Monday, May 21, 2012

Dear Complete Stranger- Things To Consider When Lending Advice

By Joel Brens

I think it's fair to assume that every parent has had advice given to them by people they don't know. At least a few times. Everyone seems to have some sound advice to lend, whether it's warranted or not.  As a parent of a preemie, emotions run rampant. It's easy to be consumed by what others think. It creates additional stress, and most people don't take that into consideration when making observations and comments.

To be fair, before I experienced becoming a parent, moreover of a NICU baby, I would look in curiosity at children that looked different. I would think "Wow that baby is tiny" or "I wonder what that machine does".  I was more curios than anything, but it wasn't until our 7 week preemie was born that I started to consider how the parents felt. How whenever they are out in public they are well aware of all the glances people shoot. It's a tough spot to be in.

I remember the first few times my wife and I brought Jayden out in public. On at least a few occasions complete strangers would come by and ask how old our son was. When they were surprised to hear he was pushing three months they said "Wow he's a little guy!". I almost felt like I had to explain myself, as if I was justifying the circumstances that led to our son coming pre-term. It was irritating.

There were other times people would comment on what I was doing. I had someone tell me to stop patting my son's back like that if I wanted him to sleep. What I wanted to say was "I'm sorry we must not have met. You must be my son's full time nanny. Apparently a few sleepless nights using trail and error and finding this routine to calm him is completely useless." Instead I took the high road and explained it seemed to work great for him. Truth be told the only person I will take advice/criticism from, outside of other NICU parents, is my mom. It may be in one ear, out the other but she is partially responsible for my creation. She has earned the right.

Jayden managed to gain weight at a furious pace, so by the time he was six months the questions about his size slowed down. But easily the most frustrating thing I hear from people is "Don't worry, your son will be fine" in response to a couple of things. First one is regarding illness. We were adamant in his first year to steer him clear of germs whenever possible.  If you were sick, even the sniffles, you weren't coming by Jayden. Period. The idea that germs would help my son fight off future infections fell on deaf ears. My father lost his battle due to complications of myeloma stemming from a compromised immune system. Rolling the dice with our son was not an option. Didn't like the feeling of people being upset with us. But I don't regret the decisions we made.

The second, and most frustrating instance when someone tells me to "Not worry, he will be fine" in regards to my son's development. What they cannot comprehend is that my son's development consumes me. I'm sure other preemie parents can relate to the feeling. I worry about it every night. Every. Single. Night. From the time he was born to his first night home to today. Is he breathing? When will he roll over? When will he sit up? When will he start crawling? Pulling himself up? Walking? Talking? Telling me to not worry trivializes the day by day journey you take when having a NICU baby. We discussed a growing concern with Jayden's speech development and got Early Intervention involved. They place him developmentally at a baby nearly a year behind. Thank God we looked into it and didn't wait till he was three, when EI couldn't do anything to help. Now he can get the help he needs and he will be in better shape when he starts schooling.

Being a parent is no easy task. As the parent of a preemie baby, all I ask is that you be aware of the sensitivity involved in the day to day struggles we face. Think about what you are saying beforehand and consider that while your intentions may be good the message may not be perceived that way.

Thank you,
Proud parent of a preemie

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