November 17 was World Prematurity Day. It was an apt time to reflect on our amazing journey so far, so I took the time to look at some photos from our NICU days. He was so tiny and I looked so…ill. It has taken me literally years to feel like a somewhat normal person. Or maybe I am just a completely different person now. I am so very grateful that we are past that. I can hardly believe it has been nearly two and a half years since I delivered Jax prematurely after an agonizing 32-hour induction that I can’t seem to forget. Yet.
Parenting a preemie has been a journey into my deepest personal fears, an experience that highlights my own fatal flaws, and an unpredictable ride that has tested the very limits of every relationship I have ever had. If I knew some of the things I have learned along the way back then, perhaps the rollercoaster ride would have been slightly less harrowing. Well, probably not. But still, it may help others to hear some of these suggestions. If I could have given them to myself, I surely would not have listened. And that is Lesson Number 1.
Survival Tip 1: Listen to Yourself.
Many of us have learned to ignore or argue with that essence that speaks to us. We cover it up with fears, what-ifs, and other mental dysfunction. Learn to listen to what your very basic needs are during this time. If you need sleep, don’t let feelings of guilt that you are not at the NICU or meeting your pumping demands overwhelm you. For God’s sake, lie down for a few minutes. Watch stupid TV. Take a few minutes to feed your own needs. Learn to listen to that gut of yours-it rarely steers you wrong. If you can’t hear yourself, feel inside for that ball of tension you are probably holding in your belly. Take a deep breath and release it. Clear your mind. Ask yourself what you need and listen to the answer.
Survival Tip 2: Stay Present
Expectations were the bane of my existence, primarily because I didn’t realize I was operating under a set of false ideals that I thought my preemie would follow. He still doesn’t sleep through the night but he has the academic and verbal skills of a five-year old. Stay present. Be that drop of water that floats along with the tide, letting obstacles wash through your life and then back out.
Survival Tip 3: Be Grateful
When you witness the afterlife firsthand, then get catapulted into a bizarre world where you are a weak, barely functional collection of hormones, resentment, anxiety, and guilt, it is hard to remember to be grateful. It is far too easy to focus on the negatives of our situations, but beware! Our perceptions are our realities. Somewhere, some mother is thinking, “You think YOU have it bad?!” Things could be worse. Appreciate every moment you are able to turn your face to the sun. Smile through the tears. Everything you do is a lesson to that little person you have brought into the world.
Survival Tip 4: Enjoy the Ride
The Preemie Parent Roller Coaster can be filled with nausea-inducing drops, sickening lunges, and unexpected derailments. Still, sometimes you coast, marveling at the scenery with a nearly hysterical bubble of laughter in your soul. Every down has an up somewhere. Look for the ups. Enjoy them. The one thing we can’t stop is the passage of time. It would be foolhardy to risk my life and sanity to have another child, and when I look at Jax I still have melancholy associated with the birth and newborn experience we never had, and will most likely never have. So, I must remember to enjoy the ride-this rollercoaster was designed especially for me, to test my own design flaws and challenge me to address them.
Yeah, I had it all figured out before Jax came along. Now, I am like a child re-discovering who I am, what I enjoy, and what I need to feel secure in this unpredictable world of preemie parenting. My old life is gone but not completely forgotten; it just seems like it all happened to someone else. Now, I’m Jackson’s mom. It’s who I was meant to be.