Three weeks ago, my toddler dropped out of school. My husband and I didn’t anticipate it. We started September just like everyone else…with adorable “first day of school!” pictures on our front porch and excitement for everything my son would learn and the new friends he would make.
It was a leap of faith for us to try out a group childcare setting in his second winter of life. My son, now 21 months old, was born at 31 weeks and 6 days in January 2014. When he was discharged from the NICU in late February, we- like all preemie parents- feared colds, flu, and RSV. We limited visitors, bought stock in hand sanitizer, and checked proof of TDAP and flu vaccinations at the front door.
With a thriving toddler interested in learning and socializing, we decided to graduate from the parent and nanny caregiver model and enroll him in a Montessori program four mornings per week. We took careful note of the advice from fellow parents about sickness in the first year of school or daycare. “He will definitely get sick, but then his immune system will be unstoppable for the rest of his educational career”, they promised. We thought we’d see a few bad illnesses this year, but for the most part he’d just have a chronic runny nose.
Boy were we wrong.
In the first 8 weeks, he had at least 5 viruses. One of which caused him to be hospitalized and several of which caused him to have signs of respiratory distress- specifically rapid breathing. The endless, horrific cough that accompanied these illnesses resulted in no sleep for anyone…for weeks…and without family or back-up caregivers to fill in, we decided this situation was unmanageable for our family and potentially dangerous for my son’s health.
In consultation with our pediatrician, my husband and I decided to pull our son out of school and try again when his lungs are more mature and his breathing passages are bigger.
As we struggle with the aftermath of this decision- specifically with trying to find an amazing caregiver to take the place of school so that I can continue to run my business part-time, here is what I know:
- We 100% made the right decision. It is so important to trust your instincts. You know what is best for your child.
- It never helps to compare your situation with others. LOTS of people told us that it was normal for him to get sick and we should just keep him in school. But preemies are different than full-term babies…they just are.
- The effects of prematurity will often sneak up on you…even years later. It can be a sad and overwhelming reminder that your child is still carrying the burden of prematurity, but you will get through it.
- Reminders of your NICU journey can be sudden and traumatic- take good care of yourself. When my son was hospitalized last month and needed high flow oxygen, I had a very strong reaction to seeing him with the nasal cannula on his face. I was immediately transported back 21 months. My husband had a similar reaction to the smell of the hospital hand soap in our room.
- I am lucky to have a “village” of medical providers that care about my son. While I would never wish prematurity on anyone, the silver lining is that you have a bigger team of people to help with decisions like these. I am forever thankful for our incredibly compassionate and smart pediatrician and the dedicated occupational and speech therapists we work with through Early Intervention. My advice is to build your village and take advantage of their support and expertise for tough decisions like these! My providers have had MANY patient and helpful conversations with me about my son’s readiness for school or a group childcare setting. It’s not all about developmental readiness but also about health readiness.
And finally, here is the most important thing I know: My child is still thriving. Sometimes we preemie parents worry that the cocooning and precautions we take will hurt them in some way…make them miss out on important life experiences. But my sweet boy (who has finally been healthy for consecutive weeks!) has spent the past 3 weeks on playdates, at library story hours, debuting several new words, and running around most of the playgrounds in our community.
So as with “all things preemie”, I learned that he will enter school on his own time and in his own way. And as his mama, I just have to watch closely and he’ll tell me when he’s ready.
Parenting in general- but definitely parenting preemies- can be a lot of trial and error. Please share some of your own #preemiefails. What decisions did you make for your child/ren (childcare, school, health, etc.) that did not work out as you hoped? How did you know it was not working and what did you do to fix it?
About Leah: In January 2014, Leah A. Roman, MPH, MCHES and her husband welcomed their first child. Thomas (“TJ”) was born 8 weeks premature and spent a month in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) before he was ready to come home. Being a NICU mom has been life changing and motivates Leah to write about maternal and child health topics and engage with organizations that support NICU families.
Leah is a public health consultant and health educator living in the greater Philadelphia area. She has designed, delivered, and evaluated public health programs on a variety of topics from college health to occupational injury. Since 2010 she has written Pop Health– a blog that examines the intersection of public health and popular culture. It was named one of the Top 25 Public Health Blogs of 2012 by MPHOnline. In 2013, Leah launched Roman Public Health Consulting to provide clients with tailored services in areas such as strategic planning, health communication, and health education. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from the University of San Diego and a Master of Public Health degree from Boston University. She also holds the designation as a Master Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES). You can find her on Twitter where she goes by @LeahHealth