could close my eyes and pretend I wasn’t myself in my dreams.
Getting up from the table, I pushed my still full plate away from me and forced a smile for Tristan and her. “I must be coming down with something. Probably the flu. I’m going to head to bed. Tristan, they’re not going to let me see the babies until I get better, so I want to kick this as soon as I can.”
He stared up at me with eyes full of fear but merely nodded, forcing his own smile onto his lips. “Anything you need, just say the word.”
I turned toward Jordan and shook my head. “I don’t want you to get whatever I have, so no hugs today. Sorry to be such a party popper. I’ll give you a call this week, okay? Merry Christmas.”
“Okay, honey. Merry Christmas. Feel better.”
I left them and climbed into bed, loving the solitude it offered. Pulling the covers up over my head, I closed my eyes and waited for sleep to come and take me away.
A hand on my shoulder roused me from my nap, and I rolled over to see Jordan sitting on the bed next to me. Rubbing my eyes, I sat up against the headboard. “Hey, what’s up?”
“I want to talk to you, honey. I think it’s time we admitted something’s wrong, don’t you?”