My Daughter’s First Halloween in the NICU

by Brian Rutter
Originally Published: 

My elder daughter came into this world, ironically, over Labor Day weekend nearly 20 years ago. You might call it an early delivery… 3 1⁄2 months early. Two people who had faced four years of infertility, countless tests, near bankruptcy and multiple miscarriages. A final pregnancy that included everything from nearly daily sonograms to an undiscovered and almost fatal ectopic pregnancy to a cervical stitch at 17 weeks and hospitalization from 20 weeks on.

But we finally had a child. She just was small. Okay, itsy bitsy, teenie weenie small. 715 grams at 24 1⁄2 weeks. Joy and fear, guilt and hope were the emotional baggage that haunted us from the moment she arrived.

After emergency heart surgery at two weeks old (and only two pounds), and more scares than a Wes Craven movie, it was finally October. It looked like our little pumpkin was finally ready to face the frosty days of autumn… though only to experience it from the confines of her isolette.

To rally our spirits, our amazing nurses had a plan.

“Halloween is coming up. We need to get a costume for Samantha.”

Groggy eyed from a long night in the NICU, we didn’t comprehend at first.

“Did you say a costume? Can we do that?”

“Of course you can. It’s Samantha’s first Halloween. She needs a beautiful costume. Maybe a princess or cute little kitty cat.”

We stared at the nurses. Should we make a costume though neither one of us was crafty? Where we would buy such a thing? I mean, I don’t think they make costumes in Thumbelina sizes.

Someone suggested a toy store in a neighboring county, which sold a specific line of doll clothes. We were encouraged to take the drive.

The nurses knew what we needed. We needed to feel like regular parents and celebrate the holidays all parents dream about. That road trip was just what the doctors and nurses ordered.

So off we drove on a Sunday morning to this store. As we walked around the store, we seemed to lose our way, and our belief in what we were doing.

“May I help you?”

We stammered. “We’re looking for a costume for our daughter. She’s very premature and still in the hospital. We heard you may have something for her to wear.”

“I have just the thing. Come with me. We’ll find something really special for her. It is her first Halloween?”

The all-knowing store owner guided us toward an area with doll clothes of every style and shape. There were so many choices. So, so many choices. What was right? What was wrong? Did we know the difference?

Seeing us hesitate, the owner took the time to go through the selections. We limited ourselves to the smallest sizes as those would fit best. We also needed something that would work with all the wires and tubes that were a daily part of Samantha’s life.

And then I saw it. A white tennis dress with a head band, small racquet and tiny can of balls. A tennis player myself, I could see my daughter standing beside me in that outfit.

My wife, more intuitive than I could ever be, sensed what the moment meant to me. “We’ll take this. This is the perfect.”

Driving home from the store in a state of unaccustomed euphoria, we hurried to the NICU to show Samantha and the nurses what we had purchased. My wife huddled with the nurses as I placed the tennis gear in front of Samantha.

“Look Samantha, you’re going to be a tennis player for Halloween. Maybe you’ll play at Wimbledon one day. Wouldn’t that be great?”

Two weeks later, the moment arrived. Isolette glistening with Halloween decorations created by the nurses, we arrived to see Samantha dressed for her first tennis match.

Yes, the outfit was too big, but with her pleated white dress, she looked like she could easily win any set she set out to play.

That Halloween, there were no tricks, only the treat of seeing our daughter ready to take on the world, and win.

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