Today I found myself returning to and reflecting on a 20-year-old moment I haven’t thought about in quite some time (if ever at all) – the birth of my “baby” brother Luke. As I sat here, reading our community’s stories around Prematurity Awareness and their NICU experiences, preparing to head home for the Thanksgiving holiday and to celebrate my youngest brother’s “Golden Birthday,” I realized I have a story of my own.
When I was 7 and my brother Stadtler was 4, we were overjoyed to learn that my mom was pregnant with another sibling for us to love. He was due to arrive in December – the sweetest Christmas present, and perfect timing to make a grand entrance into a family like ours. A family that has always gone big on the holidays. For as long as she was alive, my grandma hosted an annual Thanksgiving dinner at her house for the whole family, covering the dining room table with so many dishes of food we’d have to hold our piled-high plates on our laps to eat. Christmas, somehow, was celebrated with even more tradition and joy.
In October, when my mom was 7 months pregnant with Luke, she went into pre-term labor and was put on bed rest for the remainder of her pregnancy. I remember feeling frustrated that she couldn’t go trick-or-treating with us, and selfishly worrying if the baby would get in the way of Mom and Dad’s ability to make the holidays as special as they had been every year before. I knew nothing of what they must have been going through at the time – my Mom, especially, and my Nanny who was worrying for her daughter.
Luke was born a few weeks early, on Tuesday, November 20, 2001 – only two days before Thanksgiving. Since he was born via c-section, the question immediately turned to whether or not he and my mom would be released from the hospital in time for Thursday’s big dinner. It was looking good at first, until Luke’s blood sugar dropped and he was sent to the NICU for monitoring. Thanksgiving Day was spent at my grandparents’, Stadtler and I getting underfoot as my grandma tried to prepare for the day as normal and we stressed over whether or not our mom and new baby would be coming home.
It’s funny how distinctly I remember my Nanny answering the deciding phone call from my Dad, hovering at her feet until she finally told me that both Mom and Luke would be staying in the hospital one more night. It felt so unfair at the time, a break in the years-long family tradition, at the hands of someone who had only been a part of the family for a couple of days. I don’t remember the rest of what Thanksgiving felt like that day, but I know all the grown-ups did their best to keep it festive and remind us how blessed we were that Mom and Luke were going to be okay. I’m ashamed to admit that it’s only now that I’m realizing how much more could have gone wrong than one Thanksgiving dinner without Mom.
(Almost) 20 years later, Luke is healthy, 6’5″, athletic, brilliant, kind, and coming home from college cross-country for the holiday, and Mom has Nanny’s passed-down dining table and recipes ready to go. Luke almost didn’t make the trip back this year, but I’m so glad he chose to. Who knows how many holidays we have all in one place before lives and schedules and families get harder to coordinate? Had Luke stayed in LA, it would have been the first Thanksgiving apart as a family of five since Luke’s first Thanksgiving earthside. So, this Thanksgiving – with everyone healthy, happy, and here – I’m especially grateful.