I "celebrated" my first World Prematurity Day in the NICU. Sam was just two months old actual and was on his second full day of being off oxygen support.
A lot has changed since that day, and I thought I would take a moment and reflect back on the five main things I have learned in the past five years.
The Trauma is Real
The NICU is terrifying. It doesn't matter if you are in there for one day or for 95 days, like Sam and I were. Any amount of time in the NICU is too much. The beeps, the alarms, the uncertainty, the fear... they are all there and they are all all consuming. Leaving the NICU unscathed is just not possible - for you, your preemie or those in your immediate inner circle.
It is important to acknowledge the trauma. You all suffered in one way or another. I came out of my experience with a nice case of PTSD. Sam came out of his experience with a health fear of doctors and hospitals. Irene came out of this experience convinced that a health crisis was always on the horizon. Even my marriage suffered from the trauma - and crumbled under it.
Be strong enough to know the trauma is real.
The Fear Never Ends (preemie parent or not)
Life inside the NICU is filled with fear. Will my preemie ever be strong enough to go home? Will his bladder start working? Will he lose his eyesight? Is his stomach filled with gas for has he developed NEC? The one thing I realized is, at least in the NICU that fear is in the safety of the hospital. The NICU is a place filled with amazing people who are there to make sure that even if the worst is happening, your preemie is safe.
Once you are discharged, you are on your own! Yes, you will still have doctors and nurses and specialists in your life, but they are not there with you 24/7. It makes each cough that much more terrifying - because you are alone.
And once you get past the early stages of terror of not knowing if your baby is suffering a Brady or an Apnea event... there is all the rest of the fear. In my case, I could not believe that I was going to walk away from having a twenty-four weeker with just slight nearsightedness and some digestion issues. I was convinced everything was more than it was. 90% of the time I was wrong. For the times I was right, it was terrifying. We went through skull fractures, five days at children's for RSV, and an Autism Diagnosis.
Your child starts its life bathed in fear - and honestly, that fear never goes away.
The Resilience Of Your Child Will Amaze You - Every Day
OK - so you have suffered a trauma and you are bathed in fear all the time. That's the bad news. The good news if these preemies are amazing. They are the most resilient children around. Hell - these kids have survived more than most of us before they were even supposed to have been born. With that in their past, how can they be anything but inspiring.
I know I look at Sam on a daily basis and wonder. I wonder how he can be so happy. How he can be so healthy. How he can be so tall. Sam is the picture of resilience and his amazes and inspires me every day.
Life Will Never Be The Same
This is so true. I mean, how could you go through that experience and not have your life completely change. The NICU is an earth shattering experience. I know medical terms I never wanted to know. I have friends that have enough medical equipment in their houses to start a small clinic. Hand sanitizer is in every room of my house, in my purse, in my car, in my parents house...
Yes - I have suffered. Yes - I am constantly afraid. Yes - I am a much better person than I was before I had Sam. My life has changed. I have changed. I am so grateful for these changes.
You Will Change In Ways You Didn't Think Possible
All of these changes I have made, personally, emotionally and professionally have been wonderful. I never felt I was a patient person before Sam. Now, I have a patience even I am in awe of. I never saw myself as a stay at home mom. Well, I work - but I work from home, allowing me to be present for my kids at a moments notice. I never envisioned myself as a single parent or a divorcee - yet here I am and I am OK with it.
The bottom line is, my life was altered in many ways on September 16 2010 and I am OK with it.
So, remember, while the NICU experience is awful and overwhelming, you can still come out the other side. Of course, I would love nothing more than to see the number of premature births continue to drop. When Sam was born it was 1 and 8 births worldwide were premature. Today that number is now 1 in 10 births.