Parenting is the single greatest mirror life has to offer. Any parent will agree.
Before I got pregnant almost exactly one year ago today, I was prepared to be a parent. I was older; I was in a solid marriage; I had lots of experience with children; I had actually studied family counseling and psychology in college. I had all the books. I was going to nail this sleeping/feeding stuff. I just knew I’d adapt well to my new role. I was ready. I’d crammed as much life, travel, accomplishment, romance, and adventure as one possibly can in 34 years. I’d have no regrets.
Boy, was I in for a reality check.
Like all parents, since our son’s birth, I’ve changed hundreds of diapers, given many baths, suctioned endless boogers, lost an ungodly number of hours of sleep, and washed a million bottles.
I’ve also spent 2 months on strict hospital bedrest, spent 62 days trying to cope with life in the NICU, had doctor/PT/OT, and other appointments several times per week, changed dozens of tender grips, lugged portable oxygen tanks around on basic errands, been confined to two rooms in the house for a month, called 9-1-1 on the side of an interstate, watched medical bills pile up, and been stuck at home with a high-risk infant during cold and flu season trying not to go crazy with loneliness in a new city.
I felt helplessness and incompetent when all of the child-rearing theories I’d studied while pregnant failed to apply to my pre-term son. I felt like a bad mother when he didn’t sleep through the night at 12 weeks – or even 20. I was confused about when to feed him and when to nap him, even though I’d written detailed plans down several times. I cried when he screamed all day through sleep training.
Accomplishing day-to-day tasks overwhelmed me. Phone calls went unanswered, emails unreturned. A daily shower represented an enormous success. In my exhaustion, my business languished. I felt anxious about my dormant Facebook page and Twitter account. I stressed over unwritten blog posts. I worried that I wasn’t shooting any new client work.
In fact, I worried all the time about everything. I worried that he would not catch up developmentally. I worried he would have autism. I worried he would catch RSV or whooping-cough. I worried that my milk would dry up before I was ready. I worried that he would not take solid foods well. I worried that I would be a boring mom. I worried that Nathan and I would fight more over parenting. I worried that as a “miracle-baby,” people would always impose unrealistically high expectations upon Rawley, and maybe he will just be an ordinary guy. I worried that he would be sick or suffer his whole life. I worried that I had post-partum depression.
I don’t know why I wrote all of that in the past tense. Most of it’s still true today.
I am ashamed to admit that most of my reasons for wanting to be off bed rest, have Rawley home, wean him off oxygen, get him caught up developmentally, and achieve sleeping through the night (etc…) were selfish.
Having a preemie is, well, inconvenient. It’s “harder.” I grieved – and even pitied myself for – not having a “normal” experience as a parent (whatever that is). I found myself constantly wanting to fast forward. I frequently uttered some rendition of “life will be so much easier when __________” (fill in the blank at any particular stage in our story).
You see, for me, becoming the parent of a high-maintenance, developmentally-delayed preemie meant crashing headlong into my task-oriented, anxiety-prone, over-achieving, fast-paced, perfectionistic, selfish nature.
Rawley is teaching me to be less task-oriented, to connect more, let go, trust, be still, be patient, think positive, think long-term, take one day at a time, celebrate small things, worry less about what others think of me, be in the moment, ask for help, move slowly, pity myself less, extend more compassion to others, find the depth of my strength, leave things undone, write fewer to-do lists, and find my sense of worth apart from what I achieve.
I realize now that I am probably no different from parents of full-term babies. I am sure every parent learns similar lessons from their children.
Do you relate?
I’ve been shown, over and over again, that we are not alone. Not in what we’ve experienced and learned as parents, and not in our encounter with prematurity.
In fact, what happened to us is actually shockingly common in the US. Today is World Prematurity Day. It’s all about making people aware, and hopefully, preventing premature births and reducing the number that occur annually in the US.
We can do so, so much better. The March of Dimes writes:
“Despite what many might think, the number of babies born too soon in the United States compares poorly with the rest of the world. Even though its preterm birth rate has declined for the 5th year in a row, the United States still ranks 131st in the world.” (See their state-by-state prematurity report card.)
Some premature births can be easily prevented; some, like Rawley’s, would require new answers, new research, new interventions. I hope you will take a few minutes today to visit the March of Dimes website or Facebook page and learn something new that you may need to know someday, or donate to support ongoing efforts in this area.
Finally, I want to say thank you. Thank you to the God that I know had a plan for my life and for Rawley’s through our whole grueling process and beyond. Thank you to my unshakable husband for being our rock. Thank you to my precious son for being so squishy and lovable and wise, for teaching me so much in six short months.
– HBA (Mom)