Dear Mom of a Premature Child

Note: I modelled this after an essay written by Kathy Lyn Harris titled “Dear Moms of Adopted Children.” I first read it on Thursday and then shared it among my friends. It’s been on my mind ever since. (Kathy’s post was inspired by Lea Grover whose essay titled, “Dear Less-Than-Perfect Mom” ran in the Huffington Post on April 30th). Kathy’s post made me think about moms like me whose path to motherhood was complicated by premature birth

Dear Mom of a Premature Child,
I met you in the NICU. I met you through Early Intervention. I met you at my daughter’s school. You were my massage therapist. You are my neighbor. I met you on purpose. I met you by accident.

I knew you right away. I recognized the uneasiness, the fear, the wondering.  Because everything about your situation was out of your control. You could not stop the premature birth of your child.

Maybe someone told you it was in God’s plans for you to have a premature child and God never gives us more than we can handle. Maybe someone told you about what happened to their friend’s preemie. Maybe they told you there was nothing to worry about because medicine has come so far- your child will be fine. Maybe they were wrong.  Maybe they were right. Maybe you ignored them.

Maybe you were on bed rest for months. Maybe you carried twins. Maybe your water broke early for no reason. Maybe a car accident induced early labor. Maybe you conceived through fertility treatments. Maybe conception occurred easily.

Your child was born eleven weeks early. Fourteen weeks early. Sixteen weeks early. Your child was early but healthy. Your child was born with a heart condition. Your child was born with her intestines outside her body. Your child died after only two days. Your child spent her first six months in a hospital. Your child nearly died on Mother’s Day. Your child went home after only four weeks.

I know about all the books you read. The ones everyone reads that tell us what to expect- but you never expected this. You also read about dealing with lengthy hospitalizations, disabilities caused by premature birth. Facing the death of a preemie.  About cognitive delays, language deficiencies. About preemie support groups.

I know how you got up every day and faced that day with determination. How you kangarooed your son for hours. How you loved your daughter from behind glass. How you flinched every time the alarms sounded to alert nurses that your son stopped breathing. How you held your breath as you watched him turn blue and prayed the nurses could get him to breathe again.

I’ve seen you in front of the hospital watching the pregnant woman wishing you were still pregnant. I know the pain of losing the future of a full-term pregnancy. The loss of a “normal” birth. The scars of a classical C-section you never wanted to have. The pain of having to pump your breast milk for months on end instead of nursing your child who lays there in an incubator fed through a tube.

I know the fear of loss. I’ve seen you look down at your newborn infant, wondering if she’ll survive.

I know the never-ending tests. Head ultrasounds, eye exams, heal sticks every day. You avoided caffeine your entire pregnancy only to learn your preemie was being pumped with caffeine through his IV.

I know about the friends who don’t know what to say to you. “Congratulations?” But your child may not survive. This child before you who is still covered in lanugo hair and has undeveloped nipples.

And then, for many of you, I watched the day your child went home for the first time, 7 weeks, 14 weeks, 22 weeks after birth. You brought him home, happy to have your child in your arms, yet afraid he might stop breathing. Again.

I know that bliss laced with fear. That guarded, yet hopeful moment when you were finally together as a family.

I’ve watched you cringe as others brush off your lingering anxieties only to tell you everything is fine because, “Look at her now!” Everything’s wonderful. Except it isn’t. You were traumatized. You still live in fear.

I’ve seen you worry when your child is evaluated for Early Intervention. Is her language delayed? Will he ever walk? Is he learning disabled? You dutifully complete every task, exercise, language activity the experts give you hoping to avoid long-term disability. You cry yourself to sleep at night with worry.

I’ve seen you answer all of the tough questions, the questions that have to do with why her head is shaped funny, or why he needs a hearing aide, or why she can’t walk even though she’s already two. I’ve watched you field perhaps the hardest question of all, “Why was she born so early?” A question you cannot answer because you still blame yourself for the betrayal of a body that couldn’t complete a basic human function.

But most of all, I want you to know that I’ve watched you with your child. Seen your fierce determination to get him the services he needs. Watched you read aloud to her every single day since she entered this world. Watched you help him transition into school life with the least difficulty possible. Watched you help her learn to jump after hours and hours of practice so she can play with the other kids.  

I’ve seen your love. Your undeniable, mama-bear love. You will do whatever you need for your child. You love this child with an intensity no-one can break. You are the mom of a preemie and you are fierce.

Happy Mother’s Day.