Our Guest Blogger, Liz works in Children’s Ministry for an ELCA congregation in the Twin Cities. She has a two and a half year old son that you wouldn’t know was born prematurely anymore. She blogs about her family, faith and life at Random Thoughts of a Lutheran Geek.
No one wishes for a preemie, until the alternative is an option in front of you. The alternative means things have gone horribly wrong, as opposed to “sort of” wrong. Maybe you are a high risk pregnancy and plan for the possibilities of a preemie from the very beginning or maybe you are caught by surprise by an illness, preterm labor, or dangerous complication. No matter how it happens, you can’t really prepare for the reality of a preemie. But preemies happen far too often. According to the March of Dimes, 1 in every 8 babies are born prematurely.
But that is a number. The heart of the preemie experience isn’t in a number it is in a story. My own son was a preemie – a 4lb 7oz 33 week boy, born after I developed preeclampsia, a dangerous complication of pregnancy that raises your blood pressure dramatically with risks of stroke and death for the mother. Delivery is the only cure. So at 33 weeks, after a week of hospital bed rest, I went into surgery and my son was born and whisked off to the NICU.
In the preemie spectrum, E was a healthy kid. He only needed oxygen for a few days and most of the hurdles we had were him learning how to eat (and still breath too, surprisingly complicated when you think about it), keeping his temperature up, and gaining weight.
But the experience was so much more than that and even two and a half years later I have flashbacks… E’s sunken chest struggling to breath before they put him on the vent… the nurses who ignored me in the postpartum wing because my baby wasn’t in the room with me… not holding my own son for 2 full days after he was born. I remember being shown to the breast pump the day after my surgery and crying as I attempted to coerce my boobs into giving up some precious breast milk for my son. I remember leaving the hospital without him, a task I was forced to do for the 46 days he stayed in the NICU.
The NICU experience is full of physical trials for your child. Having a preemie means living in a place of unknowns. A kid can take two steps forward and then a step back over and over again. There are no guarantees just a best guess/best hope scenario. At the same time there are so many amazing things we can do for an infant born too early now. Not that long ago my son and I would have likely died before he could be carried to term, so there is a sense of relief and gratefulness in every NICU experience, because really it could be so much worse.
It still doesn’t stop the guilt you will feel. Every step of my too short pregnancy was second guessed. Was it my fault somehow? Could I have don’t something to spare E this rough beginning? Only as time passes and the experience becomes farther away is there a sense of peace with the lot you were thrown. Thankfully today’s medical knowledge allows most preemies the time and safety to grow, eat and thrive and ultimately most of them do come home. Eventually. But no matter how long or short it takes, a preemie will always be a preemie no matter how big they get, and you will always be a preemie parent. But the love you feel for your too small child is full of fierce joy because you know the edge that you walked too close to. You never forget how close you got to the edge.