When kids reach a certain age, it’s not uncommon for them to express an interest in birth and babyhood. For parents of preemies, this phase – in which baby books suddenly become more popular than story books – can be a tough one. The reality of premature birth isn’t always pretty. And sometimes premature birth and the impact of prematurity can make for a downright frightening story. Preemies themselves, of course, are beautiful and amazing, but describing prematurity may be difficult when you’re talking to children.
Whether you talk to your preemie about his or her premature birth and how much you decide to reveal in any one conversation is a personal decision that will depend on so many factors. The age of your child and his or her sensitivities can play a role. Your own comfort level may be a part of your decision, as well. It should be said that there’s no right or wrong way to talk to your preemie about prematurity – whatever you decide in the moment will be right for your family at that time. At a different point or in a different setting, you may feel driven to reveal more.
Many parents of preemies begin simply with a statement like “When you were born, you needed help to breathe and eat, and lived at the hospital until you were well enough to come home.” For other moms and dads, the lasting effects of prematurity are such a part of everyday life that their children have always had some understanding of what it means to be a preemie. There are young children who are excited and curious to see their baby pictures… wires, monitors, and all, while a few children may find images that include medical paraphernalia a little scary. Still others are fascinated by the idea that they were only “so big” when they were born.
As your preemie gets older, being open about the realities of premature birth may be a necessary part of securing the services that your child needs. Or your child may simply be the kind of girl or boy who asks a thousand questions and will only settle for detailed answers! Some children – particularly older children who are developing a strong sense of self in the present – may veer in the opposite direction and not want to discuss prematurity at all. That’s okay, too.
Your preemie may actually let you know exactly how much or how little information he or she needs or wants. Younger children are typically satisfied with basic answers to their questions about early birth and the equipment they see in their baby pictures. Older children may begin to ask how you felt during the NICU days. Ultimately, if you’re unsure how much to share at any given time, let your child be your guide.
How much have you told your preemie (and any siblings) about premature birth and the effects of prematurity on your whole family? And how old are your kids?