When you think of outer-space, images of adventure are usually the first to rush to the forefront of the mind, but, the truth is, a trip to outer-space would probably be more traumatic than invigorating. At first, this assessment might seem harsh due to the charming space odysseys we’ve seen depicted on theater screens. When we conceptualize space, most of us conjure up images of flashing lasers, warp drives, extrasolar planets, odious villains, and epic protagonist. We’ve been conditioned to view the Final Frontier as a place where the ‘brave’ venture and the ‘daring’ thrive. At some point (usually during childhood), our brains begin framing outer-space as an intriguing possibility, and our imaginations become fully saturated with extraterrestrial fantasies. We see space more as an ‘invitation’ than a ‘hazard.’ But this narrative is light-years from the truth. Quite frankly, outer-space is a cruel and cold place. It is literally the zenith of danger. It is untamable. It is unforgiving. And after seven months of living on a space station named Starship Jesher, my family is ready to come back to Earth.
Our trio has grown uncomfortably familiar with the disturbing harshness of life without gravity–a life void of comfort or consistency. Since Jesher’s (26-week) emergency delivery, Lhorraine and I have quite literally felt like we were floating through life at the mercy of gravitational forces around us. Like untethered astronauts adrift in the deep, we have floated minute-after-minute wondering when we would find the ground again. Outer-space has lost its luster, and I believe other space travelers would render a similar testimony. Spaceships are cool for a little while, but cabin-fever, crampedness, and confinement can turn any interstellar quest into a loathsome voyage.
This is the part we did not expect; this is the reality that has challenged our sanity the most: When we imagined our journey to the stratosphere of parenting, we never imagined such an arduous flight. Jesher is our first child; he is a child we planned for. He is not an “OOPS–now what” baby. He is a “YES–can’t wait” baby. We only envisioned jubilation whenever we would sit and dream about having a son. Jesher is the culmination of a five-year prayer pursuit that brought us supernova-like joy, but like a brilliant and colorful comet, the dazzling display was just a portent of approaching tragedy. There was a flash of exuberance followed by explosive grief. There was a moment of calm ecstasy and then there was a violent shift that jolted us into astronomical confusion. One month, we were planning our baby moon; the next month we were flabbergasted by an intergalactic maelstrom. How could a trip that began so wonderfully morph so quickly into the most excruciating odyssey we’ve ever taken? Has the initial shock-wave so forcefully rocketed us into cosmic chaos that a return to Earth is now impossible? Will our psychoemotional well-being ever return?
Life has been tough. With preemies, the struggle doesn’t end when you leave the hospital. In many cases, the crusade intensifies. Now, there are no monitors to help you track progress. There isn’t a medical team onsite 24/7 to give you feedback on abnormalities or delays. You can’t live day-to-day, because a preemie’s condition fluctuates from hour-to-hour. The medicine given to alleviate one problem only leads to the development of two other problems, and once you make it past two hurdles, you are presented with four new ones. Preemie-parents are tasked with embracing all the natural challenges of nurturing a newborn while managing the added complications caused by premature birth. The pressure and stress is never-ending. The setbacks are constant. Like deep space travel, there is no margin for error and no comforts or distractions to help you escape the harshness of the environment. Parenting a preemie is like being lost in space.
So suffice it to say, we are ready to get off this spaceship. It has taken every fiber of our family’s resolve to make it thus far. We have endured, cried, screamed, prayed, questioned, argued, and managed. We have read books. We have consulted counselors. We have sought the advice of therapists. We have scheduled appointments. We have spoken to God. We have searched for answers. We have done all we could to navigate Starship Jesher back home, but we have not yet seen the welcoming glow of Earth’s blue atmosphere.
Despite the perilous journey, there have been glimmers of hope. For example, Jesher is now gaining weight and is actually showing his first signs of chubby cheeks. All of his therapist and doctors are still awe-inspired by his progress. He made it through his surgery on October 4, 2018, and all of us moved back to Michigan a couple weeks later. There have been victories along the way, and as the holy book says, “With thanksgiving, make your request known to God.” We have been careful to identify the blessings; however, our family is not 100%. The trauma has chipped away at all of us. Each member of our small family has the scars to prove it. Lhorraine, Jesher, and I have been forced to survive like soldiers, and the post-traumatic stress came with the territory. We want to be healed. We want to be restored. We want to be happy. We want to feel joy. We want the enthusiasm to return. We want our dream back.
I always envisioned writing the epilogue from a place of satisfaction and fulfillment, but I guess that comes later. For now, I close this chapter with as many question marks as when I wrote my first post. At that time, I was seated in a NICU ward, typing to the rhythm of my son’s ventilator. Now, I’m seated below Jesher’s bassinet, typing to the rhythm of his nighttime breathing. I am a different man now. I cannot fully describe the dissimilarity; yet, I know it to be true. The man who posted on March 13, 2018 is different than man posting on October 28, 2018. Outer-space will do that to you. It will force you to change. In a paradoxical way, it will drain you of vibrancy while filling you with enlightenment. Like having a micro-preemie, traveling through space is enigmatic; you feel like you should be enjoying yourself, but you are absolutely terrified the entire time because having a baby that weights 1lb 4oz is a cruel mixture of tragedy and triumph. It will test your guts, courage, resolve, and resilience. I’m just hoping our family successfully passes this test and makes it back to Earth safe and sound.
“Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine within your house, your children like olive plants around your table. Behold, for thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD. Indeed, may you see your children’s children. Peace be upon [you].”
Psalms 128:3, 4, 6