By Rob Berry
It is hard to believe that on July 21, it will be one year since we brought Hazel (our little 24 weeker ) home from the NICU. In some ways it feels like years have past and in others it feels just like yesterday.
How has life changed in that year? I think the better question is how hasn't it changed. Becoming a parent is the most amazing experience that there is.
Recently my wife and I have watched our daughter's personality grow in leaps and bounds. Hazel is her own little person and certainly knows what she likes.
I find it so interesting that Hazel carries so many of our personality traits with her at such a young age. She has her mom's strength, drive and determination and we have no doubt that is what helped Hazel do so well. What we are still trying to figure out is, where did that curl in her hair come from?
As I look back on our year it has been one of many highs, mixed in with some tremendous lows. Being the parent of a micro preemie is hard work.
We are still so grateful to the doctors, nurses and RTs who taught us to care for our special little girl. Bringing Hazel home on oxygen was scary, she definitely needed it and we worried it would slip out at night while she slept. Her face suffered many heavy tape jobs so we could feel comfortable her cannula would stay in place while we slept.
The hospital staff taught us all sorts of tricks and tips which we were able to rely upon. They must have taught us well because the few times we had minor issues at home, my wife and I quickly did what was needed and it felt so natural.
Then there was our home RT, Cheryl. I don't even know how to begin thanking her. She was highly recommended to us by the hospital and after our first home visit we knew why.
The best way I can describe this amazing person is that she was a gift from God. It was clear from the get go she loves her work. She was so good with Hazel and she always remembered her little nuances.
Cheryl was a wealth of knowledge and walked us through RSV season at home. She also took the time to talk with and counsel my wife and I. She recognized all the trauma we'd been through and was a great sounding board.
At the same time, she wouldn't allow us to wallow in our feelings of fear, guilt and anguish and encouraged us to live our lives to the fullest and remember to enjoy our daughter.
It took a while but we got there. The first week of summer vacation has been amazing. No longer are we locked in the house, staring at the walls. We are out and about on a daily basis and are soon departing on a road trip/ beach vacation at Grandpa's house. A year ago, that sort of stuff was the furthest thing from our minds.
To parents of past NICU preemies who are older now, I hope this season brings you a set of great new memories full of love, laughter and family.
To parents of preemies in the NICU now or who have recently brought their little angels home. I hope that you find comfort in family and friends during this time in your life.
I know that it is easier said than done, but I always tried to find one thing I was grateful each day.
Some days were easy like when we brought Hazel home, watched her eat solids for the first time and when she finally left the oxygen behind her in February.
Others days were tricky with setbacks, being shut in the house and feeling like nobody else understood what we were going through.
On days like that it felt like there was nothing to be thankful for. Once I settled down, I knew enough to thank God for giving us our little girl and I reaffirmed my promise to myself to be the best husband and father I could be at all times, no questions asked.
Sometimes as a guy that is all you can do. I have certainly made more than my share of mistakes along the way but nothing is more important than being there for the people you care most about.
As the summer continues I look forward to creating more memories with my little family. I have no clue where life will take us and I am ok with it. Life is a journey, not a destination. I can't wait to see where we go from here.