By Jon Bennion
Over the past few weeks, I’ve explored some of the darkest, deepest feelings new moms and dads experience when their medically fragile preemie is doing time in a NICU. Most of these feelings (fear, anger, guilt, etc…) are hard to characterize as anything warm or fuzzy. There is so much about the NICU that I’d rather just forget - I can think of no other gloomiest time in my life.
Something happens when your life takes a giganitic turn for the worse in such a short time. Your expectations get lowered. The bar is set much lower. Your glass, even if you’re an optimist, is often half empty.
When our son, Jack, was born at 23-weeks, we were correctly told the statistics were not in his favor. When he suffered bilaterial grade 4 brain bleeds two days later, we felt some pressure to let him go. His “quality of life” would not be good, we were told. With each passing week, there was a new surgery or prospect of surgery. I knew he was in pain and there was nothing I could do about it. I was devastated.
But something also happens that you never expect when you’re in your darkest depths – you experience joy and happiness like never before.
The day his fused eyes opened up was a thrill. When he moved off the ventilator to CPAP, we were ecstatic. The first time we heard his little squawks that were no longer silenced by the ventilator, we were jubilant. As he was taken out of his isolette and put into a crib with his own miniature clothes, we were on cloud nine. And after four long months of a NICU stay 120 miles from our home, I don’t think any parents with a typical baby experience could have been more elated and proud to be taking home their child than we were.
Now three years later, the joy continues to this day for the smallest of victories Jack has. On the day when he was able to sit up on his own, we were delighted. As he learned to pull himself up to a standing position, we celebrated. When he took his first steps, we knew we were witnessing a miracle. All of those experiences are fun and special for any parent, but not every parent feels like they are blessed by those tiny milestones like the parents of children who struggle so hard just to accomplish the simple things we all take for granted.
Jack has and will continue to struggle with some of life’s most basic skills and challenges. What he has shown us, however, is that he is not content with defeat. We will cheer him on and celebrate ever victory, no matter how small. He makes us feel like the happiest parents on the planet.