|(Photo Credit: Lisa Kunkel Photography)|
By Jon Bennion
The first birthday of a preemie who has been through the ringer is tough. No doubt, there is more than enough to celebrate due to the fact that your baby made it through the NICU and survived a tumultuous first year. Still, I know many preemie parents who struggle with that first birthday. Those difficulties can continue into future birthdays. Those feelings can also creep up around the original due date – the day you thought your child would be born.
Our son, Jack, was born four months early. He was supposed to be born in September when he would share his birthday in the same month as mine and my wife’s. Instead, he was born in May.
On Jack’s first birthday, we were trying to be positive. We wanted to celebrate. We understood how far he had come since his one pound beginnings. But on May 15, we mostly struggled with depression – the pain of what was and what could have been was still too raw. All of the memories and wounds were still so fresh in our minds to really allow us to relax and have fun. We bought a celebratory cupcake and isolated our little family from the rest of the world.
Later in the summer, we chose to have a true celebration in between his actual birthday and due dates. I’m not sure why this was significant, but scheduling the party away from either of those two days allowed us to unwind, rejoice for the miracle of Jack’s first year, and be more positive. It helped that we coupled it with Jack’s dedication at our church – a outward sign of our thanks to God for his life and our hope for his future.
With each passing birthday, and as the NICU became a slightly less raw memory, we have shifted our emotions more towards celebration rather than depression. Maybe it’s because the NICU seems more like a dark nightmare rather than a real part of our life. Maybe it’s because we have the benefit of hindsight to know that Jack has overcome so much and lived to continue the fight. Perhaps it’s because we know how happy Jack is rather than having to wonder if he would live a life of pain, frustration and disappointment.
It’s okay to experience a little sadness around those first few birthdays. I imagine it happens to most preemie parents. But know that birthdays can be reclaimed for what they are – a celebration of life. It may not happen right away, but the time will come when you forget the due date and mark their special day with a nice party, friends, and make new memories to remember. Your child has earned it.