Smaller

I’ve been trying to find ways to communicate how not-large Alex really is. It’s a difficult thing to understand until you see him in real life. Photos don’t work. He fills the frame the same as bigger babies. Like with Tom Cruise, it’s all a matter of perspective.


*actual size*actual size

*actual size

I could hold the camera further back, but then you wouldn’t have a very good portrait of the child himself, and anyway it wouldn’t help much unless you knew the size of the other stuff in the picture. Sometimes there’s hands in the photos, but adult human hands vary in size so much that they don’t offer a great point of reference. So instead of zooming out, I’ve started zooming in.

After staring at him for two-plus weeks, his head, honestly, looks like a normal baby head to me, now. I don’t know how much larger it will actually be when his due date arrives. I can look at the other, larger babies in the room for comparison, but it seems rude to gape at babies not mine, and anyway as soon as I turn back to Alex I’ve forgotten their forms. Maybe I can steal one for a quick side-by-side and put em back before anyone notices.

Only the features remind me of how little he really is. His ears are so small they don’t have any cartilage in them yet. They’re the answer to “What if all of my bones suddenly disappeared and I collapsed into a human rug of muscle and skin?” Except there’s no muscle, either. Just skin. You can pretend with your own ears, to a degree. You can crumple one up like a Kleenex and while you hold it there you can laugh at how silly it looks in the mirror. But when you let go, it returns to shape. Alex’s ears don’t. If the nurses don’t take care to check them when his head gets turned (and they often don’t, seeing as how the main focus is keeping him alive), sometimes the ear gets folded under, which then isn’t discovered until the next turn, his poor ear bent in half like a taco or rolled up like a taquito.


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It’s been very difficult to get on film his translucent hair, but it’s all over him. His head, his arms and legs, his eyelashes, and his eyebrows, which don’t really have a distinct stopping point on his forehead until they merge with the rest of the hair on his dome. Which I think is a fetal trait, one that will eventually go away when he comes of age, like reverse puberty. Otherwise without a purposeful haircut his forehead will never see the light of day.

More demonstrative of his actual size than his head, I think, are his hands and feet. I’ve posted pictures of him holding onto our fingers before, but again, adult hands aren’t great at communicating actual size. Until I caught this one:


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That’s my wife’s finger. I think she has perfectly average-sized hands, if that helps, but what do I know. More to the point, in this photo you can see the folds and ridges of her fingerprint. By my rough measurement, his widest finger (thumb) is about as wide as seven fingerprint ridges. Look at your own finger, now. Count seven. That’s a thumb.


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It’s the feet, however, that you have to look at closely—literally—to see how tiny he actually is. Because really, all newborn babies can adorably grasp a finger and make you go “Awwww how tiny is he!” But I get the feeling somewhere between weeks 25 and 40, the feet go through a massive growth spurt, because his have not, yet. For perspective, here’s a normal pair:


Good lord, tubbo! Did your mother skip the breastmilk and move straight to bacon grease?!Good lord, tubbo! Did your mother skip the breastmilk and move straight to bacon grease?!

Good lord, tubbo! Did your mother skip the breastmilk and move straight to bacon grease?!

Which leads me to believe a normal baby foot is about two fingers wide. Alex, of course, is nowhere close to that mark. For days I’ve been trying to take a picture that really demonstrates the uncanny tiny-ness of Alex’s otherwise normal-looking trotters, with unsatisfying results.


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Finally I threw in the towel and said let’s just measure the damn thing. So if you’re shoe shopping for little A in the near future, he currently wears a size one-and-a-half… inches.


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Of course, even being right there next to him doesn’t tell the full story. I haven’t gotten to hold him yet, not properly, but today I did get to pick him up so we could weigh him. Of course, I couldn’t take a photo of this happening, so you’ll just have to take my word.


Artist’s rendering.Artist’s rendering.

Artist’s rendering.

He’s not nothing. That’s what was surprising. Using two hands and awkwardly reaching over the plastic rim of an Isolette incubator, applying very gentle pressure but also guarding against an unexpected wiggle so as not to drop him, and meanwhile trying to keep his overall corpus within the correct distance relative to the breathing tubes which the nurse on the other side is lifting and holding, his weight felt like weight, not the puff of air it’s so easy to convince myself he is. He’s got bones in him. Which I knew, I do lift his legs and change his diapers and such now, but still. You can feel it all better when you’re holding the whole package.


“...ladies.”“...ladies.”

“…ladies.”

But he’s also not a baby yet. Not an infant, at least, not in the body. I’ve held my share of newborns and this was not like that. More like someone had glued a cue ball and some mini corn dogs to a hot water bottle the size of my wallet. Which I am too tired to Photoshop for you right now.


You know what Photoshop used to be called? Imagination. Give it a shot.You know what Photoshop used to be called? Imagination. Give it a shot.

You know what Photoshop used to be called? Imagination. Give it a shot.

Because he’s not supposed to be here, yet. I think this is what I want so badly for you all to understand. His skin is real skin, but only because he was born and that’s what skin does no matter when you’re born. The rest of him is still fetus, doing its best to survive in a world he’s not yet built for, breathing through lungs only meant to contain amniotic fluid, experiencing the full gravity of the earth instead of still floating in liquidy support, opening his eyes and seeing raw light. 

I don’t think I want you to know this, to understand this, because I am afraid for him. At least not entirely because of that. Yes, there are perils of untold varieties that could undo the tiny grasp he’s got on this life, up to and including a three-inch drop onto a hard surface, or perhaps too vigorous a sneeze. But it is also because of this built-in fragility that his strength is so remarkable. I want you to know how regularly I am amazed at the force of his kicks, or his grips. And most remarkable of all is his determination in the face of these obstacles. I will open my eyes now, he says. I will look into the light. I want to know things, and once I know them, to have them go my way. I want to breathe over my ventilator, I want to breathe like people do. I want to eat, give me that food, I’m ready, now give me some more, I want to feel sated, I want to comprehend.  

Also he wants to sleep. So as often as we can stand, we let him.  Now I should do the same. Goodnight, all. Thank you again for all your love and encouragement.

6 responses to “Smaller”

  1. ❤️

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  2. Thank you for sharing your stories. I can relate, somewhat, to your attempts to describe Alex’s size. I remember trying to convey such information about my 2 lb. daughter until she grew a lot and I could say her little ski caps were made using a tennis ball for a model, and even then they were too big. Continued prayers for you, Gretchen, and that little guy soldiering on.

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  3. Thanks for sharing all your feelings and images with us Aaron! Each day is another blessing and I know how intense that feeling of hope is! Your description and photos pull me in and I want to breathe for him. I guess we all only have this moment. Though the girls were larger, it was so hard to leave the NICU. It felt like they’d never come home. But they did. I’m so glad you are both there for him. Sending as much love as possible through the air waves to you both and Alex and picturing him strong and able to go home one day asap. Big ❤

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  4. All the love coming your way, and a holding of the worried hands. We are rooting for him!

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  5. You are such a talented writer Aaron. Your stories are so captivating and yet this isn’t just any story, it’s the truth of your life right now. Looking at his pictures, I can’t help to think of what an awesome, strong fighter Alex is. Prayers that you all can stay strong and trust in what will come.

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  6. Sharon Goodhart Turner Avatar
    Sharon Goodhart Turner

    You have a wonderful way with words and it reveals how intensely you are focusing on this precious bundle of life that has been entrusted to you and some glimpse of how much you love your tiny son! God bless each of you!

    Like

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