I had a late flight into Tampa, and my dad met me at the airport. I'd already seen a picture of the baby, the mask pulled over her eyes, all the wires and tubes. But it wasn't until I saw how exhausted he looked, waiting for me in the terminal, that I realized how serious things were. It was the first time I’d ever seen him look unsure. He seemed a hundred years old.
At the hospital the next morning, I scrubbed my hands in the NICU, rows of incubators hovering in my periphery.
I could feel my dad studying me as I walked toward my sister watching for whatever surprise or terror or joy flickered across my face as I met my sister in that otherworldly, too-quiet place. I was primed for the worst but was determined to stay calm.
I looked down. I was not afraid.
Lying below me was a person. A very small, very delicate, very alive person. I reached my hand through the porthole, lightly touched a finger to her belly. I opened my palm and spread my fingers above her. Curled on her side, she was exactly the size of my hand.
When it was time to leave, I tried to remember every detail of what she looked like. Her little legs. The way she jerked her arms in blind, silent protest. Her tiny diaper that looked comically large.
I wondered if it was the last time I'd see her.