We were lucky that you were a good size for your gestation. For 31 weeks, I’d done well to get you to 3lb 14. Plenty of people told me that I had ‘a big one’ and, although the phrase itself made me boil with anger, I saw how I was meant to take comfort in it.
Still, you were the tiniest baby I’d ever seen. The 1st time I saw you, you were lying flat on your tummy. Your legs and arms hadn’t yet uncoiled and you reminded me of a frog getting ready to leap. You were beautiful. Your eyes were closed but I could see from the start that your features were perfection. You had the cutest button nose, your lips were perfectly poised, your ears were so flimsy that they had folded over (this, in itself, drove me wild with love). Your legs were long and so were your fingers. We’d expected the legs, your 20 week anomaly scan had shown that they were ‘abnormally’ long. We’d laughed about it ‘she’ll be a model with those pins’ we joked. ‘She’ll make us rich with those stick’ we said. They lived up to expectation. Slender and sleek, they made you ever more gorgeous. The fingers were also a talking point. Your Grandpa, a wannabe musician, took pride in them the most. ‘She’s going to be a pianist’ he beamed.
We had big dreams for you from the start.
You were exactly one week old when the doctors performed the brain scan. It was routine and we were confident that everything would go smoothly. In the seven days you’d lived, we’d never known a more ‘clued up’ baby. You’d had complications with your lungs and had been placed on a ventilator as you couldn’t breathe on your own but we’d seen a side of you that showed how bright you were. When you were awake, you engaged with us. You stared at us and seemed to take in your whole surroundings. We never expected to hear the term ‘brain damage’.
The results from the scan showed that you’d had a bleed to the brain. The doctors sat us down and explained exactly what this could mean. ‘The excess fluid could drain and leave no everlasting side effects’ or ‘Your daughter could have a level of brain damage’. They explained that your bleed was known as a stage I, the smallest kind of bleed. Once again, we were lucky to know that the chances of you having permanent damage were small…but yet still possible.
We were told that the most likely effect of the bleed would be learning difficulties. In this moment, I felt split. The shallow side of me (one that I’m not proud of) worried insanely. I’m a Secondary School Teacher of English, what would my colleagues think if my child wasn’t clever? I felt disgusted in myself then and even still now, confessing it to others.
The other side of me didn’t care. You were my child and you’d already done me proud. Whatever obstacles were thrown in our direction, we’d conquer them together. You were strong, stubborn and determined. This was clear from the very beginning. I knew those qualities would see you right through life.
As a parent, I believe that a certain level of ‘pushiness’ is healthy. After all, no-one wants to raise a lazy kid. All parents want the best for their children and, being a child ourselves once upon a time, we’re aware that sometimes it takes a little bit of nagging and drive to motivate. I certainly wasn’t going to sit back and accept that you might not fulfil your dreams.
However, here’s my second confession, another moment I’m hugely not proud of. When you were 1st born, I struggled with guilt and envy. It’s the envy that now makes my stomach turn. I envied the women in ward 10 with their fully grown newborns. I envied my friends, still pregnant with sprouting bumps and growing foetuses. I envied babies bigger than you, more advanced than you. I envied those who gave birth and took their babies straight home. I knew of four people who delivered in the time you spent in NICU. Although pleased for them, I wanted it to be us. I put pressure on myself and inadvertently you, to get you home, to get you bigger.
My emotions were massively conflicted. Partly, I knew you needed time and patience. Partly, I knew I shouldn’t pressure you. I thought to myself ‘I won’t rush you to grow’.
You’re 5 months old now and make me proud every minute of the day. You don’t look like a 5 month old baby (in fact, you’re still in newborn territory). You’re not as advanced as a 5 month old baby either but that’s fine. After all, you’re not meant to be 5 month old yet. The 1st time you smiled, at 13 weeks actual, will remain in my heart forever. It proved that you were on track with your corrected age. Today, you smile on demand. You babble when I look at you (in fact, you’re quite the chatterbox). You seem to know your name and you’ve started to cut your 1st tooth. You’ve started weaning and handled the spoon better than your brother did. You can’t roll over yet or hold your neck perfectly on your own but so what?! I remember a time when you couldn’t breathe for yourself and now you’re living, growing and developing with ease. You’ll do things in your own time and I’ll be proud of you forever.