When I think back four years to the culmination of that first successful pregnancy, most of what I remember is worry. Oh, did the mister and I worry. We worried so hard there in our cozy corner of the local fluffy Level II NICU that if you'd looked at us from afar you would have thought our little P. had all kinds of problems. She didn't, but what did we know? When your main points of reference for babies are newborns who head right home and nurse like Hoovers, a six week early baby who falls asleep every time you feed her and occasionally stops breathing seems like a very big deal.
As longtime readers know, P. eventually did get the hang of the whole breathing thing and somewhere around seven months even started refusing bottles altogether. Even if her latch was never really all that, a year of Early Intervention corrected all the lingering issues that were probably more my fault than prematurity's.
Six weeks early? That's amateur hour, but I'd only realize that later.
When Bo was born, the hospital maternity floor was packed so tight with new mamas that they wanted us up and out ASAP after our two days of recovery was up. That felt weird compared to the hand-holding we got during P.'s NICU stay and especially weird when I considered how most first timers get the day two boot with not so much as a 'how do you do'.
As bravery goes, I think that taking your newborn bundle of needs home without a few weeks of professional tutelage probably ranks somewhere close to keeping a stiff upper lip when your late-term preemie decides she won't breathe without a little massage.
Both of which pale utterly in comparison to having a preemie just on the right side of the viability line or even a later-term preemie with real problems. Now those parents of preemies - moms who were still hiding their pregnancies at work and dads who never got to feel their babies kick from the inside - those are the badasses of the NICU. They're the ones who have to make life and death decisions for their babies. It's like imagine that instead of a nurse coming in and asking you if you plan to nurse or bottle feed, a nurse comes in and asks you if you've considered removing life support. And it is literally up to you to make that kind of call because that is your job and since your baby is too fragile to hold, being her advocate is the strongest, most parental thing you can do for her.
No, it's not all doom and gloom in the upper level NICUs - and a big part of the reason it's not is because parents of preemies are just amazing people with a capacity for adaptation that's beyond belief. There are plenty of tears shed by families affected by serious prematurity, but these same families have the guts to sit by the beds of the sickest babies, the babies living on the edge, and read Goodnight Moon even though they're in an open plan ward and public speaking used to be their worst fear. Used to be, because there is no fear worse than a parent's fear for his or her child, and there is just so much to be afraid of in the NICU.
The more I learned about prematurity, the more I realized how lucky we were. A later-term preemie can have scores of problems, sure - but our later-term preemie didn't. So when I think of parents of preemies, I don't think of the mister and I even though we're technically in the club. I think of moms and dads who stand up and face challenges that are incomprehensible to me. Like I said, there may be tears, but even through the tears, they stand.
It doesn't get much more badass than that.
March 10 is Parents of Preemies Day - a day of recognition that honors the kinds of moms and dads I describe above and all that they do for their babies and kids. On that day, I'm going to participate in the Parents of Preemies Day Twitter chat from 2-3 p.m. EST and if you're a parent of a preemie, were born early yourself, or are just curious about what it means to be a parent of a preemie, I hope to see you there!