PREEMIE FACTOIDS

Did you know that over 450,000 babies are born premature in the United States every year? And 15,000,000 worldwide. Because of their early arrivals preemies are more susceptible to a myriad health issues including apnea, PDA (Patent Ductus Arteriosis ) and RDS (Respiratory Distress Syndrome ). But technology and science continue to evolve. In fact, a preemie born today has a much greater chance at survival compared to only 10 years ago.  Keep checking back for more factoids.

Eighteen!

Raise your hand if you imagined your child’s 18th birthday and high school graduation while sitting in the NICU?  I know I did. At that time, I thought 2018 was so far away. HA! We all have had the experience of an older mom saying to us (in the midst of a toddler tantrum, no doubt), “Enjoy these years; they go so fast.” But, in the NICU, nothing goes fast, so eighteen years seems like an eternity. Now, I’m that mom telling the young mom “it goes so fast.”  Here I am, 18 years later, my girl, my first born, my preemie is Eighteen! She’s an actual adult. She reminded me that she can now vote and buy porn (she’s funny, that one).

Everything beyond the next weight check or feeding seems impossible to imagine in the NICU.  We had been told that we most likely would have a tough road with our daughter. We were told she would most likely be developmentally and intellectually disabled.  Imagining the future was uncertain and scary. But, I never did accept that or let it sink in. So, there in the NICU, I tried to imagine my 18 year old in a cap and gown.  I told myself I’d be such a good mom and imagined all the wonderful moments we would create over the next 18 years. Then reality set in. This parenting thing is hard, really, really hard.  

Time with any child is precious.  Time with a preemie has a bit of a different feel.  Every milestone, every birthday is magnified, more profound.  When a child’s life starts with the words, “if she lives through the night…” it’s impossible not to feel like her life is a big freaking deal.  Eighteen years later, I still look at her sometimes and catch my breath in awe of her survival. And every day I look at her and am in awe of the young lady she has become.

I did it. I raised a human completely from infancy to adulthood and we both survived!  That’s huge! Now instead of imagining her childhood, I’m remembering it. Sure we had tantrums (sometimes mine), arguments, a tonsillectomy, a broken foot, missing homework, crayon on walls, cut hair, mono, sibling rivalry, eye rolls, last-minute projects, foot stomps, undone chores, dating, and more.  But, mostly, we had a good ride these last 18 years. We not only got through it, but we like each other, a lot. We laugh more than we cry. We hug and say, “I love you” every day. Raising her sometimes got messy, scary, and hard, but there has been far more sweet than bitter. I am not ready to let her go.  My time is up and I’m holding on for dear life.

“It’s not over” so many people say.  Of course, we have more parenting to do.  Heck, I still call my mom for advice and she sometimes still has to set me straight.  But, the big part is done. She’s leaving soon, heading off to college. I have to trust that 18 years of information has stuck.  Please let it stick. I have to hope that she’s safe when she is not in my presence. God, that’s scary. I have to hope that child makes decent decisions without my watchful eyes.  Please, Isabelle Anna, eat fruit every now and then, don’t forget to pay your phone bill, get annual checkups, go to the dentist, and don’t walk across campus alone at night.

In the NICU, her care did not belong solely to me.  In fact, I felt robbed of parenting her while nurses and doctors made decisions about her care.  And now, I have to give up control again. And, as we hit these last milestones, I just keep thinking about my three pound baby on a ventilator.  It’s impossible not to think about where we were when I see where she is now. In the NICU there were questions, so many questions. I have realized that parenthood is full of uncertainty.  Ultimately, we are all making this up as we go along. But, at eighteen the uncertainty is unlike any before, because I’m no longer the one making it up. It’s her turn now to make it up as she goes along.  I have to let her be the decision maker. Not easy for a control freak like myself.

I hate to be that annoying mom who says, “it goes so fast,” but it does!  So, as you sit there in the NICU or maybe out of the NICU now and you are question everything, you need to know this… you’ve got this.  You will make mistakes. I wish I could say you won’t, but that’s impossible. But, it’s ok. Mostly, you won’t. Mostly, everything will go fine.  You won’t believe it and you’ll doubt yourself more as a parent than you have ever before. But, trust me, you will make it to Eighteen. You will stand here, like me, looking at your NICU baby on his/her 18th birthday and think, “Holy crap!  I did it! I raised a human!”

   

 

Christine is the mom of four children.  She is a supporter of preemie families and a breastfeeding peer-support counselor.