This year will be our second year walking for the March of Dimes. It’s something I’d wanted to do since I saw nurses raising money for their March of Dimes team while BJ was still in the NICU. I thought to myself, “I’d help any organization dedicated to help keep moms out of this hell”… or something along those lines.
That year as coincidence would have it, only a month after BJ came home, a few girls from the Alpha Omicron Sigma chapter of the Sigma Gamma Rho sorority from the college I went to posted on Facebook that they were walking with the March of Dimes as an annual volunteer event. And that they were walking in honor of BJ and a couple of other preemies that they knew about. Their timing couldn’t have been more perfect. I was in the middle of a huge pity party that day. I’ll never forget it. Having a child on oxygen is hard. We had the “Green Monster” it was an oxygen tank that stood about as tall as I am and a 20 foot cord that connected BJ to his oxygen. It was strategically placed near the door of our bedroom which meant I could travel in our room, bathroom and just far enough to reach the corner of the couch in our living room. BJ couldn’t go to the kitchen, the den or even his bedroom… unless I hooked him up to a portable tank, but those had a limited supply of oxygen and we saved those for doctor’s visits or other outings… There I was rocking my son who was connected to oxygen, and feeling like I was being beaten up coming and going. Like, nothing in my life could be normal and no one understood my grief… when I saw a comment on Facebook. I couldn’t be around crowds of people because of the risk of me carrying germs back to BJ and BJ definitely couldn’t be out and about. But, there they were, ladies I hadn’t spoken to in person for quite some time, thinking about my child and walking to honor his struggle. I sat in our bathroom and cried, I yelled for my husband to come so I could show him and cried some more. Maybe it was the pregnancy hormones, or my messed up nerves but I was touched to the core. As they say, “You never know how your smile may affect someone’s frown.”
I made up my mind then, next year we’ll walk. It became a mission of mine. I’d never run a fundraiser before. I didn’t know what the heck I was doing… I knew the basics, we needed t-shirts and we needed people to donate money. I began posting on Facebook and emailing everyone I knew. We had people offer to help, and donate that I never imagined would.
We’d had a rough first year as a family. But, in my mind this walk “BJ’s Walk” was my way of ending that part of our journey and turning over a fresh new page. We walked to celebrate how far our little guy had come. And to thank God that we made it…
There was a sense of joy in the air that day… thousands of people walking for babies who’d had an unfair start at life and that had to work harder than most babies to survive. And there were those who walked to remember the baby they’d lost, the babies who fought with all their might but didn’t make it. We read T-shirt after T-shirt and looked at sign after sign. “In honor of” and “in memory of,” those three words weighed so much on that day.
There were signs posted throughout the walk that families had made with a picture of their child and a message to them. We chose one of BJ’s pictures and put his stats on it. “Born at 24 weeks weighing 1 pound 8 ounces. Mommy and Daddy love you” When we got to our sign there was a family already there looking at it. My first thought was to ask my husband if he knew them. He said he didn’t. When they turned around and saw BJ… there was absolute joy on their faces. “There he is, that’s him!!” they shouted. They were so excited to see our BJ and exclaimed at how big he was and how good he was doing. They were complete strangers but they were so happy. That’s a memory I’ll never forget and that’s what The March of Dimes walk is about, raising money and sharing genuine joy, happiness and some sadness for each family’s struggle with prematurity.
For me, it’s an annual reality check. You think you’re tired? Is your two year old driving you insane? My answer is yes, until April 20th. On that day I take a day to stop and remember the statistics the doctor gave me the day he was born. “BJ is doing okay now but we can’t really talk about most of that until after the first three days, babies typically do well and crash around day three.” A chance to marvel at the 10% chance he had of survival, and the fact that “even if he does survive, he may suffer from mental retardation, cerebral palsy, or a number of other issues.” To remember the wailing and the sobbing I did the day BJ was born (the day that was supposed to be the happiest day of my life). And to remember the sweet nurse, Sarah, who climbed into the hospital bed with me, wrapped her arms around me, laid my head on her chest and rocked me the way I wished I could rock my child. All the while begging God to take me and not my baby…
Life gets busy, days fly by, but I choose to take one day a year to stop and remember and be grateful.