It doesn't seem possible that FIVE whole years have come and gone. After five years, I can say that the feelings and emotions of going through the NICU do not ever completely go way. While I can now talk openly about their birth without tears immediately welling up, this was not the case in the beginning.
I am not the same person I was five years ago. I see life through a completely different lens and it has shaped how I am as a mother. I owe that to the pain and struggle I went through having these boys 13 weeks early. While it is certainly not ideal and something I wouldn't wish on anyone, I can say that I am a better mom because of it. I don't take things for granted- watching my boys do simple things like climb a rock wall or swing from monkey bars in our backyard fills me with gratitude and awe. It is a miracle that they are both here and thriving, especially after being told one had no chance of survival.
Since having preemies, a common question I have seen the last 5 years is, "But how is your child doing now?" Things like, "Those who've had babies early, do they any have issues? Learning disabilities? Long term health problems?" These questions come after parents learn that they may need to deliver prematurely and are anxious.
Our boys were born too soon, too soon than doctors recommend. They came right before the week that "risks decrease dramatically," but the thing is, no one is guaranteed a healthy baby simply by week of delivery. Forty weeks gestation does not guarantee that.
They may have started out very delayed in milestones, but that was only their starting point. If you looked at their first two years of development, they were far behind "typical" peers, especially when some doctors say that most preemies "catch up" by age two. That was not the case for us at all. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a worried and anxious mess those first couple years, but I can tell you now that preemies work on their own timeline. While other kids took a running leap and mine bunny hops to certain milestones, at 5 years old you can't tell who arrived first and how they got there.
We recently went to a playground and I cried as I watched our youngest, 1.5 year old, climb steps effortlessly to get to the slide. I do not take this ability for granted. This was the same park we'd meet a therapist at to have our then 3 year olds practice being able to walk up and down those same steps.
With our youngest, we now play with whatever toys we want. With our preemies, I had basically lessoned planned out our day with different toys and activities to focus on improving certain skills. This was in addition to weekly therapy appointments. My boys definitely required extra help to meet certain milestones, but does it mean they are not worth the extra effort? They provide the same amount of love, joy, and laughter to our family as their siblings. A full term child may also require extra support to meet certain milestones. There is NO guarantee! Do I love my other children more because they didn't have to work as hard? Of course not! But I am a bit more inspired and in awe of what my preemies overcame and how hard they fought to achieve the same thing.
Having a premature baby is a scary and uncertain experience, but I promise you that the baby or babies you've created is worth it all.
- NICU Mama Michelle