By Rob Berry
One of the beautiful things about my profession is that it affords me an opportunity to be a stay at home dad for the better part of two months each year.
This summer has been one of tremendous growth for our former 24 weeker, Hazel (now 12 months adjusted). Gone is that tiny, helpless baby, replaced by an active, vibrant toddler that crawls all over the house getting into everything.
Hazel loves to play with her toys and one of her favorite games is to endlessly put her stacking cups together and take them apart. The other toy of choice right now is her ball popper. She recently figured out how to turn it on her own and now plays with it any chance she gets. She is so proud of herself.
Last week, Hazel started using a Fisher Price walker and in no time was zooming all over the house, this week she was even braver and has started walking independently.
Hazel had also recently picked up words. There isn't a sweeter sound in the world than when she says, 'daddy' and I know she is actually saying it to get my attention. She can also say hi, mama, nana (banana) and 'yeah' to indicate yes.
I feel so fortunate to have had this opportunity to witness so many of those cool moments in her life. I often reflect on the last year and am just amazed with how far she's come. As a preemie parent I think there is a tendency to lose perspective of the bigger picture while you are busy dealing with the ups and downs of every day life. It is important every once in while to take a step back and look at the big picture.
For so long we were concerned about the medical needs of our daughter that we felt more like medical staff than we did parents. Then as her health improved and she became stronger, we both started to really feel the emotions that were bottled up while Hazel was in the NICU. It has taken time but we are really starting to feel like just regular parents now, oh what a glorious feeling.
Over the last few months I have done a lot of thinking about our daughter's journey. There was a time that I really focused on her scars. There is the clearly apparent scar from her PDA ligation surgery and there are the numerous smaller ones on her hands, feet and legs from blood gases, IV's and PICC lines.
Beyond those apparent physical reminders of her NICU stay, I guess I always wondered if Hazel might have any emotional scars after everything she has been through. True, she was not able to comprehend what was going on while she was in the hospital but I guess I always wondered if her personality may have been in some way influenced or altered.
My wife and I have worked so hard to stop worrying about what the next problem will be and are now more than ever just living in the moment. We were conditioned to always wonder when the other shoe would drop. For so long I found it truly difficult to feel at ease. Like any parent I guess I just wanted to do anything I could to help our daughter stay healthy and not experience anymore pain.
I am happy to report that we've past many parenting milestones this summer. We have taken our little girl on a variety of trips and adventures and she has had so much fun! She's been on a long road trip to visit her grandpa, went to the beach, ate sand, swam in the water, went to the zoo, received a few loving kisses from the neighbors dog and played lots with her cousins, you know, normal kid stuff. Our guard is slowly but surely coming down.
Last night we took our daughter to an amusement park located in the mall near our place because we were pretty sure she'd enjoy it. She went on her first ever rides, the kiddy train and some small merry-go-round with a variety of little cars and trucks on it.
Hazel was instantly hooked. Her eyes were as big as saucers as the train slowly toured the park. Hazel was waving at people, smiling, jumping up and down and squealing with delight. My wife and I were so happy but what struck us as interesting is that little girl had so many people smiling, waving and laughing all over the park as she went riding by. Hazel was in her element.
There was a powerful ah-ha moment for us in that little amusement park last night. Hazel is fine. In fact, she's more than fine, she's great. That little girl, in that moment was living her life to the fullest. There was no pain or sadness in her mind or spirit, only love, excitement and happiness.
Looking at the journey our daughter has been on over the last year I know we've been blessed in so many ways. While dealing with very real medical needs, concerns and scars, it is also important to try and find those ah-ha moments with our children. Whether it's the first time our children hold their heads up, taste food, come off oxygen, roll over or smile, their milestones are just a little sweeter.
Whatever comes next, I know we will be fine. It feels so utterly amazing to say those words, 'she'll be fine'. Hazel has taught us so many things over the last year and the lesson we learned from her last night was an important one. If she can go through so much and still be happy and so full of life, then maybe it's ok for us to be that way too.