Even though she’s 1 year old, Calliope is still — and always will be — our miracle preemie baby.
As forecasters shifted Hurricane Irma’s path farther away from Central Florida in the days before the storm’s Florida landfall, my wife, Jess, and I made the decision to stay home rather than risk getting stuck on northbound Interstate 95. At that time, we felt it was the safest decision we could make for our family.
But just before our power and cell service went out that Sunday night, the last weather report we were able to receive had the eye coming much closer than we expected.
We already had secured our miracle baby, Calliope, born 11-and-one-half weeks early on Oct. 9, 2016, along with her older brother, Lyric, and sister, Aria, in our master closet. It took some doing, but they finally were asleep. Jess and I sat in the black, trying desperately to connect to any weather service from our quickly draining phones.
About 15 minutes before Irma was to arrive in our area, we moved to the closet, too. Jess curled up on the floor next to the kiddos, while I pulled a rocking chair into the doorway and collapsed in it. I had never heard sounds like that before. In that moment, I felt useless. I couldn’t make the storm go away. I couldn’t travel back in time, pack my family up and leave. All I could do was put my body between them and what was going on outside. So there I sat. In a chair. At 2 a.m. Waiting for the roar to end.
It’s what daddies do. Their most important purpose is to protect their kids. After each one was born, that was the first promise I made — that I would do everything in my power to keep them safe.
Some of you will remember Calliope’s dramatic entrance into this world. Jess was rushed to Orlando Health Winnie Palmer Hospital for Children and Babies in early September 2016 with severe preeclampsia and spent five weeks on bedrest before Calliope decided she had had enough. So, after an emergency C-section, we said hello to the 2-pound, 12-ounce surprise of our lives.
The next seven weeks were grueling. Jess was discharged, but Calliope stayed in the NICU. We celebrated every tiny milestone — every ounce of weight gain, every tube removal. I became obsessed with her heart rate and oxygen level and monitored the numbers for any dip. It broke our hearts every time we had to leave the hospital without her, but we knew we were doing what was best.
And as only thin panes of glass separated us from Irma’s rage outside, I thought about the last time I attempted to sleep in a chair. It was Oct. 7, 2016 — two days before Calliope’s birth and yes, during another hurricane: Matthew. With Jess in the hospital, I packed Lyric and Aria into the minivan to wait it out at Winnie Palmer. That night, the kids curled up on the Murphy bed in Jess’ hospital room, while I took the recliner. That night, I couldn’t hear the wind through the thick hospital glass. Everything was quiet, save for the beeps and whirrs of the hospital equipment and Lyric’s and Aria’s snores. My back was killing me. But they were safe. Daddy made good on his promise.
Today, Calliope is a spunky, sweet and perfect baby — so beautiful that she turns heads everywhere she goes. Her first word — “ball.” She loves to stick out her tongue in the mirror, her giggle is absolutely contagious, and bath time is her favorite part of the day. She has brought more joy to our family than we ever thought possible. She makes us whole. And sometimes, I’m afraid I’m going to wear a hole in her cheek because I can’t stop smooching it.
Last month, we braved the rain to participate in Winnie Palmer’s annual Walk for Winnie fundraiser and celebrate with other families of preemies.
On her birthday, we all wore our Walk for Winnie T-shirts in her honor. Calliope slowly, curiously, pressed her hand into her smash cake and enjoyed her first taste of chocolate. Then, she figured out it was more fun to smear it all over the table, her seat and her body.
After her bath, I strapped on her foot monitor so we could watch her heart rate and oxygen levels as she slept. We’ve watched them every night of her entire life. And even though she’s 1 year old, she’s still — and always will be — our miracle preemie baby.