by Amy Berkheimer
My husband and I each had dreams about what our child might achieve in life. When I saw Eli’s long, beautiful fingers in the ultrasound, I thought I might have a piano player in the house. When my husband heard how much Eli weighed, he envisioned his son being a linebacker on the football team. We neither one got what we had dreamed about. We got way more!
Having my baby spend time in the NICU altered the course of my life. When my 10 lb 5 oz baby boy was born, not breathing, and it took them 18 minutes to resuscitate him, it set me on a path I never could have imagined. I spent seven years at a great job, crunching numbers and paying bills, then going home each night to our cats and dogs. I worked until three days before Eli was born, and intended to go back to work part time after my maternity leave, and continue on with life as I knew it, plus a bundle of joy!
Turns out, my plan was not to be. Eli suffered a brain injury at birth, called HIE or Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy, and was later diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy. His life is complicated, and we’ve spent so many nights in the hospital, that I’m losing count. It’s those nights in the NICU, and Pediatric Unit that have made me realize how lucky we are to have the talented and gifted staff at Yakima Memorial Hospital, our local Children’s Miracle Network Hospital. From their amazing parent support they offered during Eli’s early days, when so much was unknown; to return visits to the Pediatric Unit for RSV, colds, and dehydration, where they remember us and are excited to see how Eli is doing. They’ve become like extended family.
Because of our three weeks spent in Yakima’s NICU, I decided I wanted to give back somehow. I became a hospital volunteer and was able to visit with parents in the NICU when they were beginning their journey into the unknown. I got to decorate the bulletin board that welcomed parents as they came to visit their babies, and I got to continue friendships with the wonderful staff members I had grown to love during Eli’s stay.
When Eli was six, I became a Memorial Hospital employee and now work at Children’s Village, where I continue to offer support to parents. I also help coordinate and facilitate a recreation program for children with disabilities and special needs.
I’m a long way from that girl that used to sit in a cubicle with a calculator. I’m a long way from that mom taking her kids to piano lessons, too. What I am is one of the luckiest moms in the world. I am Eli’s mom. I am a mom to a boy who is brave, and strong, and full of smiles and laughs, and is the toughest kid I know. He has been through so much in his 9 years on this earth. I watch him with awe, as he faces every new challenge with joy and every hospital stay with IV’s and tests, without flinching. I marvel at how simple life can be if you just slow down and enjoy the beauty of a boy that stays positive even when things aren’t going his way. I couldn’t have custom ordered a better kid!