Chapter 18. Yuri : Daughter.
I entered the neonatal unit slowly. In a sterilized hospital gown over my clothes. With a mask covering my mouth and nose. There were few incubators in front of me. The many monitors, wires, and tubes in the enclosed spaces felt so daunting even with the presence of nurses and other parents. The hums, beeps and lights coming from the many equipment made me feel so out of place.
A mother next to the incubator close to the door smiled at me. She held her tiny baby so close to her chest, hugging the swaddled infant like not even apocalypse could set them apart.
I smiled back, feeling a little at ease. I knew if Jessica was awake she would do the same, holding our baby close like her life was depend on it.
Jessica. My dear wife. The last time I heard the news from the doctors was of the surgery to fix her broken leg scheduled in three days. I hoped that by the next day, there would be good news. And maybe, before this week ended, my wife would wake up and we could visit our baby together.
A nurse in a pastel pink uniform greeted me, flashing a small smile as her eyes briefly scanned the name tag on my chest. “Come here, Mr.Kwon. Your baby has been waiting for you.”
Probably without realizing it, the nurse had stabbed my heart with her words. I should have visited my daughter sooner. Jessica underwent a spinal cord surgery two days before and I had been so focused on her. I hated to admit that Jessica was still my priority. That I was afraid of losing my wife more than I was afraid of neglecting my daughter.
And there she was. My daughter with tubes and wires around her tiny frame. She was still as wrinkly as the first time I had seen her. The diaper was clearly too big for her small body, like a giant cloud swallowing the tiny princess while she lied still inside the incubator.
“What's that?” Afraid that my voice would disturb the peace, I whispered to the nurse. There was a new tube connected to my baby's nose
“Your baby was born a little early she hasn't fully developed the ability to yet. The tube helps feeding her until we can bottle fed her.”
I grimaced. I couldn't even imagine how it felt for my little daughter to has such contraption down .
“Is she sleeping?”
“Not unconscious?” I glanced at the monitor that was probably showing my baby's heartbeat. The lines went up and down in a pattern that seemed stable to my eyes. Still I was afraid that she was at the same place with her mother. Far beyond my reach.
“No.” The nurse took a chart from the side of the incubator, reading it for me. “Baby Kwon has woken up a few times since she is assigned to the neonatal unit. No apparent trouble of breathing or sign of any preemies disease detected so far.”
“Thank God.” I sighed.
“There are forms that need to be filled later. But for a start, do you already have a name for your baby?” The nurse took out her pen, hand hovered over the chart.
Her question brought me back to the many discussions I had had with Jessica. Ever since the last ultrasoun, suggestions for name had been tossed around between us and within our family. Sadly, up to the incident, we hadn't decided on any particular one yet.
“It's okay. We can always write the name later.” The nurse tucked her pen back, probably reading into my silence. “We'll alert you when visiting time is over. In the mean time, spend as much quality time as possible with your little one.”
The nurse then informed me of what to do and what not to do. She told me that, for now, I could only touch my baby through the round opening on the side of the incubators. She also narrated how important it was for me to communicate with my baby. That talking or singing to the newborn would give her a bigger chance for a normal growth.
With a smile that made me more nervous, the nurse left me alone with my baby.
I sighed, sitting on the stool by the incubator. Only the two of us now and I had no idea of what else to do but staring into the transparent box.
There are a few other parents in the room. Singing moms, caring dads, All busy with each of their babies. There were two more fathers in the room, but none was alone like me. None was under the same predicament as me.
It feels like there's a big lump stuck in my throat. I had no idea where to to start. Not without Jessica by my side. This could have happened in a much different way if the accident hadn't ruined everything. The three of us should have been in a much happier place.
“Hey...” Someone whispered to me. A few meters to the left, a mother with her baby tucked under her thick sweater smiled at me. With just the baby's head visible, the mother reminded me of a kangaroo that keeps its baby in its pouch. “It's okay. Touch your baby. Talk to her.”
I inserted my right hand into the opening, but stopped a few millimeters above my baby's head.
“You won't hurt her. She needs your touch to grow well. Do it.”
I gave it a try after a deep breath. First, only my forefinger touched the tips of my baby's black hair. Then after a few , I gathered enough courage to caress her wrinkly forehead.
“Good job.” My new acquaintance, the kangaroo mom, smiled reassuringly.
“Thank you.” I was pretty sure I mirrored her smile. My heart swelled with joy at the moment. She gave me a thumb up before focusing back on her baby. I did the same to my little princess.
Then my daughter blinked, tiny eyes fluttered open. I was so shocked that I immediately tried to retract my hands from the incubator, knocking things in the process. A whimper came out from my baby, barely audible but pierced through my heart. I looked around in panic, afraid I had done my daughter harm.
“What's happened?” A nurse came closer, checking the monitor by the incubators.
“She woke up. I accidentally knocked things.” I looked up worriedly at the nurse. “Did I hurt her?”
“I don't think so.” The nurse said after a few more check. “She's just a little shocked.”
