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Pros and Cons of Spending the First Weeks of Your Son's Life in the NICU

Timothy Mudie is a speculative fiction writer and an editor of all sorts of genres. In addition to Daily Science Fiction, his work has been published in various magazines, anthologies, and podcasts, including Lightspeed, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Deep Magic, and Wastelands: The New Apocalypse. He lives outside of Boston with his wife and son. Find him online at timothymudie.com or on Twitter @timothy_mudie.

Pro: All the free saltines you can eat.
Con: It's the neonatal intensive care unit, so they don't have any actual salt on them.
Pro: The doctor you meet with says you did the right thing bringing your son in when you did. You caught whatever is happening early. So perceptive of the little changes happening in his behavior.
Con: You register the words but hear the tone, see the look in her eyes that says: You are a failure as a parent. There is something wrong with your baby because there is something wrong with you.
Pro: You've often been accused of not feeling deeply, of hiding your emotions. After the wailing when you had him admitted, the way you choked on your own snot and tears when the doctor inserted the spinal tap, no one can say that about you anymore.
Con: The sobs wrack your body so hard they cause pain behind your eye so sharp you worry it will never go away. You're given a hard cot in a closed-off waiting room, but are too ashamed to ask for new linen after you weep through the pillowcase.
Pro: Nurses monitor him round the clock. Hovering over his plastic bassinet, swaddling him, stroking his tiny feet and promising everything will be okay, doing so much better than you could.
Con: He might bond with them more than he does with you.
Pro: The doctors can't find anything wrong with him.
Con: Clearly, something is.
Pro: The tests and monitors and x-rays finally bear fruit.
Con: Something is growing inside him.
Pro: You think about him so much, your love for him is so fierce, that sometimes it scares you.
Con: You're so very scared.
Pro: Your boy eats again, the first sustenance he's taken in days that isn't through the IV.
Con: There is a singularity inside your son, a compressed nut of matter and time where his heart should be, was, is. Incrementally and inexorably drawing everything in the universe closer to it like a scarf pulled through a magician's clenched fist.
Pro: After all the years, the attempts, the fertility treatments, the miscarriages, surely the universe wouldn't take your son from you now, not when he is finally here.
Con: You live in an unfeeling and capricious universe.
Pro: No one can predict what will happen next.
Con: No one can predict what will happen next.
Pro: You didn't think it was possible to be drawn more powerfully to your son.
Con: It begins to hurt as the pressure from the black hole builds.
Pro: You remember hearing somewhere years ago, some stoned dorm-room discussion, about how when the universe collapses inward far enough it will spawn another Big Bang, a brand-new universe. It will be a universe born of your son.
Con: To create a new universe, the old one and everything in it must be destroyed. Everything broken down to its constituent parts before it can be reassembled.
Pro: It's his universe. Maybe you can live with him there.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, May 19th, 2021

Author Comments

My son--now almost three years old--is the center of my universe, though unlike in this story, only figuratively. While he's now in excellent health, when he was a week old, my wife and I had to bring him to the ER in the middle of the night, at which point he was admitted to the NICU. Luckily, everything quickly turned out to be fine, though we ended up staying there for several days. This happened to coincide with my birthday. While unable to sleep that night, I began having thoughts of "pros and cons of spending your birthday in the NICU," and a few weeks later, I wrote them down as this story. For the next few years, I'd occasionally look at and tweak it, but feared submitting it anywhere because it was so personal to me and can't help but remind me of a time I'd rather forget. One day, I bit the bullet and submitted the story to Daily Science Fiction. The rest, as they say, is history.

- Timothy Mudie
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