Dear Alexander Dale Schumacher,
You won't remember today, the fifth day of your life. You won't remember the tubes sticking up your nose and down your throat, or the wires sprouting from your chest, or the bandage that protected your eyes from the heat lamp.
You won't remember the nurse at Howard County General Hospital pricking your foot to test your blood. Or how your mother watched through your incubator, nervously fingering the hem of her shirt, while you cried so softly it was barely audible.
You won't remember how your father, Peter Schumacher, changed your diapers for the first time, and was so moved by the mere sight of you that at one point he gushed to no one in particular, "I just love him so much."
These are the moments your parents now have memorized -- but once weren't sure they would even have. Your mother's pregnancy was so difficult and at times frightful that she considered your very birth a miracle. (Your parents can tell you all about your complicated birth later.) You were born about three months early, weighing less than a dictionary, about as long as a submarine sandwich.
Last night was the first time your mother, Carol Brueggemeier, went home to Laurel after being in the hospital for 54 days straight. It was hard leaving without you, knowing that you had to stay in the incubator with only the nurses to keep you company.
But she was back this morning, at her perch beside you, gazing at you as if hypnotized, slowly rocking in her seat, humming and sighing. You'd stretch your legs or twitch in your sleep or grab at the air. And she would smile.
She stuck her hand through the small window of your incubator and rubbed your tiny, tiny cheek with her index finer.
What she would have really liked is to have taken you out of the incubator, even for just a moment. After five days she still hadn't been able to hold you.
There are a lot of babies at the hospital like you, Alexander, not well enough to go home right away. Some were born sick, their hearts beating abnormally fast, or, like you, they were simply born too early. There are so many, in fact, that Howard County General recently tripled the size of the neonatal intensive care unit.
Your mom said the first six weeks of her pregnancy were "a breeze." Your parents were still working full time at their jobs at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab. They started thinking about how to decorate your nursery -- a tropical fish theme maybe -- and what to name you.
They had been married for about 10 years, and then, when your mom was 43, they decided to have you, their first child. But there were all sorts problems. And soon they had spent so much time in the hospital, they knew nurses and doctors on a first-name basis. The hospital bracelets became a permanent part of their wardrobe.
The doctors all knew that you were going to be born early. So a month before you arrived, Tuvia Blechman, chairman of the hospital's Department of Pediatrics, gave your parents a tour of the new neonatal unit and told them what to expect.
Full-term babies are born at about 40 weeks. You were delivered at only 29. From outside the delivery room where the doctors made your father wait, he heard you cry. To him it was a sweet sound, a sign that you had healthy lungs.
But the doctors immediately whisked you down the hall to intensive care, where 10 other babies like you were staying, all of them too fragile to go home, too. One of your neighbors was wrapped in a pink blanket. Another had a CD player in her incubator. And yet another had all sorts of stuffed animals.
Shortly after you were born, they wheeled your mother's bed into the intensive care unit, so she could lay next to you. When she saw you, she cried.
You had tiny, tiny hands and toes like little berries. Your feet and elbows had wrinkles, almost like a miniature old man. And you rested in the incubator with a sign on it that read:
2 lbs. 7 oz.
14 1/2 inches.
Alexander Dale Schumacher.
Your dad was daydreaming aloud today. He said he couldn't wait to take you fishing some day. He has the spot all picked out, Rocky Gorge Reservoir, and he already has the canoe.
He was going on and on about it when the nurse interrupted him: "Okay, Dad, before you take him fishing, you've got to learn how to change his diaper."
They stood on either side of you, putting their hands through the small portals of the incubator. She showed him how to lift up your feet and tape on the new diaper. But your dad seemed a little bit nervous about the whole thing.
"Don't be scared," the nurse, Carol Adolphsen, teased. "He doesn't bite, and he won't break."
She showed him how to tape the diaper diagonally and didn't interfere with all the wires and tubes running into your nose and mouth and sticking to your chest, arms and feet.
You were able to take a little more milk today, which Adolphsen fed to you through a tube. But every once in a while the machine by your bedside would chirp, and the computer screen with all the squiggly lines would indicate that your breathing was erratic. Your heart would flutter, too, once more than 200 beats per minute.
All this would make your parents jump. They'd open the windows of your incubator and stroke your cheeks as the numbers moved slowly in the right direction: 207, 201, 198, 194, 188, 186, all the way back down to 181.
You twitched a bit and kicked your legs out. But these were good kicks, not agitated kicks, your dad said. He seemed to be an expert at reading your mood.
And today, he said, you were doing just fine.