“She's still whimpering.” My nose almost touched the glass as I looked closely to make sure.
“A little cry is good for the development of her lungs. Come, try to soothe her.”
“But...” I looked up at the nurse, silently pleading for help. How was I supposed to soothe a baby? I had never done such thing before. To my dismay, the nurse just patted my back and left with a smile.
“Talk to her. Sing to her.” The kangaroo mom, clearly amused by my predicament, came to my side while wrapping a coat around herself. Her baby was left sleeping in its incubator. “Tell her a story.”
“But... I can't.”
“Of course you can.” She gave the incubator where my baby lied a gentle knock. “Hey, little darling. Don't cry. Your daddy is here for you.”
Then she stood still, watching as I slowly insert my hand into the incubator again.
I pat the tiny bump encased by the giant diaper, making awkward shushing sound to calm my baby.
“See? Easy. I'm BoA by the way, mother of strong and happy little Chanyeol over there.” She pointed at her baby's incubator with a big smile. “See you later, first time daddy.”
I nodded at her, mouthing my gratitude and farewell while kept on patting my baby gently. No matter how awkward the meeting was, I was glad that I had found a friend in this room. Someone who clearly knew better about this than I did.
After a while I felt less clumsy and awkward. A few shushing and gentle pats later, my baby stopped whimpering. Her eyes were still open, tiny fingers moved a little as I caressed her pointy elbow.
“Hey there, little princess.” My first greeting was a whisper, probably wouldn't even make it to her eardrums. “I'm your daddy.” I tried to speak louder while kept caressing her skin.
“I'm sorry I couldn't be here any sooner. Things are a little bit out of hands at this moment.” I sighed, realizing that a person so small shouldn't even be burdened by the many trouble happened outside. “But everything will be alright. Mommy is coming to see you soon.”
I watched as she blinked, wondering if she could already see me. Could she feel my sadness through my smile? Should I start to sing instead?
I thought hard of a topic. Something to tell my baby because this daddy of her couldn't sing as well as her mother. “Do you want to hear about your mommy? She's a very interesting person, you know?”
I smiled, thinking of Jessica. “She's so beautiful. So kind. A little stubborn at times, but a very lovely companion for your old man.”
A snort escaped me. I had never considered myself old before. But I was a father of one now. I was my baby's old man.
Words came out of my mouth steadily as I reminisced. When it was about the woman I love, there were so many things I could tell. I picked happy details to share with my innocent daughter, smiling as I recited how much of a wonderful person her mother was.
“I fall in love with her over and over again. I thought I couldn't love anyone else as much. But you're here now. Your mother has a tough competitor.” I smiled.
After a while my baby started to slowly fall back into sleep. She looked so lovely despite everything. My little angel sleeping through the hard time. I hoped Jessica would wake up soon to see this breathtaking sight.
Nurses came in and people started to filter out of the room. I glanced at the clock, noticing how time had passed faster than my liking.
“I'll see you soon, okay? The nurse said this unit is open 24/7 except for a few minutes breaks.” I gently tapped my baby's little nose. “I'll tell you a story of how I met your mother next time. Sleep well, little princess.”
I rose up, reluctantly leaving the unit. Before the door was closed behind me, I turned around to see my baby one more time.
“I love you.” I whispered, wishing my baby every strength she needed to hold on.
“Oppa.... she's so small.” With a hand over , Krystal bent down to see better into the incubator. Her eyes that were barely dried from tears start to get glassy again.
She had arrived from LA yesterday. The poor girl kept on apologizing for not getting here sooner because she couldn't do much about her fixed shooting schedule.
She had cried so much for Jessica her eyes were swollen and red. And now, seeing her niece all weak and tiny inside the incubator, I knew she was about to cry again.
“Hey...” I hugged her shoulder. “She might be not as big as baby Jinki but I can assure you that she'll give her auntie double the trouble in no time.”
“Oppa...” Krystal straightened up, wiping her eyes. “Is she's okay? Why are there so many tubes around her?”
“The pediatrician told me she's pretty strong for an early baby. She has came a long way.” I tried to smile at my sister-in-law. “That tube in her nose, they said they will try to remove it soon to see if she can eat on her own. It's a huge progress.”
“You are so strong, oppa. So optimistic.” Krystal hugged my arm briefly. “Jessica unnie and my niece are so lucky to have you.”
No matter how glad I was for people to think that I was a strong man. There were still so many fear in my heart of what was to come. My wife was still unconscious. My daughter was in a box filled with equipment to support her life.
If it was up to me, I would like to get on my knees and burst into tears. It would feel great if I could scream profanities and kick stuff to express my frustration. But I couldn't do it, could I? I had to stay strong for my family.
“Hello there, Mr. Kwon.” A familiar nurse greeted me. She had a tray in her hands. There were a few things on the tray but a small baby bottle caught my attention.
“I see you have another companion today.” The pediatrician in charge of my daughter also tagged along. “I'm doctor Kai. Pediatrician.”
