I never thought I would have a preemie. Why would I? I was having a great pregnancy, feeling wonderful. I hadn't had any complications at all. On a Saturday, my friends and neighbors gathered to throw me a baby shower. I remember feeling a little uncomfortable, but I assumed that was just part of pregnancy. I slept well that night, reveling in the excitement of what was to come.
The next day, my husband and I ran a couple of errands, and then came back home to read the paper and relax. Late that afternoon I found myself on the toilet, going to the bathroom, without having to go to the bathroom. "Oh my gosh," I thought, "so this is the incontinence you read about in the baby books?!" Yikes. But it didn't stop and I started to sense that something might be wrong. I asked my husband to call our doctor. I also called a good friend to ask her what was going on. After what seemed like an eternity waiting for a call back from the doctor on call, we called the hospital directly. They said to come down, but assured me that it was probably nothing. No need to pack a bag, just come on down. My friend and her husband had rushed over. "You could be in labor," they said. My husband and I both laughed — how could we be in labor? We haven't even gotten to that chapter of the book and our birthing class isn't for another month!
Twenty minutes later we were in Labor & Delivery with a nurse asking if I felt "that." Unbeknownst to me, I was almost fully dilated and having major contractions. We had our son, Jack, within the hour. When people find out that Jack is a preemie they always say, "wow, that must have been so scary." But you know, the truth is, we didn't know we were having a preemie. Everything happened so quickly. Jack was whisked off to the NICU and my husband and I suddenly felt very lost. Later that night, they wheeled me down to see him and I could not believe my eyes — Jack was covered in so many lines. His monitors kept beeping, and oxygen was flowing. This was so different from when I visited my friends who'd just had babies and these sweet pink bundles rested calmly in their mother's arms. It's not the start anyone wishes for his or her child, but I looked into his isolette and I just fell in love. In our eyes, he was perfect. We were in shock, but deep down, we knew that with the competent care of the NICU doctors and nurses, everything was going to be ok.
I spent all day, every day, in the NICU. Friends would encourage me to get out, but for me, it was most comforting to be there with Jack. Every three hours, we were permitted to gently touch him or sometimes hold him. The nurses were encouraging and patient when we expressed an interest in helping. They taught us to change Jack, and bathe him, to take his temperature and give him a special pacifier. After a couple weeks of him getting breast milk by gavage, Jack's nurses taught me how to breastfeed. We continued that successfully upon his homecoming. Despite so much stress around us, I felt like I was playing a positive role in our son's first month of life by being at the NICU and learning as much as I could about the care of our baby. Every morning, my husband would stop by the NICU to see Jack on his way into work, and every evening he read Jack "Goodnight Moon" before we would go home. That book was so meaningful — sometimes, as parents, I think it's hard to think of the right thing to say when you are surrounded by the buzzing of the monitors, unfamiliar faces, and a great deal of stress. Reading to Jack was a calm and consistent way for Jack to hear his daddy's voice.
Jack stayed in the NICU for three weeks as a "grower and feeder." We could take him home once he was off CPAP, could regulate his body temperature, had gone a week without an apnea episode, and had learned to suck, swallow and breathe on his own. Jack weighed 4 pounds the day we brought him home. We were very careful about exposing him to too many germs that first year, which was a somewhat isolating experience. I was so thankful for our friends who understood our concern (and had hands as chapped as ours from washing and washing and washing). When summer arrived, and we'd be out walking with Jack people would congratulate me on our "newborn." I'd tell them that, "actually, he's five months old — he was a preemie." To some, Jack must have looked so little. Some people looked at us with pity. Others looked with amazement. But my husband and I were so proud of how far our little Jack had come that I felt it was important to let people know he was a preemie.
Birth to Three came multiple times to evaluate Jack, when he would skew "too far" off the developmental milestones, but he caught up in his own due time. Today he is a happy, energetic kindergartner — and I'd bet that if you saw him at the park you'd have no idea that he was a preemie.
I feel like the NICU experience has made us even more appreciative of the fact that each little baby truly is a miracle — and that with expert medical care combined with the love and support of family and friends, preemies miraculously grow to be happy toddlers. Jack is proof of that.