I’ve never hidden the emotional turmoil I’ve faced as a parent in general. I’ve certainly never tried to sugarcoat the hardships I’ve experienced. Parenting is stressful. It’s hard and sometimes demoralising – yet so wonderfully fulfilling!
There’s no rehearsal, no education given, no ‘dummy run’ there to prepare you for the massive shift your life will take once your baby arrives. It’s a ‘learn on the job’ kind of role.
Life as a parent has taught me so much about myself but life as a ‘Preemie Parent’ has taught me so much more than I ever thought possible.
I’m quite certain no healthy pregnant couple ever fully comprehend what going into early labour feels like until they experience it. Labour is dramatic to begin; early labour is a theatrical performance. Only, no-one is acting. The fear is real!
At 30+6 days pregnant, I’d felt prepared for life with a tiny baby again. My son was only 9 months old, I’d just came out of the hard stage but with the remembrance of what little tricks had helped. It was going to be a breeze.
The following day, I was threw into a new position. One I knew nothing at all about – I entered the world of ‘Preemie Parenting’. The lessons I learnt within this role were harder, more challenging but also massively humbling.
So what exactly did I learn?
I’ve learnt that I am stronger than I think. Physical strength is not something you’d associate me with. I am disgustingly weak. As for mental strength, well it had never really been tested. I’d always thought I’d be useless, I’m quite emotional and can’t hide what I’m feeling in the slightest. Yet, as I peered into the isolette at the tiny baby which lay before me, I coped. I continued to cope – day by day, little by little, I listened to what the doctors had to say and I coped. The night my daughter couldn’t be stabilised, I coped. The 20 mile drive South behind my daughter as she was blue-lighted to intensive care, I coped even though there was every real chance she wouldn’t survive. Through the brain bleed, pneumothorax, heart murmur, hole in heart and many returns to the Children’s Ward, I’ve coped. I’ve coped because the strength I need is only half of what my daughter requires and she doesn’t just cope, she thrives. Premature babies have boundless strength – look no further than Tyson Fury (for all I don’t believe in his ideology, his strength is undeniable).
I’ve learnt that I should listen to good advice before dismissing it. At the time when I was focusing my entire energy on getting through each day, I didn’t have the capacity to listen to people’s advice. I was capable of recognising that the words they spoke were meant to comfort me but I didn’t have the time to ingest how important they would become. My daughter required my full attention, I didn’t want to become distracted by listening about ‘the bloke at the top of the road who was born weighing 2lb and is now 6 foot tall’. I didn’t want to know that ‘small things came in good packages’ or that she’d ‘do things in her own time’. A year on, stories of Preemies’ survivals make me beam with pride. I know that small things can be powerful and I’ve learnt first hand that there’s no rushing my daughter. The words of others often flood back to my memory whenever I start to panic. They’re often what keep me calm. If I had to do it all again, I’d take some of that good advice on board sooner.
I’ve learnt that Siena’s NICU journey didn’t end with ‘Home Time’. Like all ‘Preemie Parents’, we were desperate to take Siena home. Naively, I thought that would be the end of our journey. I imagined that once we took her home, she’d magnificently transform into an ‘average’ child. Of course, I was wrong. For a long time, the hospital appointments, health checks and weigh-ins became routine but premature babies will never be ‘average’. They’re super heroes staring in their very own comic book. Siena has a story to tell, more chapters to write. So many of these have already featured antagonistic viruses, ailments, infections and occurring issues all linked back to her very first battle. Some have caused worry and upset, some have required time whilst others have required hospitalisation, medication, operation…all have required strength. Siena’s next chapter will be heart surgery. Once again, I find myself reminded that her journey as a Preemie isn’t quite yet over. I’ve watched my baby fight so many times already but I also know she can handle it. After all, she’s made with Preemie Power.
I’ve learnt that I’ve no desire to compete with other parents. Parenting will always be viewed as a competition for some. There’ll always be that one golden opportunity to gloat or rub salt in another Mother’s wounds when their weakness is revealed. Being a ‘Preemie Parent’ could mean you’re relegated straight to bottom league of the milestone tables, guaranteed last place in the race…but who really decides or cares? I realised early that there was no point in competing with mothers of full term babies (or any Mother to be frank) because we’re already winners. My Daughter has kicked Death’s ugly behind, I’m pretty sure that’d be defined as winning! She may develop slower that most babies. She’s at a stage where mini-milestones are regularly met but she cannot quite grasp those harder more physically demanding ones. Truthfully, there was a time that I’d let this upset me. Like all parents, I’m desperate to watch her grow and develop but I’m also thrilled with what she’s already capable of doing – breathing on her own. Maybe because I still remember the days when she wasn’t capable of doing this. Maybe because I remember the fear that she’d never breathe on her own. If it takes Siena 3 years to walk then so be it! The most important thing is that she will walk one day, who cares when it happens?
I’ve learnt never to take my children for granted. I remember shortly after Tristan was born, feeling desperate for some sort of outlet. He wasn’t an easy baby. He cried hysterically for hours upon end. He demanded feeding every hour or two yet couldn’t tolerate his milk which left him pained and unsatisfied. There were times at 3am that I could have packed a bag, left the house and checked into a mental asylum. I moaned about the night feeds and the constant request for my attention. Then, early labour taught me how it would feel to lose a child. The fear moved the very core of me. Siena could have died. Knowing and realising the full extent of the pain that would cause, I transferred those emotions to Tristan. I realised that every day was important, every feed could be the last. Not because I’d lose him but because every Mother loses a baby eventually – they gain a child, a teen, an adult in replace – but those baby days cannot be regained once lost. From that moment on, I savoured the nights Tristan still needed my affection. I cherished every 2am snuggle with my Daughter. I grew to shed the negative approach I’d adopted. Life became easier, more enjoyable.
I’ve learnt a whole new level of love. The love we have for our children is unrelenting. Every parent sees their children as the most beautiful creations to bless this Earth. Before Siena, I didn’t realise how shallow I actually was. I’d seen pictures of premature babies, their minuscule bodies cluttered with wires and paper-thin skin provoked no reaction. The first glance at Siena and I saw how much beauty could be found. She was simply divine. There’s times I’ve found myself justifying her appearance though and this saddens me. “She’s so small because she was 9 weeks Prem” have became familiar utterances to strangers. I’ve listened to people tell me that she’d “grow into her looks” but to me, her prematurity makes her ever more beautiful.
Lastly, I’ve learnt that miracles do exist. Coming from a strong religious family,
I’ve always believed in God but I’ve also wondered whether that was more through habit or being told that I should. He was the first person I turned to in Siena’s hour of need. Throughout her NICU journey, God gave me hope. The bottle of holy water which was used to bless her isolette sat proudly on her shelf. The bible given to her by the hospital reverent was used multiple times when reading her stories. The reverent himself visited Siena throughout her stay. All of these gave me comfort. Believing allowed me to visualise Siena coming home. It gave me hope that she’d live a normal life, showed me that miracles do exist.
I’m lucky to live with one every day.
Being a ‘Preemie Parent’ is, without doubt, harder than I could have ever imagined. The lows are so intensely lower but the highs are also so intensely higher. Some days I feel angry , some days I feel blessed. Most days I feel privileged and proud.
Siena’s journey as a Preemie isn’t yet over and neither is mine as a ‘Preemie Parent’. We’ve plenty more chapters to write.
Here’s to our happy ending…