As I watched my oldest son walk across the stage and pick up his college diploma last weekend, an image from memory flashed through my mind. It was a tiny sparrow, fluttering outside a window in the middle of the night at the attic apartment where we lived when my son was born.
If you’re squeamish, you might not want to read this next part because it deals with things that new mothers do. One last chance not to read. Okay: I had arisen to pump milk for my son, who, after a difficult birth, lay in an incubator in the intensive care unit. He had experienced some “dusky” episodes, where he turned bluish due to lack of oxygen. After a long (and screaming) labor, he had been born about ten days before his due date – just early enough that his systems needed extra time to kick in. I had recovered enough to be sent home, but had to leave the hospital without him.
The night of the sparrow was my first one home — my first away from my new son. As I pumped, the bird hovered outside in the dark, pecking at the window as if trying to come in. In my post-partum midnight haze, I felt like the bird was the spirit of my son, trying to come home. I can’t explain how that made me feel except to say it was a strange mixture of desolation and joy.
I was an emotional wreck for the next few days. Eventually, our son came home, but not before we learned infant CPR and how to attach the tentacled wires of a heart monitor to him, which he would wear for several months. Even though I was awake with him many other times in the night, I never saw another bird behave like the one that first night home.
Twenty-one years later, as I watched my son walk across that stage, I thought about all we’ve been through. He’s come so far from being a helpless infant in an incubator. He’s grown so tall and strong, smart and stubborn, determined and thoughtful.
I couldn’t be prouder of him, my little night bird.