Pierce was an easy child to neglect. Only because he was such a content baby, a low key toddler, and a low maintenance kid. He slept most of the time in his first weeks, so I didn’t get much time with him to “bond” where we’d have eye contact and interactions that normally help a mom get to know her baby. And once he was home from the hospital, the squeaky wheels got the attention, and he just never squeaked.
Though he was the largest of the four—three pounds, twelve ounces—he was second most critical to Spencer, the smallest. Our nickname for him became “Big Guy,” though he was far from big. His lungs and GI system were immature enough that he kept needing intervention in the NICU. When they tried turning down his oxygen and CPAP, he couldn’t tolerate it and had to go right back up. He had a PDA—patent ductus arteriosus. His fetal circulation, which skipped his lungs in utero, hadn’t closed down at birth like it was supposed to. As long as his blood kept shunting past his lungs, he wasn’t going to improve.
When his nurses tried to introduce drip feedings, his belly swelled up because he couldn’t digest the breast milk. They had to cease all food and wait a day or so before trying again. With all the blood testing he’d had, just a few cc’s of blood drawn every day added up and depleted his blood volume. The loss of blood meant there wasn’t good perfusion of oxygen to his organs, making things function poorly. Finally when he received a blood transfusion, he turned a corner. With the extra blood, he finally started to tolerate food in his stomach and his need for extra oxygen stabilized.
He was the last to come home with Spencer. He just went back to sleep while Spencer kept us busy turning blue. Once Spencer stopped that nonsense, there was always something else to take care of, like Charlie projectile vomiting in the night over himself and his siblings, just when we’d gotten them all fed. We’d have to clean up the mess, change everyone’s clothes, put the others back to bed and re-feed Charlie. There wasn’t extra time to dote on quiet babies. Even those covered in their brother’s regurgitated milk. In the daytime, when they were all on the floor rolling around and playing, Pierce often just watched them, quietly observing. He didn’t need to be the center of action. He was content to watch.
One night when Pierce was almost two, he woke in the night crying, something he never did. As I rocked him back to sleep, I just started crying myself, realizing I didn’t even know the child I was holding. I hated that. I wanted to bond with him, but I didn’t know how. I read books about it, I begged God to make it happen, and I tried to connect with him, but something wasn’t like it was with the other three. I was certain I had failed him and fell short as a mother. I was supposed to feel a certain way about each kid. Wasn’t I?
When he was preschool age, I noticed him doing some things to get attention. If another kid got hurt, he’d find an old scratch and point it out to me like he wanted attention too. After several instances, I explained to him that if he needed an extra hug, I needed him to let me know. If he didn’t know how to say it, he could put up his arms to signal me that he wanted one. After that, once in a while, he lifted his arms slightly from his sides and looked at me longingly. Sometimes it took me longer than it should have to figure out what he was doing before I could give him the love he craved.
As he grew, I began to better realize what a special person he was. When he was six, his teacher pulled me aside one day to tell me about his smart dry humor. She’d been teaching a unit on the pilgrims and their styles of clothing. She explained to the class about the men’s trousers, and how they evolved when men started wearing knickers. Pierce said dryly and quietly, “Or maybe their pants were just too short.”
If I could go back in time, I’d do a lot of things differently. Like aim Charlie over a bucket away from his siblings for one. But I also wouldn’t sweat the “bonding” thing as much with Pierce. I’d save myself the anguish and just enjoy him as he was, not trying to make it “feel” like it did with the others. It’s been fun these past few years to watch him become who he is now as an adult. He still likes to sleep and doesn’t want to stay up past ten. And often he is quiet, contemplating his surroundings and considering his perspective before speaking. But I don’t feel guilty anymore. He came out okay. And I think he doesn’t feel that he was too neglected. In spite of the fact that I let his brother barf all over him.
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