“Krystal. Baby Kwon's auntie.” My sister-in-law shook the proffered hand with a smile.
“I know. You're pretty famous.” The doctor grinned before turning to me. “Ready for baby first bottle feeding, Appa?”
“Yes.” Excitement and anxiety surged in me almost at the same time. We had talked about this a few days ago but still I didn't feel ready. I watched as the nurse and the doctor worked their way around my baby. After what seemed to be a moment too quick, the doctor got my baby out of the box and held her up to me.
“It will be more comfortable if you sit, Sir.” The nurse brought the plastic stool closer.
“Me?” The realization that I could hold my baby in my hands was rather baffling at the moment.
“Yes, oppa. You.” Krystal pressed my shoulders, effectively forced me to sit down.
“I.... I can't...” My hands were trembling. I didn't think I could even lift them.
“Relax, Yuri.” BoA joined the team, grinning at me. She had been so helpful through this past few days. She even volunteered to give her stored milk for my daughter, saying that it was a much better option than giving my baby a fabricated formula. “Your baby need you to calm down.”
“Okay.” I took a deep breath, rubbing my palms on my thighs.
“Okay?” The pediatrician grinned. Probably amused at how overreacting I was.
“Okay.” Another deep breath. “I'm ready.”
I slowly held my hands out. BoA chuckled at the fact that they were still shaking a little.
“Hold her like this.” The nurse rolled a blanket and put it in my hands. “Put her on your lap and keep her head up.” She guided my hands after putting a pillow on my lap.
“Like this?” Even if it was just a blanket, the horror was still there. I was so afraid of dropping my precious baby.
“Yes. The pillow will keep your baby safe.” The nurse smiled, taking the blanket after a few seconds. “Ready?”
“Here.” Doctor Kai moved closer and before I knew it my daughter was in my hands.
“Whoa.” She was so light, so tiny, yet felt so real in my hands. I adjusted my position with the help of the nurse. Once settled, I sighed.
It was a moment no word could describe.
“Yaaay.” Krystal cheered . BoA clapped her hands. The doctor and the nurse smiled knowingly. I beamed at them before looking down at the tiny human being in my hands.
My daughter was in soft blue blanket with a yellow cap on her tiny head. Never had I ever seen something so adorable before. Her eyes open. Her nose looked like a tiny button. I couldn't resist. I dipped my head and gave her forehead a gentle kiss.
“Oh no. I shouldn't kiss her, should I?” I looked up at my audiences. Doctor Kai just grinned. While the nurse told me to soothe my baby.
“Bounce her.” BoA suggested. “Move your knees up and down. Gently.”
I gave it a try. Even made a shushing sound without actually realizing it. My baby quieted down and I beamed at my companions once more.
“Ready to bottle feed?” Doctor Kai moved closer with the bottle in his hand.
“God. I don't think I'm ready for any more action today.”
The Doctor just laughed, bringing the bottle close my daughter's lips. He let a drop of milk fell. My daughter instantly moved her lips and her tongue.
“I think baby Kwon is ready.” He then let the teat in. I waited with a bated breath and the room suddenly went silent to my ears. After a few seconds, my daughter started and everybody cheered albeit not so loudly.
“Told ya.” BoA winked at me. “Everything will be fine.”
“Good job, little princess.” Krystal pat my baby's hand gently.
“Hold the bottle like this.” Doctor Kai showed me. I followed the instruction. Still trembled a little as I held the small bottle.
“Keep her head up.” The nurse added, adjusting the pillow gently for better support.
The rest of their words, I couldn't hear them. My eyes met my baby's. My heart melted. And suddenly there were only the two of us in the room.
I worried about a lot of thing regarding this little wonder on my lap. Seeing her so well nearly made my heart burst with happiness. If only Jessica could see this. If only she was the one who held our daughter for the first time.
“Oppa... don't cry.” I felt Krystal's hand around my shoulder and suddenly realized that tears were threatening to fall from my eyes. I shook my head, trying to blink back tears. It was no good, they were still falling to my cheeks.
I didn't care though. People could see me crying over my daughter anytime. She was the happiness nobody could take away from me.
“I'm so happy, little princess.” I whispered, cradling the tiny head gently. “Drink a lot. Grow well.”
As the milk in the bottle slowly went into my baby's stomach. I stole a kiss on her hand, gazing at the small fingers curled into tiny fist. She would grow well, happy and healthy, I'd make sure of it.
“I love you so much.” I whispered again. “Your mother loves you so much.”
“Everybody loves you so much, little girl.” Krystal, from where she sat beside me, whispered too.
I smiled down at my baby. What her auntie said was true.
--- tbc ---
Author's note : Thank you so much for all the name suggestions. I particularly like Yuki (Snow) and Jihye (Intelligent and bright). To those who have suggested the two names, I'll probably leave a teaser of future chapter in your comment reply as a gift. Stay tuned. ^^
Also, you guys are probably bored with my apology by now, but here's another one for being so slow on updating. I'm so sorry.