Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Beyond Prematurity

By Jon Bennion-

I never expected to be the father of a micro-preemie. My son, Jack, certainly didn’t plan to be four months premature. It’s just how things happened.

When you are stuck in the NICU and navigating through those first tumultuous months and, perhaps, years, it’s hard to think beyond prematurity. Much of what seems to define our little ones stems from their early arrival. The prognoses we hear and the predictions of the good and the bad seem all-consuming at times.

As the years pass, some of those early forecasts are either confirmed or debunked.

While this is all progressing, something big happens - your preemie grows up. Your preemie grows so much that you realize calling them a preemie really doesn’t define much of who they are anymore. That doesn’t mean that they have “grown out of” prematurity as many folks believe is the case. In fact, many difficulties they face and will not “grow out of” are a direct result of their extreme prematurity. However, at some point, you realize that you have a toddler or child on your hands that is defined more by their like and dislikes, their perseverance in the face of challenges, and the unique connections they are able to make with friends, family and strangers.

Even though Jack is nearly 4 ½ years old, we still get questions from distant folks about “Baby Jack.” Many still think of him in small terms. When you start out at just over a pound, it’s hard to imagine anything that small growing to where he’s at today. It was hard for me some days, even though I was watching him grow before my very eyes.

And then one day the shift from preemie to child hit me hard. I realized my thoughts, hopes and prayers for Jack were no longer NICU-focused, tumultuous-centered fears of the future. We were already into future.  We have recognized the specific challenges Jack faces (CP, speech delays, feeding difficulties), and we are facing them head-on. We are living the dream we felt was almost taken from us in the NICU without the paralyzing worry and uncertainty.

All of this to make a simple point - if you are in the depths of the NICU abyss and facing uncertainty, prematurity is not a permanent way of life. And even if elements of prematurity linger beyond those early years, it can never totally define who your child truly is as a person.

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