By Rob Berry
These are words that all preemie parents have heard from well meaning individuals in some way, shape or form. They used to frustrate even infuriate me, how could someone be so insensitive? Slowly, my thoughts have changed.
It is true, as I look at my daughter laying asleep in my arms, I can't help but think of how beautiful and simply perfect she is. As I sit here and reflect on her NICU journey, I am blown away by the difference a year makes.
To look at Hazel mere weeks before her turning twelve months adjusted, most people would have no clue she was a preemie let alone a 24 weeker.
She has chubby cheeks, a big tummy and a seemingly endless supply of energy. She flies around the house, screams and yells with the best of them and is in to absolutely everything!
It wasn't always this way. Born weighing 1 lb 11 ounces she has certainly had her share of ups and downs.
The joy of seeing her thrive today is still sometimes tempered by the conditioning this daddy developed in the NICU. There, I found myself always waiting for the other shoe to drop.
It seemed like for every step forward there were often two huge steps back. Is it any wonder that the first sign of trouble brings those raw emotions back with a vengeance?
Yet, I have zero desire to live my life in fear of what ifs. To do so would be a detriment to my family and would discredit all of Hazel's amazing achievements.
The question is how do you bridge the gap between the feelings of watching your child fight so hard for their life on a daily basis and the new reality of a healthy, happy baby?
The deepest scars appear to be in the hearts and minds of the parents of preemies, not the kids themselves. The kids are the real heroes.
My wife and I are trying to find new and exciting things to do with Hazel every day. She bore the brunt of having to isolate Hazel at home during RSV season. She is an amazing mommy and I can't even begin to tell you how lucky I am that she is my wife. All I can say is I thank God for her each and every day.
Now that it's summer we are trying to do 'normal' family things. The park, heading over to her cousins house to play and taking long walks in the awesome weather are just a few things that are bringing back our ability to breathe. This summer we will be attempting our first 'family' road trip, wish us luck!
My wife still has a few weeks of her maternity leave remaining and I am now on an extended vacation. I can't wait to do whatever comes naturally.
Am I still concerned about what could be? I'd be lying if I said absolutely not, but at the same time I know it's going to be ok. Our life as a family is now. When I look back on everything we have been through and survived I know we will be ok.
The smile on the faces of my two special girls makes everything we went through worth it. I honestly can say I wouldn't have the same appreciation for our daughter that I do now had we not been through so much early on. I would still love her and be proud to be her daddy but I know I would take so much for granted.
Will there be ups and downs still? Absolutely. The key, is to take it day by day, count your blessings and try to deal with things strictly as they come.
It is completely ok to feel sad, angry, cheated and totally worn out but it is important to try and remain positive. I know, easier said than done but with time and patience I believe it can be done.
A few months ago there was this article flying around the Internet titled, 'Don't Carpe Diem'. To paraphrase a lot, it spoke of how it is unnatural to enjoy every moment of parenthood. Easy to say unless your child has faced serious illness or in our case extreme prematurity.
All I could think of after reading it was how I actually do try to find that silver lining in pretty much everything with, Hazel.
Meltdown in the lineup at the store? No problem. Freak out while attempting to place Hazel in her car seat, I can handle it. Why is this so? I'll give two reasons.
First, our daughter survived and by the grace of God is doing well. It sort of puts the rest of life's ups and downs into perspective. After so much uncertainty around her arrival the mere fact we have to deal with such 'normal' things is incredible.
Second, when our little girl smiles, it lights up our world. She can fuss, cry and holler all she wants but when we get that little toothy smile, that's all that matters. It's funny how the things that really matter change once you have a little one at home.
My hope for all reading this is that you are able to slowly but surely move forward from the intensity surrounding your little ones birth. It is a slow but important process.
Some days will be better than others but try to keep in mind how amazing your little miracle really is. Being the parent of a preemie is hard, often thankless work, but our little ones are worth every bit of time and effort.