By Nick Hall
In 2006, my twins, Reece and Graham, were born over three months early. Extreme prematurity is incredibly dangerous – survival rates for babies born at 25 weeks are approximately 55-70%. Reece lived, but we lost Graham after 45 days. Losing him made it abundantly clear that we were facing an uncertain future for Reece. There was a time when we didn't know if we would bring her home, much less what her quality of life would be like if we did.
An experience like mine changes your outlook on fatherhood. As a dad, you usually have expectations. Maybe you're great at sports or math, and in your vision of your kid's future, they're hitting home runs or proving the Goldbach Conjecture. Even when your son or daughter is a baby, you look through the lens of what you're good at and where your parents and grandparents excelled. But for me, there were no expectations. Reece's future was trumped by her present. All I had was commitment – first to her survival, then her health, and as she grew, to her happiness and helping her thrive.
When children don't meet the expectations we invent as dads, because they can't or because they have their own abilities and interests, we are often disappointed. I wouldn't call my children's prematurity a blessing, but it did give me the wisdom to circumvent the expectations that go hand in hand with fatherhood. I literally have no idea how Reece's early birth will impact her abilities, talents, and passions. For me, there are no expectations, just excitement to see what the future holds for Reece.
Only a small percentage of dads will share my experiences with prematurity, but every dad can benefit from the lessons it taught me. Let go of expectations – they limit what's possible for our kids – and replace expectations with commitment. It's a subtle difference. You can still nurture hopes and worry and wonder about the future. Replacing expectations with commitment just means that when they inevitably turn into their own people, you can appreciate who they've become instead of who you wish they could have been.
About Nick Hall:
A nearly-fatal heart condition in his youth and the extremely premature births of his twins have helped Nick Hall appreciate what really matters. Nick's unique perspective has enabled him to see his son and daughter’s prematurity as an opportunity to share what he learned to make a difference for other families. He founded Graham's Foundation in 2009 to provide support for the parents of premature babies. In only two years Nick forged a partnership with Pampers, and together, they have shipped nearly 30,000 care packages to parents of preemies all over the world.