Heather is the Director of the Preemie Parent Mentors Program at Graham’s Foundation.
When I delivered my first child at 25 weeks, I was a mess. A serious, cried every ten minutes, attached to a breast pump, terrified mess. Every plan I had was upside down. Every dream I had for my baby and our life balanced on a tightrope with IVH, PDA and ROP shaking the line. I had always wanted a big family and those dreams felt suddenly unlikely, all in the course of one crazy week. We had gone from perfect pregnancy and Sunday morning bump pics to a world of umbilical lines, head ultrasounds and blood transfusions. A world where even our closest family and friends didn’t know what to say or how to comfort. The future was completely unknown.
When our NICU journey finally ended, I thought I’d sleep sounder. Instead, I found myself up in the middle of the night, staring at this perfect little person. My fears would again get the better of me and I’d find myself wondering if he would someday walk or say ‘momma.’ My brain was armed with statistics. Those horrible numbers just ran on a loop in my brain at night. Our doctors voices giving us his risk factors for CP and other delays, preparing us for every possible outcome. They had been wrong before. Countless times, Owen had proved that he wasn’t going to be another statistic. Still, I would stare into his beautiful eyes and pray.
It’s been five years since my little boy came into the world after just a few hours of labor pains. Five years since my world went topsy turvy. Five amazing, blissful and fulfilling years. The beauty of Facebook flashback is that it now lets me relive my NICU journey every year from the months of May to July. Every prayer request, update and pic pops up on my notifications screen first thing in the morning. And just reading my own words puts me back in the NICU, standing over an isolette, willing my boy to breathe. I’m no stranger to talking about our journey. I do it almost every day as the director for Graham’s Foundations Preemie Parent Mentor Program. But for some reason, rereading my own words sends me back.
The longer I’m out of the NICU, the more I feel that I’ve healed. I don’t have nightmares about my delivery anymore. I don’t wake at night to the sound of beeps and alarms. I don’t stare at my sleeping baby, wondering if he’ll really be OK. I have even delivered two more beautiful children at nearly full term. I can look at my little boy, no longer a 2 lb 1 oz newborn, but a bright, loving and compassionate child. He has no memory of his first three months. We look at pictures and he asks questions, but I always struggle to answer them without tears. I wonder if it’ll still feel this way when he’s 10, 15, or 20 years old.
Delivering a preemie changed so much of our life. It changed the kind of mother I thought I would be and the kind of infancy I’d hoped we’d experience. To many, I was a caricature of a first time mom, tossing hand sanitizer around and shielding my baby from strangers touch. I’m sure many people walked away with a smirk, thinking that I was crazy. It’s OK, they didn’t know. It changed the type of things we rejoiced over, as those first milestones came so much harder to our boy. It changed my personal goals and led me to an amazing organization that allows me to connect with and support preemie parents who are just beginning their own, unique journey. I still wish things could have been different. But I’m so grateful for the joy that these past five years have brought. I’m grateful for the kind of parents our preemie made my husband and me. And now, five years later, I wish I could tell my 26 year old, cried every ten minutes, attached to the breast pump, terrified mess that everything would turn out just as it should.