Careers Working With Animals

William was born squinty-eyed and big-nosed, looking like Mr. Magoo, one of those old cartoon characters my brother, Chet, and I used to watch together on Saturday mornings when we were kids. He weighed 5 pounds, 5 ounces, huge for a baby with a gestational period of only thirty-four weeks. In the delivery room, as the neonatal specialists checked and prodded our disturbingly quiet son, the doctor tried to relieve the tension by joking, “Well, he may be funny-looking now, but a preemie baby that size is sure to be a future football player like his dad.” We tried to laugh, but we were too scared.

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Then William found his voice and began to cry not loudly, but enough to give him Apgar scores (the measure of how healthy a baby is upon birth) that gave us hope. Before I was able to cuddle or nurse him, the specialists raced our newborn son off to the ICU to ensure he had everything he needed to make it through those first few critical days. I thank God that he did.

For the next few weeks, I spent every waking hour by William’s side, talking to him, singing to him, and finally holding him when the doctors said he was strong enough. Because he was too premature to have developed the proper muscles to suckle, they taught me to feed him my pumped breast milk through a tube down his throat. I tried to make William comfortable and to keep him calm, but it was hard. The ICU beeped and squawked with various machines that monitored my son and the other highly vulnerable premature babies. Each day was a lesson in life and death as some of those little souls survived and some of them didn’t.

Eventually, William came home. He may have been premature, but darn if that kid wasn’t a fighter. I spent four months with him, the longest maternity leave Nestle had given someone at my level. Within the first two months, it was clear my preemie baby was going to be fine. By the third month, he’d nearly caught up to his peers. When it was time to go back to work, I returned confident that William would not only survive, but thrive.

Crisis averted. Hello ladder, here I come!

Now, here I am, two years later, on a plane far from home. I’ve changed jobs and been promoted, eager to prove myself. I missed William’s first word, his first step, the first time he heard Goodnight Moon. But it’s been worth it, hasn’t it?

The contractions are coming six minutes, five minutes, four minutes apart. I’m doing everything I can to keep from panicking. Breathe in. Breathe out. In. Out. I drink water. And I pray.

“Please God,” I whisper into the void, “I will do anything you ask. I’ll slow down and stop this crazy work schedule. I promise my family will come first. Just give me one thing. Well, one more thing. Please give me one more healthy baby.”

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