Your first thought when you have a 4 month old baby and your wife shows you a positive pregnancy test is, “We’re not ready for this.”

That feeling doesn’t go away. Not at any of the sonogram visits. Not at your already born children’s birthday parties. Not when you get the new nursery setup and the car seat installed multiple weeks in advanced like a responsible parent.

And maybe it only grows stronger as your wife wakes you up at 4:30 in the morning to say, “We have to get to the hospital.”

She’s 37 weeks. Are you ready? Probably not. 

Less than 3 hours later she’s holding the baby, and everything is pretty good. But the nurses keep taking her, and you cycle between reassuring looks to your wife and concerned glances with the staff who are checking her oxygen levels over and over again. After about 90 minutes, they take her to the NICU. 

She wasn’t ready to be born yet. 

Anyone who has spent time in the NICU will tell you two things:

1. It’s easy to get there. 

2. It’s really hard to get out. 

I don’t mean that as a slight about the staff or their protocols in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. The people there are truly amazing, and everything is done in order to protect humans that are in their most vulnerable form. 

But still, it’s an uphill climb home. And everyone knows it. 

So you keep your head up, the first days are not so bad. Baby on one floor, you and your wife on another, kids staying with grandparents… it’s practically a vacation. It’d be great, except for what you see when you go downstairs to check on the baby. 

Because no matter how tough you are, you’re not ready to see your newborn, face covered in a CPAP mask, feeding tubes and needles poking hands so fresh they haven’t had the chance to grasp the fact that they’re alive.

She’s not coming home for a while, she’s not ready. 

So you have to wait. You do a lot of that in the hospital, a place where everybody seems ready, all the time. People ready to have babies, people ready for surgery,  people ready to go home, and people like you, in that blank space of purgatory in between, waiting at a steady red light that gives no indication it knows you’re there. 

First she is intubated in order to get medicine that will help her lungs start working properly. Then the first big change is the removal of the CPAP mask, but she still needs oxygen, so she moves to a less invasive nasal cannula. You seem to think that means the discharge papers are coming soon. 

You’re an idiot for thinking that, but none of the nurses or doctors are ready to tell you that, and she continues to develop her lungs. 

In the meantime, you try to get the house in order, and you take care of the other two kids, and you work, sort of, and you do none of it well. Because you weren’t ready for this. 

After 7 days, when you are certain nothing will change, that you’ll be stuck in between living at the hospital and totally neglecting every other aspect of your life, you get some good news. The oxygen is coming off. She’s ready to breathe on her own, and she’s ready to eat like a normal baby. 

Though you and your wife have vowed to live by one rule, and one rule only (don’t get too high, don’t get too low), you are ready to be excited about anything. And you start wondering if you’re going home soon. 

They’ll correct that notion pretty quick for you. They have to watch her closely to make sure she’s eating like they want. And now you’re ready to be a little mad. Because you’ve had two other kids. If there’s anything you two know how to do, it’s feed them. 

No, we don’t have oxygen tanks at home. But we have bottles. Give us the baby. 

She’s not ready though. And so you wait some more. You watch the Early Baby episode of Bluey with your son over and over again because he loves the real world connection with it, and it reminds you to “be the bravest you’ve ever been.” You listen to All Around You by Sturgill Simpson (either version) at least 50 times a day, because we always attach ourselves to random pieces of media when our lives get weird. 

Christmas is approaching. You can’t help but find some connection with the story. The pregnant woman who finds herself ready suddenly, at an inconvenient time and place. Your new daughter is probably not the Messiah reborn, but you need to get her home to find out for sure.

Santa Claus makes his way through the NICU, and takes photos with all the babies, on the other side of the glass because the babies are not ready to meet him in person yet.

And finally, finally, when you’ve told yourself to be prepared to spend part of your Christmas with your kids at the house and part of it at the hospital holding the only gift you wanted to bring home… they say she’s ready. 

The frustration is gone. And you’re a little afraid again. Because now the baby is coming home… are we ready for that? 

And you think about the last 16 days, everything you’ve dealt with as a family. The way others have stepped up in your absence, the grace you’ve been shown when you probably didn’t deserve it. How lucky you are that it’s really only been 16 days, how lucky you are to get to go home at all… to breathe this same air with your own flesh and blood and to share a Christmas morning with her.

Your wife turns to you as you wait for the official discharge papers and says, “Do you think she is ready to go home with us?”

You tell her yes, reassuring her as you both stare at this newborn face, free of wires and tubes and tape.

She’s ready. She was just waiting on us.